Environment Politics

While globally, President Donald Trump has announced his intentions to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement as soon as possible, U.S. cities have been stepping up to set individual emissions reduction targets.

On Friday, Mayor Greg Fischer announced Louisville will join cities including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Atlanta, Denver and Philadelphia in setting a greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. The city will aim to cut emissions 80 percent by the year 2050.

Identifying the reduction target is the second step in a process Fischer committed to two-and-a-half years ago. He signed the Compact of Mayors in 2016, agreeing to put resources into assessing community greenhouse gas emissions and creating a strategy to reduce them as a way to address climate change. Now that a target is set, the city must determine how Louisville will meet it.

Last year, the government released an analysis showing that greenhouse gas emissions dropped about 10 percent from 2010 to 2016. A significant part of that is due to the conversion of Louisville Gas & Electric’s coal-fired Cane Run plant to natural gas in 2015.

Fischer said, in a press release, that reducing these emissions will help protect the future of the planet. He praised area businesses for improving their practices and encouraged individuals to make efforts as well.

“It will take all of us to achieve this very ambitious goal,” he said, according to the release.

Greenhouse gases contribute to climate change by trapping heat, which leads to global temperatures rising.

Louisville’s emission reduction plan will focus on core areas including building energy use, energy industries, on- and off-road transportation and waste, according to an overview published by the city in July.

That report said that about 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 came from heating and cooling buildings using electricity, natural gas and propane. Transportation was the next highest category, with nearly 19 percent of city-wide emissions coming from vehicles — including boats and planes — powered by gasoline, diesel and propane. A smaller proportion of emissions, less than 1 percent, came from decomposing waste in landfills, which releases methane.

It is important for the city to periodically inventory its greenhouse gas emissions, said Sarah Lynn Cunningham, executive director of the Louisville Climate Action Network. But she also said efforts to address climate change at a city level have to be supported with appropriate investment.

“I think it’s also important that we have dedicated staff whose job it is to do this process. It can’t be done with a low-budget contract with outside contractors,” Cunningham said. “We’re really going to have some investment in our infrastructure for reducing that carbon footprint if we’re going to try to meet that goal.”

The Louisville Metro Council is considering a resolution in support of a goal for the whole city to run entirely on renewable energy by the year 2035. Cunningham said it’s a good idea.

She said the two best options for reaching the greenhouse gas emissions goal would either be to improve energy usage in all buildings, or to commit to the 2035 goal.

“Since we can’t tighten up all the buildings quickly… that would be potentially the best thing the government could do,” Cunningham said.

The next step is for Louisville to create a strategy to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goal. As part of that process, the city will be surveying residents to determine support for some possible solutions — including tree planting, energy conservation or encouraging people to drive less.

Louisville’s Office of Sustainability will also hold public meetings to get input on the process. The first two meetings will take place in January.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.