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Palo Alto, Calif., Adopts '80x30' Climate Goal

The goal is to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030, as a part of the city's obligation to address global warming as outlined in the landmark Paris Agreement.

by Jacqueline Lee, Palo Alto Daily News, Calif. / April 21, 2016

(TNS) -- Palo Alto officials affirmed the city's commitment to the environment as Earth Day celebrations are underway this week, adopting a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030.

Mayor Pat Burt said the "80x30" goal, calculated from a 1990 baseline, is no more of a stretch than previous goals related to renewable energy and water supply the city has met on time and within budget.

The goal is part of the city's obligation to address global warming as outlined in the landmark Paris Agreement, which 195 countries adopted last year, Burt said.

"What seems like an ambitious goal ... is what all cities and nations must do if we're going to cap the increase in global temperature at the 1 ½ to 2-degree (Celsius) range," Burt said. "It is nothing more than our fair share."

The council has yet to agree on detailed plans for how to reach the goal, but more than 300 ideas were included in a draft Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which the council also adopted Monday with an 8-0 vote. Vice Mayor Greg Scharff was absent.

The plan urges major shifts in transportation habits and a shift in the reliance on natural gas to electric heating. Some specific initiatives include charging for downtown parking to cut single-occupancy trips and having 90 percent of vehicles in Palo Alto be electric vehicles by 2030.

Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend said Monday that the city is looking at how to "de-carbonize industrial society in the next century."

Friend said some of the environmental issues at hand may seem impossible to fix, "but I think we're in part of the world that creates impossible solutions over and over again."

The city already has achieved a 36 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from the 1990 level and continuing such "business as usual" green initiatives would bring the city to a 52 percent reduction by 2030.

Councilwoman Karen Holman asked city staff to include strategies related to basement dewatering; expanding city parks and urban tree canopy; and encouraging rehabilitation and reuse of materials instead of demolition and new construction.

The council directed city staff to return in two months with a process to integrate the sustainability plan with the Comprehensive Plan, which is being updated.

And, the council will review and adopt the sustainability plan's "guiding principles" in six months.

Many of the city's leading environmentalists spoke in favor of the "80x30" goal.

Heyward Robinson, a former Menlo Park councilman, commended Palo Alto for carrying the torch of environmental leadership in the region. Going forward, the city will have to work on "not easy" public transit improvements.

"We really do look to Palo Alto to really push the needle," Robinson said.

Sandra Slater, the Northern California director of the Cool City Challenge, an initiative of the Empowerment Institute, urged city officials to be bold, reminding them of the S/CAP advisory committee's call for a more "audacious" goal of 100 percent reductions by 2025.

"With good policy, this can be done both financially and technologically, but we need you to lead," Slater said. "... The biggest failure would be to adopt safer goals."

©2016 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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