The Laramie City Council voted unanimously this week to pass a resolution “establishing the intent” of council to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050.
That vote was based on recommendations advanced in February by the Environmental Advisory Committee, a group of local residents appointed by the city council and the Albany County commissioners.
In February, the EAC presented its findings to council-members for how the city can reduce greenhouse gas emissions — both those produced from municipal operations and those coming from the community at large.
Ahead of Tuesday’s council meeting, city staff prioritized the EAC recommendations into three categories: Near-term activities for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years, mid-term activities for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, and long-term activities that will run until 2050.
Based on council’s vote, city staff now plan to develop more specific work that the city can incorporate into their budget planning that’s set to begin in April.
The vote came at a council meeting packed with residents who came to support the effort, and council-members expressed enthusiasm for that level of civic engagement.
“Your presence here speaks volumes to us,” Mayor Joe Shumway said.
The resolution calls for an adoption of a comprehensive plan for the carbon-neutral effort to come no later than the 2023 fiscal year. During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Janine Jordan said that such a comprehensive plan will be an important tool for council-members to determine how feasible it will be for Laramie to become carbon neutral by 2050.
“What we’ll learn through this comprehensive planning process is how realistic that 2050 goal is, based on our available resources,” she said. “That includes our fiscal resources but also the ability of our staff to do the work. But 2050 is a long ways away. There’s a lot of time to get a lot done.”
Jordan recommended that for the 2021 and 2022 fiscal years, the city works on modifying municipal operations to “contribute incrementally” toward a net-zero emissions goal.
During the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, Jordan said the city should move toward “quantitative data collection, analysis, and planning to move beyond municipal operations and toward a community-wide emissions inventory and reduction strategy.”
During that period, the city should work on community outreach and education, while also finding financial resources to work on “community-wide net zero efforts.”
To be able to get to net zero by 2050, Jordan said the city will need to adopt and implement a “comprehensive community driven plan.”
The city council resolution comes after a University of Wyoming study estimated the city’s carbon footprint in 2019, leading city council to task EAC with developing an emissions reduction plan and targets.
The EAC’s recommendations include reducing net municipal emissions to 50% of 2018 levels by 2030, 90% by 2040, and achieving net zero by 2050.
The EAC also recommends that the community’s emissions see a 30% reduction by 2030, 70% by 2040, and achieving net zero by 2050.
Mike Selmer, an organizer with a Laramie climate change advocacy group, told the council that they shouldn’t let the economic cost of their carbon-neutral goal get in the way of action. He contrasted the world’s quick and enormous response to the recent coronavirus outbreak with the slow, conservative response to climate change.
“The world is mobilized (on coronavirus): Spending many billions of dollars, shutting down cities, restricting travel, closing schools, halting sporting events, and doing everything possible to control this emergency, regardless of economic cost,” he said. “All of this is to get a handle on a virus that scientists say — at its worst — could become an annual event similar to the flu. Meanwhile, scientists say unequivocally that climate disruption is already causing death and displacing people around the world, and that without decisive action, perhaps tens or hundreds of millions of lives are at stake in the decades ahead. And yet we hesitate to call climate change an emergency and even when we do, we don’t treat it as such. We weigh the economic cost and count every penny.”
Jackson’s town council is currently considering its own resolution about becoming carbon neutral by 2030, if not sooner.