- The Portland City Council advanced a climate emergency work plan last week that outlines 43 priority actions the Oregon city can take to help reach goals laid out in previous directives, like its 2035 Comprehensive Plan and a resolution to meet all energy needs through renewable sources by 2050.
- At its core, the work plan serves as the implementation strategy for the climate emergency declaration the city issued in 2020. It will also serve as the city’s climate action plan until 2025, replacing the 2015 climate action plan the city said became outdated in 2020.
- The plan seeks to target local emissions linked to electricity supply, buildings, transportation, and industry. It also attempts to minimize carbon related to the consumption of food, goods and materials; sequester carbon in trees and green spaces; and build community resilience to the impacts of climate change, particularly among the most vulnerable people. The city is accepting public comments through Aug. 24.
Portland and the Pacific Northwest were in the climate change spotlight last summer when they faced an uncharacteristic and deadly June heat dome. The region faces another extended heat wave this week as other parts of the country and the world faced record-high temperatures this month.
“I wish so much that I could tell you about the critical milestones that Portland had achieved in the last year in advancing climate resilience,” said Jonna Papaefthimiou, chief resilience officer with the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, speaking during a July 20 city council session. “But unfortunately, in the last few years, our climate milestones have really been of a totally different sort,” Papaefthimiou said, recounting the city’s first experiences responding to an air-quality emergency, managing a shelter for wildfire evacuees, opening and staffing an emergency cooling center, and organizing a memorial for people who lost their lives during the heat dome.
The city has two main carbon-reduction targets: cut carbon dioxide emissions 50% or more from 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The work plan’s steps are not currently binding and have yet to be funded. Over the next three years, city bureaus and departments are to request funding and approvals from the city council. Among the list of priority actions the plan lays out are:
- Electricity supply: Invest in community-owned renewable energy generation.
- Buildings: Implement energy retrofits on affordable multifamily and single-family rental housing.
- Transportation: Implement equitably designed pricing strategies and parking management to encourage less driving where other options exist.
- Land use: Explore the feasibility of last-mile urban logistics hubs to support the decarbonization of delivery vehicles.
- Embodied carbon: Invest in community-led opportunities to rent, share, fix and reuse goods.
- Cross-sector: Implement the internal cost of carbon in city decision-making.
- Flooding: Expand a program to acquire frequently flooded properties along Portland’s waterways that provide critical floodplain functions.
- Resilience hubs: Convert a community center into an energy-efficient resilience center for extreme heat, smoke, ice, extreme cold, power outages and other disasters.
The breadth of intended actions is comprehensive, said Oriana Magnera, who works as energy, climate, and transportation program manager at local nonprofit Verde, a social enterprise, outreach and advocacy group whose mission is to build environmental wealth, which it defines as access to things like clean air and clean water.
While Verde is supportive of the work plan, there’s still work to be done in how these actions would be implemented, Magnera said. One area of concern is around action items regarding the transition to renewable fuels.
Reducing emissions coming from medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in Portland neighborhoods where there’s substantial diesel trucking pollution “creates an incredible benefit for our community,” said Magnera. But the question is: where are renewable fuels coming from? The current proposed site for a renewable fuels facility presents concerns for environmental justice communities, she said.
“It's difficult for us to really fully and publicly support this kind of action from the city without really weighing some of the consequences and using a community-led effort to really decide what the right approach is," Magnera said. “The city is not on the wrong track, necessarily, but also could do more to engage with some of the organizations and communities,” she said. Those voices and concerns must be incorporated so policies have proper safeguards to ensure projects don’t potentially harm communities or the environment, she added.
Also last week, the Portland City Council approved approximately $120 million in Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund grants. A 1% tax on large retailers funds that ongoing initiative.