Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lawrence Climate Protection Task Force Report

Tuesday, 31 March 2009, 6:30pm
Lawrence City Hall, 6th & Massachusetts St.

At their 24 February meeting, the Climate Protection Task Force finalized the Draft Report.  This represents a year of intensive work by many dedicated citizens.  To download the Final Climate Protection Report, and a Powerpoint Presentation of the Report, go to Climate Plan & Power Point Presentation at the City Commission future agenda item page.

While the Lawrence Climate Protection Final Report has some strong points and some weak points, on balance it is a document worthy of support.  We would advise, however, that any such support be accompanied with urging to strengthen the weak areas, primarily the implementation protocols.

The Report presents some notably aggressive green house gas (GHG) reduction targets for Lawrence, commensurate with prevalent targets world wide.  The GHG reduction targets, measured below 2005 levels, are: 30% by 2020, 50% by 3030, 70% by 2040, and 80% by 2050.  A weak point is that these are only "suggested" targets; they must be adopted as a hard timeline, otherwise the targets are meaningless.  Lawrence used 2005 as the base year (rather than the typical 1990 base year) because our 2005 GHG emissions were already 45% below the 1990 level.

To reach these goals, the Climate Report proposes seven strategies of implementationincluding: energy conservation for buildings, land use planning, and transportation policies and plans.  Additionally, the Task Force proposes funding for full time Sustainability Director, public educational programs, and a City leadership role in climate matters.

Energy Conservation for Buildings may be the most important of the strategies, yet the Report's recommendations devalue it's potential.  Buildings account for 38% of GHG emissions, more than emissions from industrial process or transportation.  Furthermore, 70% of energy used in buildings is electricity, 75% of Kansas' electricity is from coal, and coal emits twice the green house gases than any other fossil fuel.  Building energy is THE low hanging fruit, with the most rapid potential for reductions, and the greatest ability to leverage small changes into large results.  On a positive note, the Report calls for enhanced building codes, yet remains unclear as to what extent.  There is no reference to either Zero Energy Homes orThe 2030 Challenge for carbon neutral buildings.  Beyond that, the Report emphasizes only "education" and "incentives", which will mean a slow adoption curve.  

Land Use Planning has some quite good proposals, which are found in Appendix D.  Oddly, the list mostly describes transportation policies.  This section would be improved if it included items like tower height exemptions for wind generators, south facing building lots with solar access, or covenant waivers for clothes lines, etc.  

Transportation Policies & Plans proposes a strong transit commitment, as well as policies to reduce auto idling.  A more detailed listing is in Appendix E, with an emphasis on bicycling and transit coordination.  

An agricultural strategy and a natural habitat strategy are both conspicuous in their absence from the Climate Protection Report.  It is suspected that these have been avoided for the same reasons that the section on Energy Conservation for Buildings lacks any meaningful teeth - resistance by the local land developers and builders, upon which our economy is disproportionately dependent.  Considering how agricultural soils and trees are both veritable sponges for carbon sequestration, their exclusion is a serious flaw in the Climate Protection Report.

Yes, this is an important document for security and livability of Lawrence.  But to be fully effective in as timely a fashion is required by the impending climate crisis, this Climate Protection Report needs some serious strengthening before it can rightly be called a Plan.

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