Waiting for the pandemic’s end to tackle climate change isn’t an option, according to the mayors of Sacramento and West Sacramento.
The Mayors’ Commission on Climate Change, which debuted in 2018, released a 29-page draft plan on Earth Day with the goal of both cities becoming carbon zero by 2045. The commission defines “carbon zero” as carbon neutral, meaning that all human caused greenhouse gases from each city equal zero.
“It is an audacious plan, but if COVID-19 has not intensified our focus and commitment to addressing the issues of public health, I don't know what else could,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said during a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
The proposal will be reviewed at the commission’s May 13 virtual meeting and is currently available online for public comment.
“One of the silver linings of this crisis is it’s giving us a forced moment to think about the way that we live our lives,” West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said about how the pandemic has affected how often we drive and other behaviors harmful to the environment.
“It's an important moment to strike on the policy side … to make sure that the changes that people are starting to consider in their own daily [lives] can be made into widespread behavior to help us to fight the climate crisis,” Cabaldon added.
The commission’s members include 19 regional leaders representing agencies, nonprofit organizations, government and businesses. The group receives input from advisory committees, young people and business owners.
Steinberg says the proposal, which holds no teeth until it is approved, was written “through the lens of equity.”
Waiting to address the climate crisis until after the pandemic would only further harm low income and minority residents, Steinberg argued.
“Our communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis,” he said, citing a Harvard School of Public Health study linking air quality with higher COVID-19 death rates. “What we're going through now only intensifies our commitment to be bold in our actions here. And yes, there will undoubtedly be some resistance.”
The proposal aims to do things like invest in bike travel, mass transit and zero-emission cars.
It also includes increasing the tree canopy in the region to 35% by 2045 and boosting infill growth.
The mayors reiterated that it is just a starting point. Cabaldon says this moment of crisis could be an opportunity to stimulate the economy by meeting climate goals.
“This is really about redesigning from the bottom up … in order to achieve the climate reductions that we need,” he said.
But not all climate groups in the region feel the timeline is “as ambitious” as it should be, said Chris Brown with the Sacramento Climate Coalition.
He says the proposal would be stronger if all of the timelines for the recommendations were set for the year 2030 instead of 2045.
“We see things happening in our world that shouldn’t be happening until the end of the century according to predictions from previous decades,” said Brown. “It’s important to up our game.”
Commissioner Laurie Litman is also part of the climate group 350 Sacramento. She says the plan is bold, includes goals for issues related to young people and disadvantaged communities — but still doesn’t go far enough.
“We need to do everything as soon as possible, because we're way behind in addressing climate issues,” she said. “We've run out of time. We need to have done all of this yesterday. But I think that it's a good start.”
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