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To reduce risks of widespread flooding, hunger and other climate-related disasters, carbon dioxide emissions have to be reduced to pre-industrial levels by 2050, according to the landmark report released in the fall by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Albemarle County staff members are proposing that the county set its sights on the same “net zero” goal. They presented the goal to the public at an open house on Monday. “It’s scientifically sound. This is what’s being called for, so this should be the example that the county sets,” said Narissa Turner, climate program coordinator for the county. The proposed goal is not just to reduce the impacts of county-owned property on the environment, but to reduce and reabsorb all pollution within county borders. The goal is a reversal from 2011, when the Board of Supervisors voted to end county participation in an initiative that suggested reducing emissions to 80 percent by 2050. The same year, the board ended its membership in a nonprofit that would help track the county’s emissions, after opposition from the Jefferson Area Tea Party. Current Supervisor Liz Palmer was in the audience when the vote not to use the tracking software happened. “I was annoyed, like most of the Charlottesville area,” Palmer said, laughing, “Meanwhile, the city and the university were going strong.” The county has restarted funding for local sustainability initiatives in recent years and, in 2017, it publicly re-committed to reducing climate pollution locally. Then in the fall, the current board decided to make drafting and implementing the first phase of a Climate Action Plan its top priority for the next three years. The board’s focus on climate action planning comes at the same time as the University of Virginia and Charlottesville set new goals for reducing climate emissions. When staff members of each organization realized that the timelines overlapped, they decided to start an initiative called “Climate Action Together” that formalizes communication between the groups. “We were hearing from the community that … they didn’t want to necessarily go to three different events to say the same three things,” said Susan Elliott, the manager of the city’s Climate Protection Program and one of the facilitators of Climate Action Together. Both UVa and the city staffed tables at the plan’s kickoff event on Monday. Other tables included information on sources of emissions in the county and strategies to reduce them. Privately owned buildings are responsible for 40.4 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report completed by the county in 2009. Transportation is responsible for another 52.1 percent. Palmer said she is excited to see land use-related outcomes of the Climate Action Plan. “I want to see how we actually end up making a difference as a county. We do land use. That’s predominately what county governments do, so how are we going to work that into the strategic plan?” Palmer said. Scott Clark, a county planner staffing a table at the open house, said that the CAP might create incentives to plant trees in Albemarle’s rural areas to recapture carbon already in the air. To promote efficiency in the development areas, the county could increase funding for organizations like the Local Energy Alliance Program that help families seal their homes to reduce energy loss, said Andrew Lowe, of the county’s environmental services division. County staff hope to adopt the first phase of the climate action plan by the summer. In the meantime, Turner said that the county needs community involvement, whether by providing feedback or serving as experts on emission sector teams. Turner’s table at the kickoff event included reusable cups, apples (a food without plastic packaging) and a tissue box repurposed as a comment box. “We really do want to engage with people, so whatever we have to do that, we are here. If you want to scribble us a note on a sheet of paper, if you want to email us, if you want to call us — what works for you,” Turner said. Information on city, county and university efforts can be found at the Climate Action Together website.

Emily Hays grew up in Charlottesville and graduated from Yale in 2016. She covered growth, development, and affordable living. Before writing for Charlottesville Tomorrow, she produced a podcast on education and caste in Maharashtra, India.