Climate report calls for Northampton to be carbon neutral by 2050

  • A recently finalized plan, the Northampton Climate Resilience and Regeneration Plan, is up for endorsement by the City Council on Thursday night. This graphic shows how average maximum daily temperatures have risen since the 1980s and projects where they will be by 2100 in the case that no action is taken to reduce emissions (red line) and in the case that “significant” action is taken (blue line).  Northampton Climate Resilience and Regeneration Plan

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2021 8:24:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A few years ago, the city committed to being carbon neutral by 2050, and now it’s finalizing plans on how to get there.

“A goal is nice, but what does it actually mean?” said Director of Planning and Sustainability Wayne Feiden.

A recently finalized plan, the Northampton Climate Resilience and Regeneration Plan, takes on that question and is up for an endorsement from City Council on Thursday evening. The 63-page plan was approved by the Planning Board late last month and by the Energy and Sustainability Commission in December, according to Feiden, who was the report’s project manager.

Developing a yearly carbon budget is one method the report says the city will use to track its progress to the 2050 goal. Across the city, about 70% of emissions are tied to commercial and residential buildings, according to the report. A study is currently underway to determine how to cut emissions in city buildings, Feiden said.

Measuring progress for city building is not difficult — “We get all those electric bills,” Feiden said — but it’s harder for non-city buildings, and he said they are still determining how to measure their progress.

Twenty six percent of the city’s emissions are from transportation, according to the report. When it comes to transportation, “Our first step is how do we reduce the amount of vehicle miles traveled? That’s about sidewalks and bike paths and zip cars and development patterns where more people can walk. … Then, how do we electrify vehicles?”

Carbon sequestration, like planting and maintaining trees, will also be important, Feiden said. The city will still use diesel-powered fire trucks for years to come, and those emissions need to be offset, Feiden said.

Policy also makes a difference, like zoning changes to incentivize fossil fuel free heating. For example, the city is giving two parcels of land to Habitat for Humanity and Valley Community Development to build affordable housing, but those buildings’ main heating and cooling systems must be fossil fuel free, Feiden said.

Help beyond the city

Making the city carbon neutral by 2050 is not all on city government. Smith College, Feiden said, has committed “to having their heating and cooling carbon neutral by 2030 … That makes an enormous difference for Northampton.”

It’s also about state policy.

“We have a governor that’s pretty supportive of climate change issues, but he did veto the state’s bill,” he said, referring to climate legislation Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed last month.

Choices individuals make matter, but “some of the solution is the individual choices we make, and some of it is a lot of things governments and institutions and corporations make.”

As the city is planning to meet its carbon reduction goals, climate change is already affecting Northampton. The region is seeing more intense storms and warmer average temperatures. “We expect more of those intense storms. Those storms can be very damaging,” Feiden said.

“In the Northeast we expect greater variability and more extreme weather,” the report reads. “This may include longer periods of drought, more severe hurricanes, heavier snowstorms, or polar vortices.” It recommends updating flood control infrastructure.

Heat waves are also a concern, Feiden said. The average maximum daily temperature in summer has increased since the 1980s, according to the report. Currently, it’s around 83 degrees, and by 2100, it could be around 95 degrees if no cuts are made to global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report. More days over 90 degrees is an issue. Those days “are miserable to someone who doesn’t have air conditioning and actually kill some people who don’t have air conditioning,” Feiden said.

With “significant” greenhouse gas emission reductions, the max daily temperature in 2100 could increase significantly less to around 85 degrees. A similar trend is happening with winter temperatures, according to the report, and further increases to the average winter minimum temperature can be lessened if there are emission cuts, the report states.

Climate change won’t affect everyone equally, the report says. “Some of our residents, generally those with the least resources, will be disproportionately hit by climate change,” it reads. “Some individuals can drive away and stay in a hotel when a major storm is threatened. Some can afford to purchase air conditioning or swim in a pool when it is hot. Some can afford higher water rates. Some can purchase more robust housing.”

Resilience hub eyed

The plan talks about a resilience hub, a center the city is working on that will help residents who “face chronic and acute stress due to natural and human-caused disasters, climate change, and social and economic challenges.”

The hub is planned to be a space for those without a home or otherwise in need, and it would also be a place if there are climate change-induced emergencies.

“The acute stress is a hurricane comes along and wipes out your home, and you’re not wealthy enough to stay in a hotel or you don’t have a car to escape,” Feiden said.

The City Council is set to take its second vote on an endorsement of the plan at its meeting on Thursday evening. “City Council endorsement does not imply agreement with every recommendation but does imply acceptance of the overall plan and its call to action,” the City Council order reads.

Legally, the Planning Board adopts the plan, Feiden said. “But it doesn’t mean much if the legislative body doesn’t approve it.”

Technically, the plan is part of a greater city plan, Sustainable Northampton Comprehensive Plan, that was first adopted in 2008, according to Feiden.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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