116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — As Iowa and the world brace for heavier rainfalls, rising temperatures, increased flooding and more natural disasters fueled by a rapidly changing climate, Cedar Rapids had unveiled its plan to reduce carbon emissions and enhance community resiliency to global warming.
Eighteen months of planning and public engagement went into creating the Community Climate Action Plan, which centers on equity to support the most vulnerable residents as the city responds to human-caused climate change. The City Council will consider final approval of the plan on Sept. 28.
“What started as very much an internal effort has really expanded to the entire community of Cedar Rapids,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “ … We’ve got the plan, we will have the plan in place and do the hard work.”
The plan’s formation comes as a landmark report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed scientists’ findings that climate events rapidly are becoming more widespread and intense. The resounding message was that these changes resulted from human-caused emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases. Even with “strong and sustained reductions” in emissions, unprecedented changes — such as rising sea levels — would be irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years and increasing temperatures would take decades to stabilize.
In Cedar Rapids, inventories show over 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from industrial processes. As of 2019, emissions had dropped 17 percent since 2010, when the city recorded 6.72 million metric tons of carbon as companies transition to cleaner electricity sources.
Repetition of the message that humanity faces an increasingly dire climate crisis has resonated with residents of Cedar Rapids — a community that still grapples with recovery from floods and the 2020 derecho — said city Sustainability Coordinator Eric Holthaus.
“I think we as a city realize that this is where we need to be part of the solution,” he said. “It's bigger than us. But we have so much that we can achieve here locally. We can build a stronger community, we can be more equitable and we can achieve much more together with this type of focus.”
Visit cityofcr.com/sustainability for new information on city sustainability efforts and to view the city’s interactive climate story as well as other documents related to the Community Climate Action Plan.
Carbon net zero vision
First, the plan outlines actions toward achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; increasing renewables to mostly or entirely electricity, moving the transport sector to low-emission energy and eliminating coal and reduce industry carbon emissions. Actions detailed in the plan call for creating new programs to advance sustainability achievements, such as:
- A Sustainable Neighborhoods program involving residents in grassroots steps toward a more sustainable future
- A Sustainable Business program to enhance building practices (energy efficiency, waste reduction) and land use practices (gardens, trees, biking facilities)
- A Green and Healthy Homes and Small Businesses program created through a fund to support renewable energy, vehicle and large appliance electrification, and more
It also recommends developing a sustainable building policy for new construction and renovations, large-scale solar installations in underused areas such as rooftops and industry collaborations to reduce emissions.
Plus the plan urges enhanced public transit options — including potential electric buses — and more walkable neighborhoods and defining the concept of a “15-minute neighborhood” with incentives to provide missing amenities, particularly prioritizing vulnerable neighborhoods.
“A sustainable neighborhood is a place that is energy efficient, has beautiful trees and is a place that you could walk within 15 minutes,” Holthaus said. “This will be challenging to do certainly in some areas, but it's the vision that we have and is important. In a 15-minute walk, you should be able to meet most of your basic needs, whether it be a grocery store, whether it be healthy food, whether it'd be a park, whether it be a retail store, perhaps.”
Resilient and accessible
To ensure all residents have access to high-quality green space, healthy food, clean air and water and green jobs, the plan outlines steps to build resilience to climate hazards with a priority on vulnerable residents and to provide a direct connection to city government.
To accomplish these goals, the plan envisions strengthened outreach to the community through student partnerships and intentional outreach to under-resourced and underrepresented residents.
The plan advises developing indoor and outdoor “Resilience Hubs” to offer basic amenities such as Wi-Fi, water and food in public spaces as well as expansion of flood mitigation efforts. Creating a food access policy would be part of a sustainable development approach so all residents have access to healthy food through urban farms, public gardens and other means.
How the plan took shape
This process was set in motion with the council’s February 2020 passage of a climate action resolution recognizing the urgency needed and identifying 2030 and 2050 targets for reducing carbon emissions.
Community “ground teams” and city staff conducted in-person surveys in under-resourced areas including Westdale, Wellington Heights, Taylor and Oakhill Jackson. Those teams then transitioned to help create the Sustainable Neighborhood program.
The Sustainable Neighborhoods program will help show residents “here's all the sustainability actions you should be taking in your homes, and we want to recognize those efforts, and we want to build excitement from neighborhood to neighborhood on what does this neighborhood do well.”
The city also held focus groups with neighborhoods, businesses and not-for-profits and schools and conducted surveys. A group of 13 residents formed the Community Climate Advisory Committee to guide plan development.
‘Mortgaging’ time to climate volatility
Advisory committee member Jason Snell said he would liked to have seen a mechanism in the plan to hold the city accountable for updates as climate change becomes more catastrophic.
Holthaus said it would be up to the council to discuss adjusting the plan’s goals and targets. City staff will report annually on plan implementation.
Snell also said he wanted more locked-in accountability for industrial stakeholders meeting carbon-emission reduction targets. “If we stay on this path, we’ll just be lurching from disaster to disaster,” Snell said.
Resiliency-building will help the community cope with immediate effects of climate change, Snell said, but achieving the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the key to securing residents’ future in the long run.
“We’ve already mortgaged off the next 30 years to increased climate volatility,” Snell said. “Do we want to mortgage off even more years? Fifty years, 100 years, 200 years, 300 years? At what point will we stop destroying our children's, grandchildren's futures? At a certain point we will because the disasters will just get too intense.”
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