Staff Editorial

Iowa City is leading the state on climate action

Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks alongside Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and local activists in downtown Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. The student-led movement has resulted in the Iowa City school board and the City of Iowa City each passing a climate resolution. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa City mayor Jim Throgmorton speaks alongside Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and local activists in downtown Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. The student-led movement has resulted in the Iowa City school board and the City of Iowa City each passing a climate resolution. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa City has put forth an impressive climate action plan that should serve as a model for other towns in Iowa.

The Iowa City Council declared a climate crisis in August, directing the city government to chart an aggressive path toward significantly lowering carbon emissions, both from public and private sources. The plan calls for a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, and “net-zero” emissions by 2050.

This week, city staff presented a 100-day update to the City Council, including recommendations to achieve the city’s goals. The document is packed with sensible and attainable steps the city will take to boost sustainability and climate adaptation.

The city’s carbon footprint already has declined significantly over the past five years, but that largely is because of changes outside the city government’s direct control — MidAmerican Energy has shifted to wind energy, and the University of Iowa has reduced the use of coal at its power plant.

Those factors give Iowa City a sizable jump-start toward its lofty bench marks, but continued progress will prove more difficult. City Manager Geoff Fruin said at this week’s meeting that staff is confident about the city’s ability to realize the plan’s goals, but it will require a “culture shift” in every department of the city government and significant financial investments from the city.

Local governments in Iowa have relatively little authority to mandate energy use practices. With that understanding, Iowa City’s plan leans heavily on incentives for businesses and individuals, along with projects to educate citizens about smarter energy and transportation options.

City and county leaders elsewhere should take note of Iowa City’s early success in prioritizing climate action. Many local governments already are leading important conservation and energy efficiency efforts, but not necessarily in a concerted manner.

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In meetings with The Gazette editorial board ahead of municipal elections earlier this month, candidates for Cedar Rapids City Council had varying levels of support for entertaining a climate crisis declaration. One reservation candidates voiced is that a declaration might feel nice, but wouldn’t have tangible effects.

That take is unequivocally wrong. Far from symbolic window dressing, climate plans like Iowa City’s call for tangible actions that will both reduce carbon emissions and help communities build resilience against climate disasters that are sure to become more intense and frequent in the coming years.

We implore all local governments in Iowa to consider their own climate adaptation plans. For Cedar Rapids, the second-largest city in the state, it would be an especially profound statement.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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