Columbus, Ohio’s capital city and the second-most populous city in the Midwest following Chicago, has revealed a vigorous, wide-ranging plan to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 45 percent by 2035. Fifteen years later, in 2050, the city plans to eliminate them entirely. Released last month just ahead of the holidays, the equity-focused Columbus Climate Action Plan, or CAP, was developed as a major collaborative effort between lead consultants Arup and the Columbus-based planning, urban design, and landscape architecture firm MKSK, working alongside leadership from multi-departmental Columbus Climate Commitments Working Group with extensive input from residents, business leaders, environmental groups, and other stakeholders.
Described in an Arup news release as a “living guide and resource,” implementation of the CAP will kick off this year with the city earmarking $10 million for the plan in its 2022 Operating Budget; per Arup, these funds will be used to create additional clean energy jobs, expand citywide energy efficiency initiatives, establish a Green Fund that will support solar project for nonprofits as well as affordable housing units, and bolster staffing for the city’s existing sustainability initiative, Sustainable Columbus. Beginning in 2025, the city’s sweeping blueprint to curbing emissions and preparing/safeguarding Columbus residents, with a keep focus on marginalized and at-risk communities, from the impacts of climate change will be reviewed and updated on a five-year basis. Higher temperatures and extreme weather made worse severe by climate change have already arrived in Central Ohio. Per the CAP, the average temperature in Columbus increased by 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1951 and 2012 and is likely to rise an additional 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. In May 2020, Columbus was devastated by historic flooding brought on by record-shattering rainfall.
Both the timeline and commitment of CAP keep Columbus on track with the emissions reduction goals established in the Paris Climate Agreement.
“To design such an extensive and ambitious plan, we drew upon our work as a partner of the global C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which includes co-creating working resources for cities undertaking climate action planning and community engagement,” said Linda Toth, Associate and Sustainability Leader at Arup’s Washington, D.C., based office, in a statement. “We leveraged Arup’s breadth of climate impact experts, including vehicle and transportation planners, buildings and energy efficiency consultants, resiliency and adaptation specialists, as well as technical experts to address the range of topics and issues the Climate Action Plan strategies cover.”
As further detailed by Arup, the 100-page CAP “encompasses mitigation of and adaption to climate change along with near-term actions and more broadly defined long-term strategies to achieve carbon neutrality,” and includes a total of 32 quantifiable, emissions-curbing actions that the city government along with private businesses, organizations, and residents alike can put into practice. These actions comprise 13 core strategies divided into five main sections. Each individual strategy is weighed within an Action Matrix that considers multiple criteria including cost, expected benefits (four benefit areas in total are considered), and GHG impact ranked from indirect to high. Each strategy has also been assigned a lead city agency.
The five sections and 13 corresponding strategies, some possessing single actions and others multiple, are as follows:
Climate Solutions: The Columbus Way
- Empower a Community of Climate Leaders
- Develop a Clean Energy Economy
- Enhance Partnerships for Preparedness Efforts
- Support a Healthy and Resilient Community
- Implement Land Use Planning Strategies for Healthy Ecosystems
- Prepare for Warmer and Wetter Seasons
- Increase Building Efficiency
- Increase Renewable Energy
- Adopt Net Zero and Resilient Building Standards
- Enable Carbon Free Vehicles
- Support Equitable Mode Shift
- Reduce Waste Generated
- Increase Waste Diversion Rate
Each of the 13 strategies and the 32 individual actions called for within them are further fleshed out, including summaries of each, targets, and estimated GHG impact, within the expansive CAP document. The finalized version is available for download here.
Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther concluded in his preamble for CAP:
“The Columbus Climate Action Plan outlines how to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants, and ensures that we eliminate the environmental racism that has plagued our most vulnerable communities for far too long. It also emphasizes the need to build a Columbus that is resilient to global climate change while mitigating future risks. The threat is clear. The stakes are high. And our obligation to our children, and their future, compels us to act now. We owe it to our city, our region, our country and, indeed, our world.”
Columbus, like other major cities enacting bold emissions reduction plans aligned with the Paris Agreement, has its work cut out for it. While the city had previously set out with a recommended goal to slash its emissions by 20 percent by 2020, emissions actually grew by 2.3 percent since 2013 due in large part to significant population growth over the past decade. From 2010 to 2020, the population of Columbus soared by percent, an impressive figure considering statewide population growth in Ohio was under 3 percent.