September 10, 2021: Albemarle briefed on greenhouse gas emission inventory; Lessons on adaptation from Resilient Virginia conference
Death. Taxes. Should we add rising global temperatures to the list of the inevitable, or is there something that can be done? Is that thing adaptation? A massive behavioural shift? These are the questions that come to mind as we begin this September 10, 2021 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement.
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On today’s show:
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors is briefed on the county’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change
Lessons in adaptation from officials across the mid-Atlantic from the recent Resilient Virginia conference
It has been about a month since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes issued an update on progress toward efforts to keep the average global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees. Achieving that ambitious goal will take coordinated action at all levels of government, including the county-level in Virginia.
Earlier this month, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors learned the county is not currently on track to meet a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent of 2008 levels by the year 2030. A second goal is to become at net-zero by the year 2050. To get there, the county has a Climate Action Plan that Supervisors adopted in October 2020. (read the plan)
“This report increases certainty in what we’ve already known,” said Gabe Dayley, Albemarle’s climate program coordinator. “Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities like burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change.”
Dayley said the IPCC report also links increased instance of extreme weather with climate change. He said there is a sense of urgency in the report and the Climate Action Plan is intended to document the various ways emissions can be reduced.
“The climate action plan has 135 actions,” Dayley said. “They run across five chapters on transportation, buildings, renewable energy, waste management, and landscape/agricultural/natural resources.”
The plan will help guide investment in various programs. So far, Albemarle has provided funding to the Albemarle Home Improvement Program and LEAP to install energy-efficient improvements in homes of people with lower incomes.
“That program has gone really well in the first six months of this year,” Dayley said. “We’ve had 15 homes that were retrofitted with better insulation, with improved appliances to help reduce homeowners energy bills and then of course the weatherization to help folks who are losing a lot of heat.”
Dayley said the county is working on an assessment to determine who and where in Albemarle is most vulnerable. That work has been funded by the Piedmont Environmental Council and a report is due in mid-November.
But about those emissions targets? To get a sense of where Albemarle currently is, a greenhouse gas inventory was conducted based on data from 2018.
“We calculated that in 2018 the community wide emissions for the county where 1,419,367 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent,” Dayley said. “We calculate that we saw a ten percent decrease in community-wide emissions between our last inventory in 2008 which is the baseline for the county’s targets.”
Dayley said that happened despite an increase in population, which generally leads to an increase in emission. He said explanations include greater fuel efficiency, the increase of carbon-neutral or lower-carbon energy sources, and more efficient heating and cooling systems.
However, to hit the 2030 target, Dayley said the community needs to cut reductions by another 40 percent. The next inventory will come out in two years based on data from 2020.
The University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and Albemarle County are working together to implement various action plans. Supervisor Diantha McKeel wanted to know how that work would influence various policies, such as how to move transit fleets away from fossil fuels.
“We have five transportation systems in this community of somewhere around 150,000 people using diesel buses right now,” McKeel said. “And I understand that there’s a change in Albemarle County Public Schools towards electric school buses and that’s all great. But what is our outreach to [Charlottesville Area Transit] and the University of Virginia all working together? Where is that connection happening?”
McKeel referred to a statement made earlier this summer that CAT is continuing to study the right way forward and is pursuing a study of compressed natural gas.
Dayley said that transportation is the largest sector of emissions and there is a high priority to address the issues. He hoped that further program development of the climate action plan will help to facilitate those conversations.
“One of my next steps is to reach out to them and hear in a little bit more detail about how that’s going and how the climate program team can help advance that effort,” Dayley said.
Lance Stewart, the county’s director of facilities and environmental services, said a closed door group consisting of UVA, Albemarle, and Charlottesville staff have “touched upon climate” at their meetings. The Land Use and Environmental Planning Committee (LUEPC) last met on July 23 and discussed the University of Virginia’s plans to comply with an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam to reduce single-use plastics.
(disclaimer: Both PEC is one of my sponsors and LEAP contributes through a $25 a month Patreon contribution. I am not involved with either organization beyond these transactions and the occasional copy)
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Let’s go back in time a bit to last month’s conference on adaptation from Resilient Virginia. The nonprofit organization seeks to build awareness of available resources to plan and build for a world where the weather has warped. All over the country, scientists and planners are turning resilience from an abstract concept into policies
Amanda Martin is the Chief Resilience Officer for the state of North Carolina, which is based within their Department of Public Safety.
“We were created in 2018 after Hurricane Florence when this additional massive infusion of federal recovery funding and I say additional because we had just Hurricane Matthew in 2016,” Martin said. “It became clear that the state needed some new administrative capacity to handle disaster recovery funds.”
