After drifting through two years of pandemic-induced doldrums and the churn of employee turnover, Charlottesville officials are looking to put some action and effort into a climate action plan.
City Council was briefed on the city’s current climate initiatives during a work session Monday by members of the city’s Environmental Sustainability and Facilities Development department and the Climate Protection Program. The city is working toward developing a Climate Action Plan to be completed by the end of 2022.
Kristel Riddervold, the city’s environmental sustainability and facilities development manager, told City Council that the city is finally in a position to support development after two difficult years.
“We initially launched the Climate Action Plan development effort in the fall of 2020, but subsequently encountered several stumbling blocks,” she said.
One block is the city’s effort to complete a comprehensive plan that includes climate action as one of its guiding principles and priorities, Riddervold said.
She also cited leadership and staff transitions as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as challenges to the process.
“[These factors] derailed important elements of the original process, but also resulted in some key city staff who would have been able to support this, serving in multiple roles or not being here anymore,” Riddervold said.
According to Riddervold, Charlottesville has had an active climate program since 2007, when it committed to reducing community wide greenhouse gas emissions by joining the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.
In 2017, the city reaffirmed its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change by joining the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The Global Covenant addresses reducing greenhouse gas – often called climate action or mitigation – as well as adaptation, which involves responding to the effects of climate change.
In 2019, Charlottesville adopted a community wide goal of 45% greenhouse gas emission reductions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
Now, the city is looking to take more concrete steps as part of the formal climate action plan. Those include hiring a climate program specialist, a position for which the city is currently taking applications.
The climate protection program will also be conducting surveys of community members.
Riddervold acknowledged frustration from community members about the delay in completing the action plan.
“What we are looking at now is a reboot, a focused effort to bring this process back on the rails and to get on the same page,” Riddervold said.
Susan Elliott, the city’s climate protection program manager, said that approximately 95% of Charlottesville’s greenhouse gas emissions are out of the local government’s control.
The other 5% are from a municipal operation.
About 90% of Charlottesville’s emissions come from residents, businesses and transportation.
Elliott said city efforts could include improving energy efficiency, including partnering with Solarize Charlottesville to provide solar panels. They also include information programs about reducing energy emissions. The efforts should be supportive for low-income households, Elliott said.
Another step includes addressing the role of the city owned gas utility, Charlottesville Gas.
“There’s also questions about how do we reach carbon neutrality both within our city operations and within our transit operations but also as a provider of natural gas to the community,” Elliott said.
She said Charlottesville Gas’s impact on the environment may be addressed within the action plan research.
Both Elliott and Riddervold said they are optimistic the city is finally in a place that it can support a plan and take concrete steps toward mitigating the effects of climate change.
“We’re now in a place of greater stability. We can begin moving forward with renewed momentum to bring the development of this plan to conclusion,” Elliott said.