Tucson declares climate emergency; council commits to 10-year plan for change

Tucson is the third fastest warming city in the U.S.
Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 6:45 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The Tucson Mayor and Council declared a climate emergency at the Sept. 9 meeting.

The declaration sets a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, committing the City to developing and implementing a comprehensive 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.

The declaration also focuses on deploying a Just and Equitable Transition with an emphasis on people of color, immigrants, Indigenous communities, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, and the unhoused – all who are disproportionately affected by the adverse health consequences of climate change.

“With record-breaking temperatures, increasingly dry summers, and historic wildfires, the need to act boldly to combat climate change and build resiliency in our city has never been more apparent,” said Mayor Romero. “My gratitude goes to young members of our community from the Arizona Climate Coalition and Sunrise Tucson who have led on this issue and approached me at the beginning of the year on the need to declare a climate emergency.”

The AZ Youth Climate Coalition was a large part in lobbying for the declaration, meeting biweekly with City staff. Their main ask was the 2030 deadline for carbon neutrality.

“If we don’t take action on climate change, our generation could be one of the first that in-mass is denied the privilege of dying of old age, and instead becomes the victims of climate change,” said Kyle Kline, a UArizona student and part of the AZ Youth Climate Coalition.

Part of the declaration includes plans for a “just and equitable transition" to shift the economy from “dirty energy to energy democracy."

As the third fastest warming city in the U.S., Tucson is facing a real climate change threat in public health and safety that can increase local risks and worsen the effects of major hazards such as wildfires, drought, extreme heat and flooding. August was Tucson’s hottest month on record and this summer was the hottest in all 125 years of weather records. With little rain, experts have concluded that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of heatwaves.

The declaration directs all City departments to prioritize and align efforts with the Paris Agreement and the Green New Deal, and identify climate adaptation and mitigation strategies that are people-centered and prioritize certain climate and sustainability solutions.

“I think it’s important that each city takes on those standards,” said Leanne Rogers, a Tucson resident.

Earlier this year, Mayor & Council voted 6-1 to allocate $250,000 for the development of a comprehensive 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. By establishing overall sustainability and de-carbonization goals, the declaration of a climate emergency is the first step in developing this plan.

“By establishing bold goals, and expanding on our current efforts, the City of Tucson is well-positioned to act as a climate leader and become a more ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable city,” added Mayor Romero.

Mayor Romero said she hopes in the next 12 to 18 months, a Climate Action and Adaptation plan will be in the City’s hands.

The Climate Emergency Declaration prioritizes the following climate and sustainability solutions:

  • Deploying and efficiently using clean, renewable and locally sourced energy.
  • Transitioning out of fossil fuels by electrifying the City’s public transit and vehicle fleet, and retrofitting City facilities.
  • Capturing and safely storing carbon mainly through the massive tree planting via the Tucson Million Trees initiative.
  • Deploying and enhancing land use patterns to foster safe, multimodal, accessible, equitable, intelligent, and clean transportation, mobility, and connectivity.
  • Conserving resources through water management and eliminating waste by establishing a 50% diversion goal by 2030 and zero waste by 2050.
  • Incorporating green infrastructure into community design to capture and use stormwater, and actively restore and rehabilitate ecosystems by removing non-native vegetation.
  • Preparing for, learning from, and adapting to the effects of climate change through proactive, holistic planning and response at the infrastructural, cultural, and institutional levels.

Tucson joins more than 1,700 cities and jurisdictions worldwide that have formally committed to take action to reverse global warming by declaring a climate emergency. Councilman Steve Kozachik says one of the biggest hurdles in moving toward a greener City—is working with utility companies. The Sierra Club sent a statement, saying in part, “TEP, which plans to continue burning its dirty fossil fuels through 2032, must make a swifter transition to clean renewable energy.”

TEP said they, "...and the City of Tucson are working toward the same thing – a more sustainable energy future for our community.”

The company says they recently made their own plan for a greener future—with 70 percent of their power from renewable resources that will result in an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2035.

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