Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County

Mayor Ted Wheeler is proposing a $2.4 million climate change mitigation investment in the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, the city announced Tuesday. While the investment would be the largest dedicated funding the city has allocated to combat climate change since declaring a climate emergency in 2020, city staff and environmental activists still consider the investment n is just a drop in the ocean.

The proposed line item would direct funds to the Office of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) to reduce the city’s carbon emissions and adapt communities so they are better prepared for the impacts of climate change, such as the wave of killing heat last year. In practice, this would look like a BPS meeting with regional energy providers to negotiate a shift in Portland’s power grid from a “dirty” power mix that relies on energy sources like natural gas to a “clean” energy mix that relies more on wind and solar. energy. It could also mean investing in tackling heat islands — large expanses of concrete that absorb and retain heat — in Portland like 82nd Avenue.

“Climate change is not stopping, or even slowing, and our opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience is rapidly closing,” City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees BPS, said in a statement. hurry. “I’m grateful the mayor supported the need for these investments now.”

Historically, the city has dedicated about $800,000 from the general fund annually to climate investments across all city offices, according to BPS staff. BPS has never received more than a few hundred thousand dollars in dedicated climate investments during an annual budget cycle.

Although $2.4 million is the largest dedicated investment the city has ever made in climate work, BPS staff note that this is still a limited amount of funding that must be used strategically. That’s why, according to Andria Jacob, head of climate policy and programs at BPS, funding should prioritize Portland’s energy sources and transportation emissions.

“Before you start plugging in a bunch of EVs, heat pumps, and heat pump water heaters — these electric technologies… you can’t plug this into dirty, brown power,” Jacob said. “It has to be clean. [energy].”

About 44% of carbon emissions in Multnomah County come from electricity used in residential and commercial buildings, and transportation accounts for about 42% of Portland’s overall carbon emissions. Addressing how the city powers buildings and transportation is key to tackling carbon emissions, according to BPS.

The proposed budget would dedicate $721,000 to decarbonizing the city’s energy and transportation sectors by investing in community solar power projects, help the city’s transportation office implement incentives for options greener transportation options and negotiate carbon-free energy sources for the city. Portland has set a goal to eliminate carbon emissions from the city’s electricity sector by 2030, a full decade ahead of Oregon’s same state goal for 2040. $955,000 Additional funds would be used to create climate-friendly building standards in the city and to invest in flood, fire and heat resistant infrastructure, especially in low-income communities and East Portland. The remainder of the funding would support three additional BPS staff positions to carry out the office’s climate work and fund the creation of an air quality action plan that would guide the city’s strategies to reduce pollution. atmospheric.

Local environmental activists say these investments are long overdue.

“The [historically] the city’s lackluster response doesn’t give me the impression that they actually believe that [the climate crisis] is a crisis,” said Brenna Bell, forest climate manager at 350PDX, an environmental advocacy group. “And that’s part of the nature of the crisis – it’s calm.”

Bell argues that the city has so far failed to address the climate crisis in a holistic way that looks at how every office in the city can play a part.

“BPS does certain things and [the Bureau of Development Services] does some things and Parks and Recreation does some things, but where is the sense that the city is taking this as the crisis it is with an eye on justice? Bell said. “Mitigation, adaptation and justice are the three things we want to see in every discussion.”

In tackling building standards and transportation emissions, BPS aims for this holistic approach, but the work of the office is still limited by staff capacity and funding. Planning for larger investments in the future is also difficult, according to Acting BPS Director Donnie Oliveira, because climate efforts must involve city, county, state and national governments.

“We’re getting the investment ball rolling, but in truth, the big dollars that are going to shape the city and achieve our climate goals aren’t just going to come from the city of Portland,” Oliveira said, “it’s going to be state and federal investment and not just in Portland, because these are regional, national and global issues.

According to the latest United Nations climate report, world governments have until 2030 to make significant progress in reducing carbon emissions before they cause irreversible damage that threatens the world’s population and the well-being of the planet. . In order to make adequate progress, the report says global governments need to spend three to six times the roughly $600 billion they currently spend on investments in clean energy and climate change mitigation.

“Portland has taken a few steps [against climate change], but every time he does something good, it’s kind of self-gratifying, like ‘Okay, we did it!’ said Bell. “Like, no, this is going to be like one of the fights of our lives.”

Wheeler’s proposed budget will be reviewed and discussed over the next few weeks before city council votes on a final version in June. If those climate investments don’t hold up in budget discussions, Jacob says the outcome is disastrous.

“If we don’t have the funding and we don’t get the resources,” Jacob said, “we don’t respond to the [city’s climate] Goals.”

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