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Louisville mayor signs order to reach net-zero emissions by 2040

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signs an executive order for the city to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions community-wide by 2040 on Wednesday October 5, 2022.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer signs an executive order for the city to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions community-wide by 2040 on Wednesday October 5, 2022.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has signed an executive order for the city to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions communitywide by 2040. 

Until now, Louisville Metro was working toward a goal to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, said Sumedha Rao, Louisville’s sustainability coordinator.

That pace is now considered too slow based on the current scientific consensus.

Climate scientists say humanity has limited time left to avoid irreversible changes to the planet. The planet has already warmed around 1.1 degrees Celsius since the beginning of the industrial era. For our planet to remain habitable, experts say we must limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). 

Burning fossil fuels for energy, transportation, heating and cooling releases greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat close to the earth’s surface, creating the so-called greenhouse effect that causes temperatures to rise and intensifies extreme weather.  

Fischer noted the devastating impacts that climate change is already having across the planet -- including in Kentucky. 

“We certainly saw it with devastating floods in eastern Kentucky,” he said. “We saw it obviously with the tornadoes in western Kentucky as well, and then just most recently, southwest Florida obviously devastated by the hurricane down there.”   

Fischer joined Louisville youth activists in 2019 to declare a “climate emergency.” Later that year, the city completed its greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan. 

The city passed a non-binding resolution in 2020 to make city government operations 100% clean energy by 2035, and communitywide by 2040.  

Louisville Metro hired an “energy czar” that saved the city nearly $750,000 in his first year on the job. It has also piloted a new program to help homeowners afford solar panels.  

Fischer said the new executive order builds on work the city is already doing to reduce emissions.

“So there are some things that are unfinished business, I guess I would say in my last 100 days or so, and this is one I think is important to go ahead and set this in place.”

With the order signed, Fischer said Louisville joins more than 1,000 cities around the globe that have made similar commitments. But Fischer acknowledged the work ahead is daunting. 

About 71% of Kentucky’s electricity generation came from coal-fired power plants as of last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The state burned more coal for electricity than every other state behind Wyoming, Missouri and West Virginia. 

Louisville receives its power from Louisville Gas and Electric, which still generates the majority of its electricity by burning coal. LG&E’s latest climate commitment falls behind that of the city’s, with plans to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and interim goals to reduce carbon emissions by 70% of 2010 levels by 2035 and 80% by 2040. 

Not to mention, LG&E officials have testified their climate goal is “aspirational” and the utility plans to continue burning fossil fuels after 2050. 

Net-zero, by the way, means greenhouse gas emissions are as close to zero as possible, with any remaining emissions offset naturally or using technology like carbon capture. 

So for Louisville to achieve net-zero emissions communitywide by 2040, the city would need to find renewable power sources. It would need to transition homes and businesses away from using natural gas for heating, perhaps with technologies like heat pumps, and make changes in the areas of agriculture, transportation, industry and commerce. 

However, the planet’s largest consortium of climate scientists, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, could not be more clear about the dangers we are facing. 

In September, IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said human-induced climate change is widespread, intensifying and presents a threat to the health of the planet.

“Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a rapidly closing window to secure a livable future,” Lee said.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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