The Ames City Council wants to see the community its reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 83% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
At a Climate Action Planning workshop Tuesday, the council voted 5-1 to adopt targets for the entire city, while balancing conflicting public opinion. While some called for aggressive climate action, others demanded that costs don’t fall on residents.
“I think there’s a lot of value in making a stance with a target,” council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen said. “It’s motivating to people, so it’s not only signaling but it’s also a rallying cry that can be motivating.
“As to the cost, I’m sensitive to that, too, but, again, the cost of inaction is something we’re not talking about much.”
Mayor John Haila compared the process to his time as an architect — noting that one of the job’s biggest frustrations often came from setting a budget only to realize it wasn’t going to cover all of the plans.
“It’s like taking candy away from a baby because you’re cutting out this room or your cutting this off,” Haila said. “So we developed a policy that we would not give initial budgets to start with for a project.
“I just want to share one of the concerns with setting an aspirational target is if you have to start cutting because all of a sudden the costs are so high or they’re just untenable, are you going to start having to deal with people saying they’re disappointed.”
The city has received comments from the public, about 50 of which dealt solely with the cost, Haila said.
“Some didn’t use very good language,” he added.
Others called for the city to treat climate change as an emergency.
Ahead of Tuesday’s workshop, 30 local organizations signed a letter to council, urging councilors to commit to a citywide goal of 100% clean energy and carbon neutrality by 2030, according to an Ames Climate Action Team news release.
The Ames Climate Action Team expressed support for the fair-share plan, which takes into account global equity and is the most aggressive of the plans.
“ACAT believes that net-zero emissions by 2030 are achievable if the city uses all of the emissions reduction strategies at its disposal,” the release said. “However, it sees the fair-share plan as an adequately bold option for Ames.”
Beatty-Hansen made a motion for the council to adopt the science-based fair share approach.
Council member Amber Corrieri said she wasn’t quite as concerned with public perception, which dominated the discussion Tuesday night. She noted the process has still only engaged a small percentage of the community.
“As we all know, we cannot make everybody happy,” Corrieri said. “Giving people a strong sense of where you want to head while still being realistic and honest with them about the process is the best option.”
Council member Tim Gartin, the lone dissenting vote, said the city’s ambitious target was disingenuous without having clear data and knowing the costs.
Council member David Martin, meanwhile, pointed out that the goal set Tuesday made no commitments to specific actions, but only set a goal for the climate action planning team to work from.
Any costs or changes to city plans would still need to be approved by the council.
Sustainability Solutions representative Yuill Herbert said a target is not a guarantee and requires municipalities to be adaptive.
“Climate is just a really tricky thing to address,” Herbert said. “Because the energy system is so deeply entrenched, it’s difficult to transform.”
Gartin said the council should address how binding the target should be. As the city approaches their budgeting period, he said they need to decide how these climate action goals will impact taxes and current programming.
No changes will be made to next year’s budget, which the council will hear presentations on next month, Haila said.
“I think the people who are very interested in the Climate Action Plan process, my sense is they’re not interested in window treatment or some symbolic gesture,” Gartin said. “They want to see us accomplish something.
“If we are going to have a committed goal, then we’re going to have to have a very hard conversation about the viability of that target.”
Herbert said a target is a signal of the current state of the city and its investment in addressing climate change and sets a level of ambition. The target is constrained by Ames’ physical system, such as current transportation infrastructure, homes and business, he said.
He said an important aspect of target-setting is being adaptive, especially as factors change over time. Gartin said he interpreted Herbert’s response as the city being able to set more aspirational targets rather than a stringent commitment, which he said takes some pressure off.
“My fear is that there will be people who are very disappointed that we don’t take an approach that the target we’re agreeing to is a committed goal,” Gartin said.
Read more on the Climate Action Plan process here.