Portland’s multibureau climate action work plan is off to a slow but steady start and could meet most of its goals by the end of 2025, a new report says.
The city is one year into a three-year Climate Emergency Workplan, a 47-action item list intended to reduce emissions from buildings, industry and transportation, among other sectors. The plan, a collaboration between multiple city bureaus led by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, was created to ensure Portland stays on track to decarbonize from fossil fuels by 2050 and advance climate action, resilience and equity. The action items include installing more public electric vehicle chargers, planting more trees in areas where there is a lack of tree canopy and creating emergency centers for people to shelter in during extreme weather events, among many other goals.
So far, progress has been slow. Only two of the 47 action items have been completed — ensuring large new residential and multidwelling buildings have the necessary conduit for EV charging infrastructure and beginning to phase out petroleum diesel fuel sold at the pump and replacing it with low carbon biofuels by 2030. Two action items have been delayed.
Portland Commissioner Carmen Rubio, who oversees the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, said there is still a lot more work to do to reach the city’s climate goals. But she said the plan is helping accelerate and align goals within the different bureaus, something that hasn’t been done before, and she is hopeful there will be a boost in climate action in the next two years.
“I would say we’re poised to make it an even deeper and more noticeable impact that everyday folks in the community can start to see,” she said.
Rubio said as more extreme weather events continue to happen, it increases the level of interest from folks in the community who are concerned. That interest, she said, creates accountability and more focus on where the city should be making investments toward climate change mitigation and community resilience.
“We shouldn’t be afraid to be the first to do something, we shouldn’t be afraid to try something new if it’s going to help us move the dial in a significant way on our climate goals,” she said.
Over the past decade, Portlanders have endured their share of extreme weather events — from wildfires to deadly heat waves to drought — that have gotten more intense and more frequent as the climate crisis continues to worsen. In 2020, Portland City Council declared a climate emergency opening the doors for immediate action on reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and curbing the effects of climate change.
From the declaration, the multibureau Climate Emergency Workplan was developed to help the city move forward on climate action. City officials say urgency is needed to complete the rest of the action items in the next two years, which would help the city reach a critical milestone: 50% below 1990 carbon emissions by 2030.
According to the report, the transportation sector accounts for 44% of Multnomah County’s carbon emissions in 2021. Despite local greenhouse gas emissions being down 21% from 1990 levels, more progress is needed to reach the overall goal of net zero by 2050.
The emergency action plan is funded through a variety of sources such as city and county grants and the Portland Clean Energy Fund — a first-of-its-kind environmental justice program led by communities of color, that’s managed by the City of Portland.
“There’s a lot of innovative, kind of community-backed solutions that we’re seeing all the time from community-based organizations who are coming in approaching us with saying, ‘hey, here’s how we’re addressing that,’” said Vivian Satterfield, the bureau’s chief sustainability officer.
The plan also continues other city-led programs, like the clean energy fund’s heat pump distributing program. So far, more than 5,000 units have been distributed to vulnerable and low-income Portlanders since 2022. Satterfield said with the billions of dollars available for climate action through federal funds like the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there will be a boost to complete more action items.
“With all these federal resources being made available that we’ve never had available before, this is exactly the test that we’re being put up to,” she said. “Which is, how can we continue to stay the course, how can we continue to be innovative and pursue the funding gaps that we currently know we have.”
The biggest challenge of all is making sure time is not wasted, she said.
“The science is clear about the window of time we have waning,” she said. “I think the urgency of that is a challenge quite frankly.”