Smokey Boise Skyline

Smoke from numerous western wildfires shrouds the downtown Boise skyline, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020.

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BOISE — The Boise City Council on June 16 approved a long-term plan to tackle climate change by setting a goal for citywide carbon neutrality by 2050.

Mayor Lauren McLean and council members urged business leaders and Boise citizens to follow the city’s lead in implementing the plan, a so-called Climate Action Roadmap.

“If we want to thrive in the long run we have to do everything we can to set ourselves up for success,” McLean said at a Tuesday meeting, when the council voted unanimously to approve the plan developed by the Public Works Department.

In 2019, under former Mayor Dave Bieter, the city adopted an energy plan with a goal of 100% citywide clean electricity by 2035. The Climate Action Roadmap goes further, proposing three new goals: that city operations are carbon neutral by 2035, that the community as a whole is carbon neutral by 2050 and that the community’s resilience to climate change impacts is enhanced.

Last week, Climate Action Manager Steve Hubble said, “When we look nationwide at other climate action plans we see that a lot of cities take both of those approaches. They take a numeric approach towards reducing emissions and then also a more qualitative approach to getting the community ready for changes that may be coming from climate change, regardless of what progress we’re able to make in reducing emissions.”

To be “carbon neutral” means that a municipality or a community emits a net neutral amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the primary cause of climate change. Boise hopes to reach this goal by reducing emissions — switching to electric vehicles, for example — by sequestering carbon dioxide — planting trees, which store carbon — and by offering carbon emission offsets, certificates representing the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.

The council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to adopt the goals of the Climate Action Roadmap.

“This is a culmination of a long time coming,” said City Council President Elaine Clegg. “I am so excited tonight that we get to adopt this resolution that memorializes the climate action plan that begins the action to do even more for energy efficiency and climate resiliency for the city of Boise.”

Councilman Jimmy Hallyburton said, “We have the ability to hit some of these goals sooner, if people jump in and get on board. I see this as a great opportunity for other folks, whether those are organizations or individuals, to say, ‘Yes, we love what you’re doing and we want to be a part if it.’”

Other cities in the region have adopted, or are working on, similar plans to tackle climate change, including Spokane, Washington, and Bozeman, Montana. In April, Spokane released a draft of its Sustainability Action Plan, which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050. The Bozeman Climate Plan sets goals for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% net clean electricity by 2030. In Idaho, Blaine County and the city of Hailey last year signed on to a 100% clean energy goal by 2045, Idaho Mountain Express reported. In December, the city of Ketchum signed on, as well.

Boise’s plan is guided by three principles: advancing equity, improving human health and wellness and growing an climate-friendly economy. It prioritizes emission reductions for energy and buildings, transportation and consumption and waste along with enhancing resiliency of the city’s food systems, water and natural environment. It also includes 23 opportunities, or specific actions, such as “shifting heating sources from natural gas to cleaner electricity or geothermal” or planting trees within the city and in nearby by forests.

“It is a detailed plan with attainable goals,” said Councilman Patrick Bageant. “It’s not just a declaration of a wish list, it’s an actual plan that we will begin to execute.”

Conservation Voters for Idaho — an environmental advocacy group, which spent tens of thousands on campaign advertisements backing McLean’s 2019 mayoral bid — released a statement applauding the plan.

“Climate change requires bold action, and we are thankful that the City of Boise has followed the will of voters and has taken proactive and decisive action to address climate change with equity and transparency in mind,” said Ryan McGoldrick, Conservation Voters for Idaho’s program associate, in a news release.

“Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and many of the Boise City Council members ran on a strong conservation platform promising to advance clean energy and equitable climate action policies for the city. We applaud the mayor and city council for this bold and exciting new plan and for making concrete steps in fulfilling their campaign commitments to Boise voters.”

Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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