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Cedar Rapids City Council passes resolution recognizing urgency for climate action

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Demonstrators at the Oct. 8, 2019 flood groundbreaking in Cedar Rapids draw attention to climate change’s impact on increased flooding. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The Cedar Rapids City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday recognizing the urgency of taking action to address climate change and outlining steps for creating a community-wide sustainability plan.

“I think [this resolution] will go down as one of the most important documents that we pass, and more importantly, it has accountability,” Councilmember Scott Overland said during the Feb. 25 council meeting.

The resolution comes almost three months after the Linn County Board of Supervisors declared a climate crisis. The board’s resolution was passed in December just days before climate strikes were organized around the country — including in Cedar Rapids.

The resolution approved on Tuesday commits city to following recommendations set forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It also directs staff to develop a greenhouse gas inventory to know exactly where emissions are coming from in the city.

“We are intentionally reevaluating better ways to exist and grow and navigate this climate crisis all while reducing our personal contributions to the negative impacts on the environment,” Councilmember Ashley Vanorny said.

The resolution outlines the targets and priorities for developing a community-wide sustainability plan, including climate mitigation targets and supporting a green economy by creating high-wage jobs in the industry.

The climate mitigation targets are:

• Reduce carbon emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050
• Reduce methane and black carbon emissions by 35% from 2010 levels by 2050
• Increase renewables to supply 70-100% of electricity by 2050
• Decrease coal-generated electricity to 0% by 2050
• Decrease industry carbon emissions by 65-90% from 2010 levels by 2050
• Increase the transport sector’s share of low-emission final energy to 35-65% by 2050
• Utilize carbon dioxide removal methods that allow the city to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050

The impacts of climate change “are global, these are local, these are at every level,” said Eric Holthaus, the city’s sustainability coordinator. Cedar Rapidians directly experience some of these effects, such as extreme heat and major flooding, he added.

“And as we have more of these disasters sort of back to back, it becomes very hard to recover,” Holthaus said. “You can see major impacts to our farming, food and clean water systems.”

Holthaus also pointed out how the impacts are felt disproportionately by low-income and minority populations, which is why the city intends to make it a priority to involve those groups in the creation of the community sustainability plan. The resolution passed Tuesday has five “climate justice” targets to outline how the city plans to get these individuals involved.

In addition to these other steps, the city will create a steering committee with representatives from across Cedar Rapids to guide staff in developing recommendations for the community climate action plan.

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“We continue to look at how we can make changes to our organization, but to really make an impact, we do have to get out to the community and get businesses and citizens and neighborhoods, everybody else to join in, so I love that that’s part of this plan,” Mayor Brad Hart said.

Holthaus also shared details about the iGreenCR action plan during the council meeting. The plan focuses on the city’s commitment to pursue sustainability in their own operations and to “lead by example.” It is renewed every three years, with the first plan covering fiscal years 2020-22. It will then be updated with new objectives and steps for the following three years.

Moving forward, the first steps include the greenhouse gas inventory, holding educational events about climate science and engaging with a climate action planning consultant, Holthaus said.

Following that, the city will form the advisory committee and begin crafting the community climate action plan, which is slated to be presented to the council in a year and a half.


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