Some Progress, Some Waiting: Louisville's Climate Plan

by kespeland on December 18, 2009


In April 2005, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson signed on to the U.S. Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement.   Today, nearly 1000 cities have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions seven percent below what they were in 1990.  And that’s by 2012.

“What it means for us in terms of seven percent below the 1990 would be the community would have to decrease its carbon output by more than two million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is, just to put it in context, the electricity generated by about 300,000 homes,” the Mayor said.

Abramson’s number comes from an emissions inventory commissioned by the Partnership for a Green City—which includes Louisville metro government, the University of Louisville, and Jefferson County Public Schools.  Partnership director Brent Fryrear says they found that the three entities together account for only five percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“The reality of the greenhouse gas inventory is that 29 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in this community come from residential electricity generation and use.  Another 29 percent comes from transportation,” says Fryrear.

Armed with that information, Fryrear says the partners, as well as industry and community representatives, spent two years coming up with a plan to reduce those emissions–and meet the Mayor’s target. The result: the city’s Climate Action Report, with 175 recommendations on everything from establishing an asthma action plan to protecting wetlands to creating a low-cost loan program for homeowners to improve their energy efficiency.  Partnership director Brent Fryrear says that now the three organizations must figure out how to implement them.

“What they will do is translate those recommendations into climate action reports at each of those entities, and then Louisville Metro, U of L, and JCPS will work on how we can do things for the community,” Fryrear says.

All three have taken many steps already to reduce their emissions.  Louisville Metro government has updated its vehicle fleet and worked to reduce energy consumption in public buildings.  U of L has an agreement that will allow it to pay for expensive energy efficiency upgrades with the money saved on energy over time.  But tackling those personal energy uses could be the biggest challenge.  Fryrear says it’s no light undertaking—but they’re in the initial planning stages.

“We’re compiling different things that are happening in the community right now, as well as the three partners, to figure out what’s happening, where those fall under the recommendations, and what kind of greenhouse gas reductions we can expect from those,” Fryrear said.

It’s still unclear who’s ultimately accountable for making sure the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions—residents—is addressed.  Sarah Lynn Cunningham represented the Louisville Climate Action Network on several committees that crafted the report.

“I don’t think anybody in particular is responsible for making it happen. It’s important to note that the initiative itself only has one full-time employee who certainly can’t do everything and can’t make anybody do anything,” says Cunningham.

That employee is Brent Fryrear, who says he can advocate and coordinate but not enforce.  But Cunningham says she believes action on the plan in general has been too slow, that bolder, more urgent action is needed now to curb emissions.  But she says the report is a good road map.

“We were trying to take the stuff that anybody who works in climate change knows and apply it to Louisville.  The whole point was to make this be tailored to Louisville’s needs and Louisville’s abilities and interest and that sort of thing,” Cunningham says.

That included scientific research showing specifically how climate change might impact this region—including increased flooding, harsher droughts, and a spike in infectious diseases. But as the report’s authors found, no single recommendation, no silver bullet will address those impacts or help the community reduce its emissions.  The work will take time.

In the meantime, while the city won’t meet its obligations in the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement on time, agreements reached in Copenhagen or on Capitol Hill could provide the impetus—and funding—to take action more quickly.

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