Whether or not you believe human-caused climate change is real, Santa Feans are already seeing the effects of a changing planet, from the closing of national forests over the summer because of increased wildfire risks to ski slopes without enough snow to open last winter.
While the city of Santa Fe has embarked on several initiatives to reduce the city’s carbon footprint over the years, city officials are now on the verge of adopting an ambitious plan to act on a promise they made four years ago to be carbon neutral by 2040.
“The importance and timeliness of this plan cannot be overstated,” Beth Beloff, chairwoman of the advisory Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, told the mayor and city councilors Wednesday while laying out the details of the 188-page proposal.
The unveiling of the plan, which the governing body is scheduled to vote on in November after it has been vetted by a handful council committees, comes on the heels of a report by the United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change, which painted a grim picture of the planet’s future. The report found a need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent below 2010 levels within a decade to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences of climate change.
The city defines carbon neutrality as “reaching a state where emissions of carbon dioxide are balanced or offset by measures to reduce or sequester those emissions.”
The city’s plan has been three years in the making.
“It’s prompted by numerous resolutions from this body to reduce our energy use, increase our use of renewable energy, reduce our water use, reduce our carbon footprint and, importantly, join the rest of the world in climate action in the absence of any federal will to do so,” Beloff said in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump, who expressed skepticism about the U.N. report.
The city’s plan focuses on four areas:
• Ecological resilience.
• Economic vitality.
• Social equity and quality of life.
• Carbon neutrality.
Within each focus area, it lays out 91 strategies across multiple categories, from water and transportation to health and well-being. Examples of strategic projects include solarizing additional city-owned buildings, implementing a bicycle-sharing program and improving a bus route app to make it easier to use public transportation.
Beloff said the planning approach that underlies the proposal is for the city government to fundamentally lead by example.
“We must walk the talk here in city government,” she said. “How can we expect the community to take these actions if the city does not?”
Asked whether the city’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2040 was realistic, Mayor Alan Webber said it was worth trying.
“Whether we’ll hit the goal in the time frame we’ve indicated, we’ll see,” he said in an interview. “But I think the effort and the instinct and the inclination and the commitment is worth making, and then we’ll track our progress.”
Webber, who attended a global climate action summit last month in California, said he heard one private-sector company after another from various industries vow to fight climate change “as a matter of good business practice.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.