One result of the department’s formation has been the creation with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality of a North Carolina Resilience Plan. Part of its purpose is to coordinate activity across multiple state agencies, and to define working regions. (read the document)
“The scale of community and the scale of region is really important to address resilience challenges,” Martin said. “That’s both because of the legal and regulatory authority that local government has but also because of the regional nature of our climate impacts. A lot of them are bigger than a municipality but smaller than a state.”
Martin said in North Carolina, cities are taking on the resilience work in regions and one concern is that rural areas may be left behind. The plan seeks to address that balance.
In Virginia, much of the focus has been on coastal resilience where Rear Admiral Ann Phillips is the special assistant to Governor Ralph Northam for coastal adaptation. Phillips said Virginia is not as far along as North Carolina in terms of preparing.
“We are just starting down this path,” Phillips said. “We have taken some substantial steps through the course of a number of gubernatorial administrations but have been kind of challenged to get over the hump to actually get started and get moving because there was no direct funding focused in this area within the Commonwealth’s budget or fiscal plan.”
Phillips said Virginia has been fortunate to not have received a direct hit from a major hurricane in recent years, but preparations are underway to know how to respond.
In Virginia, the Secretary of Natural Resources is the chief resilience officer and that’s been Matthew Strickler since action by the General Assembly in 2020. (HB1313)
“My position was created by the 2018 General Assembly,” Phillips said. “I do not effectively have a direct staff or a budget. That is still the case. However, with Virginia joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and creating in 2020 a Commonwealth-wide flood resilience fund, we now have capacity to do statewide studies of significance.”
A master plan for coastal adaptation is underway and is expected to be ready for review in November. (learn more)
So far, Virginia has received over $89 million from proceeds from auctions of carbon credits for companies likely to exceed their emissions limits. (RGGI auction results)
“I should note that of the RGGI funds, 50 percent go to a Department of Housing and Urban Community development energy efficiency fund, 45 percent go into this community flood preparedness fund,” Phillips said.
The rest goes for the administrative costs. The Department of Conservation and Recreation administers that flood preparedness fund. Phillips said around 6 million of Virginia’s population of 8.5 million live within eight coastal planning district commissions.
The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative covers most of the mid-Atlantic. Shaun O’Rourke serves two roles in the the managing director of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank and the chief resilience officer for the state. He’s held that position since September 2017 and helped create the Ocean State’s first resilience plan called Resilient Rhody.
“We were looking at all of the natural hazards and impacts the state was facing with regard to climate change and to be able to propose solutions across a number of themes — critical infrastructure, natural systems, emergency preparedness and so on — that could better Rhode Island,” O’Rourke said.
Resilient Rhody suggested 61 actions for state government to take including what the municipal role would be.
“One of the things that I say all of the time is that better prepared municipalities are going to equal a better prepared Rhode Island,” O’Rourke said. “And that’s exactly why we established a municipal resilience program as an outcome of our Resilient Rhody strategy.”
O’Rourke said the infrastructure bank is lined up to fund projects to support adaptation efforts, prioritized by a number of factors. The bank has funded over $2.5 million of action grants in its first two years for stormwater management projects and infrastructure upgrades.
“They are often times very targeted specific projects that they know they need to get done now and stormwater management very much falls into that category,” O’Rourke said. “We’re seeing roads and bridges and parking lots flooded all the time. We’re addressing those issues, that low-hanging fruit that demonstrates progress and momentum, and then working with these municipalities on the larger more complicated projects that may not have permitting and design as a technical assistance follow-up.”
Since O’Rourke and the others spoke, Hurricane Ida caused dozens of deaths across New England, and some parts of Rhode Island received up to ten inches of rain.
We’ve heard from North Carolina and Rhode Island. The major difference in Virginia is that cities and counties are independent of each other. Here’s Rear Admiral Ann Phillps with an explanation.
“We have 38 independent cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia and then 95 counties, and the independent city moniker is quite unique,” Phillips said. “There are 41 in the country, and 38 in Virginia, ten in Hampton Roads. So what that means is that cities are responsible for their own destiny.”
Phillips said regional cooperation will be crucial in Virginia’s efforts to adapt.
“The state’s role is to try to align efforts so that we can move forward collectively to try to make progress,” Phillips said.
How much coordination is occurring at this local level? This is a question that Charlottesville Community Engagement seeks to answer. Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to visit the Climate Action Together website to see what Albemarle, Charlottesville, and the University of Virginia have done and might do. And then, let me know what questions you have? What steps have you taken? Or, is climate change something you don’t think will affect your life? I’m curious to know. Leave a comment below or drop me a line. You can just reply to the newsletter.