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Portland City Council to host virtual public hearing and vote on Climate Emergency Declaration

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Racial justice = climate justice: Declaration focuses on communities most affected by climate change, including Portland’s Black, Indigenous and communities of color, including youth from those communities.

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On Tuesday, June 30, 2020 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Portland City Council will hear testimony and vote on the Climate Emergency Declaration resolution which, if approved, commits Portland to a new approach to climate action.

Read the draft declaration: 

Sign up to provide public testimony. Registration will open on Friday, June 26 and close at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.  Submit written testimony to Council by sending an email to the Council Clerk at cctestimony@portlandoregon.gov.  

The challenge of addressing climate change is more urgent than ever. The Climate Emergency Declaration recognizes that the Portland metro area faces a human-made climate emergency that requires greater action, resources, collaboration, and bolder, more urgent actions. The Declaration updates the City’s emissions reduction goals to match necessary goals set by international climate scientists to avoid catastrophic climate change — to at least 50% below 1990 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050. It also outlines the new approach the City of Portland will take to climate action planning and implementation, moving away from big, five-year planning processes to more iterative, continual, adaptive planning jointly with community. The new approach focuses on climate justice and centers the communities living on the frontlines of climate change, including Portland’s Black, Indigenous and communities of color, including youth from those communities. 

Why is a new approach needed? 

Despite years of local climate action, total carbon emissions in Multnomah County have stalled:

The numbers tell us that our current strategies and actions are not enough, while the climate crisis is intensifying and the impacts and burdens of climate change impact communities of color disproportionately.  If we continue this path, the Portland metro area will not meet our 2030 emissions reduction goals.

But emissions are only part of the story. Looking at how climate actions and investments impact Portlanders tells us more about what a new approach needs to look like.

Although the City has invested in climate-friendly strategies like expanding green infrastructure, energy efficiency and clean energy programs, improving the reliability of public transit and investing in bicycling and pedestrian options, and encouraging recycling and composting, those investments have not been equitable. A history of systemic discrimination, including racist housing and land use policies, has displaced Portland’s Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color to outer neighborhoods with poor transit options, higher levels of industrial pollution, and a deficit of trees and parks — which imposes the burdens on these communities and excludes them from the benefits of climate investments. As a result, these Portland communities are facing higher energy and transportation cost burdens and adverse health impacts.

Creating a safe, healthy climate for all Portlanders means recognizing that climate change requires a racial justice approach.

The events of the past several weeks underscore why climate action must be rooted in racial justice and equity. With the climate emergency as the backdrop, Portlanders are in the middle of a global pandemic where communities of color are disproportionately impacted, a national call for police accountability and the confrontation of systemic racism in our nation sparked by the murder of George Floyd. There is a common thread of injustice between these crises: Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are disproportionately harmed. 

Systemic racism results in the killing of Black men and women by police. Systemic racism is also the root cause of the higher rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths among Black and Latinx communities who lack equal access to healthcare and the social determinants of health. And systemic racism — manifested in practices like redlining, the siting of polluting industry and fossil fuel infrastructure, and lack of investment in public transit and green infrastructure in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color — is the underlying condition that causes these same frontline communities to be disproportionately harmed by the impacts of climate change. Racism is not only a driver of unequal impacts, but also of the climate emergency itself, embedded in an economy that is based on colonialism, slavery, and the unsustainable exploitation of both people and natural resources.  

Portland’s response to the climate emergency must start with recognizing that frontline communities in Portland are the least responsible for driving climate change yet are the most harmed by the impacts of climate change like extreme heat and poor air quality. Portland’s climate action must commit to changing the institutions and systems that drive these unequal outcomes.

What does a climate justice approach look like?

A climate justice approach centers the voices and priorities of those who are most impacted by climate change, to co-create strategies and implement solutions. The Climate Emergency Declaration will establish a climate justice initiative to provide a framework for the City of Portland, Multnomah County, community partners and funders to work together as equal partners to identify and implement strategies that will advance a shared vision for climate justice and action in an ongoing, iterative approach focused on creating equitable community benefits that build wealth, wellbeing and resilience of frontline communities while reducing carbon emission by 50 percent by 2030.

The climate emergency calls for a transformation of the City’s climate work; to move away from a laundry list of actions, but instead to focus on bolder, systemic change for climate justice. To build on groundbreaking climate action initiatives in Portland, such as the Portland Clean Energy Community Benefits Fund and the Zero Cities Project. To make progress on our emissions reduction goals, build resilience to the impacts of climate change, and facilitate a just transition to a low-carbon economy, our actions and plans must be guided by climate justice.

In addition, the Climate Emergency advances climate justice/climate actions in the following ways: 

  • Commits the City to work with Metro and TriMet to find resources to fund a year-round transit pass for all Portland youth; 

  • Commits the City to develop a ‘climate test’ for major decisions and capital investments that the City makes;  

  • Commits the City to adopt new policies to reduce carbon from buildings and the transportation sector, including becoming an EV-ready city, that prioritizes action, benefits and protections for renters and low-income residents: 

  • Commits the City to adopt new policies that prevent further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in the City, and quicken the transition to clean, renewable fuel options that are also good for air quality;  

  • Commits the City to update protections and enhance tree canopy in Portland, especially in East Portland to address public health risks and urban heat island;  

  • Requires ODOT to put dynamic pricing is in place on freeways before Portland City Council will approve additional lane miles; and  

  • Calls on the two electric utilities, PGE and PacifiCorp, to deliver, clean renewable energy to all Portland residents and businesses no later than 2030 and calls on NW Natural to fully decarbonize its gas pipeline no later than 2050.  

Follow the future of climate action at the City level at www.portland.gov/bps/climate-action and @PortlandBPS on Twitter.