City Council talks Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emission goals

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At a special meeting Tuesday, City Council members, city staff and members of the public discussed the city’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The council heard updates on the city’s ongoing Climate Action Plan, adopted in 2009, which calls for a 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, compared with 2000 levels, by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. So far, Berkeley’s total emissions are 9 percent below 2000 levels, which does not reach the benchmark goal for reductions in 2013.

The message presented by city staff and council members was twofold: that Berkeley has been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions so far but that there is still much more that can and must be done if the city is to achieve its goal by 2020.

“Take a moment to celebrate some of the successes that Berkeley has had,” said Katie Van Dyke, the city’s Climate Action Program manager, at the meeting. She cited Berkeley as having the second-highest walk-to-work and third-highest bike-to-work rates in the nation.

City staff and council members focused on the city’s efforts to use solar power, the cost-effective replacement of regular streetlight bulbs with LED lights and the expanded use of electric cars throughout Berkeley.

They then went on to look at what facets of the city continue to contribute substantially to greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Berkeley are due to transportation, while nearly 45 percent come from buildings throughout the city.

City staff laid out a series of initiatives that could help move the city closer to its 2020 goal for reduced emissions, such as new clean car and low carbon fuel standards and plans to increase housing in parts of the city with easy access to public transportation.

At the meeting, several members of the public expressed less enthusiasm for the city’s progress so far, stating surprise at the degree to which staff and council members took pride in current programs. The city also acknowledged that its plans alone would not bring Berkeley all the way to its goal.

“We need new ideas,” Van Dyke said. “We would like to engage with the public community and solve these problems in a collaborative and transparent way.”

With that goal in mind, Timothy Burroughs, assistant to the city manager, suggested further involving the community through an “idea competition” that would take input from local citizens and organizations. Burroughs said that such a competition would not only bring up new ideas but also promote an environmentally conscious mindset in all members of the community.

Should the city meet its goals, Mayor Tom Bates noted toward the meeting’s end, the city may become “an example for the rest of the country.”

Contact Maxwell Jenkins-Goetz at [email protected].