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What Does Fischer’s ‘Climate Emergency’ Mean For Louisville?

Cliamte Emergency

In the wake of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s climate emergency declaration Friday, the city says it will continue work on plans to reduce carbon emissions, weigh the benefits of a renewable energy resolution and host a series of listening sessions to inform its climate adaptation plan.

But environmentalists are still harboring doubts, wondering if this isn't just another instance of Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. They say it's time for Fischer to do more than support listening sessions and plans.

“We’ve been making plans for a while. We don’t have a shortage of local climate action plans, we have a shortage of local climate action,” said Sarah Lynn Cunningham, Louisville Climate Action Network executive director.

Some of those plans:

  • In 2005, former Mayor Jerry Abramson committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement.
  • In 2009, the Partnership for a Green City published the Climate Action Report, which included a greenhouse gas inventory,
  • In 2011, on Fischer's second day in office, he ceremoniously renewed the city’s commitment to Abramson's Climate Protection Agreement.
  • In 2016, Louisville completed another greenhouse gas inventory report.

And take a look back at a paragraph from a WFPL News article written three years ago when Fischer signed the Global Covenant of Mayors, then called the Compact of Mayors:
But for many of Louisville’s longtime climate activists, the sense was “been there, done that.” This isn’t the first time Fischer has signed an agreement to cut the city’s emissions, and they say the previous document has been largely ignored — a charge a top Fischer administration official brushed off.
WFPL News reached out to the mayor’s office for comment on his latest declaration; his spokespeople redirected us to the Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability.

That office was created earlier this summer after city leaders laid off Louisville’s sustainability director and folded the agency into the Office of Advanced Planning. And as of Monday, that office is still working out the kinks in its operations.

“We’re still working on integrating those departments and figuring out which projects they are moving forward on,” said Caitlin Bowling, spokeswoman for Louisville Forward, which oversees the Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability.

In response to questions about what the mayor’s climate emergency means for the city, Bowling said it’s a recognition of the crisis the planet is facing. She also said Fischer is in talks with Louisville Metro Council leadership about how to reduce the city’s dependence on fossil fuels and increase the use of renewable energy sources.

“Climate change is an emergency. This is something that needs to be addressed not just locally in Louisville but on a broader global scale,” she said.

Emissions Reduction Plan

Bowling said the city is also working on its emissions reduction plan, which it expects to release later this year.  That plan is based on a 2016 agreement Fischer signed with the Global Covenant of Mayors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

That target falls short of the scientific consensus outlined in the 2018 U.N. Special Report on Global Warming, which calls for “net-zero” reductions by about 2050. Net-zero emissions means that any remaining carbon emissions would be offset through carbon sequestration, either from trees or carbon capture technology.

Also, Louisville has only completed the first step in the nine-part plan over the last three years.

Renewable Energy Resolution

The Metro Council is again considering a resolution for 100 percent “clean renewable electricity” for Metro government operations by 2030, and community-wide by 2040. The resolution also calls for revisions in the building code that promote energy efficiency and conservation.

The first effort died two deaths earlier this year when it expired around the same time Metro Council President David James withdrew sponsorship to avoid a perceived conflict of interest because of his wife's career.

This time the resolution is sponsored by Metro Councilman Brandon Coan (D-8).

Still, Cunningham remains skeptical the resolution would actually force the city to take action.

“I think resolutions are fine, but they are non-binding,” she said.

Climate Adaptation Plan

Beginning Thursday, city officials will hold three meetings asking residents how climate change is affecting them and what the city should do about it. There’s also this survey.

The climate adaptation plan is separate from the other efforts and would focus on preparing for existing and anticipated effects of climate change.

The idea is reminiscent of the city’s 2009 Partnership for a Green City Climate Action Report, which laid out similar plans nearly a decade ago — albeit with smaller emission reductions targets.

At the meetings, residents will hear a presentation and have an opportunity to make comments.

From the Office of Advanced Planning and Sustainability:

  • Thursday, Sept. 26: from noon to 2 p.m. in Room W210 of the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library Room, 2215 S. 3rd St.

    • Partner: University of Louisville Sustainability Council
  • Thursday, Sept. 26: from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Russell Vision Development Center, 2202 W. Jefferson St.

    • Partner: West Jefferson County Community Task Force
  • Saturday, Sept. 28: from 10 a.m. to noon at the Northeast Regional Library, 15 Bellevoir Circle

    • Partner: Louisville Sustainability Council


Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.