Royal Oak to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published February 11, 2021

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ROYAL OAK — The Royal Oak City Commission tasked staff in July with inventorying greenhouse gas emissions in the city to establish a baseline, and on Jan. 25, unanimously approved a resolution committing the city to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 while striving to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.

The resolution calls for the development of a citywide sustainability plan with an estimated completion date of early 2022. The resolution says that the Earth’s climate is changing faster than at any point in modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.

According to the greenhouse gas inventory report, citywide emissions totaled the equivalent of 891,149 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, with 94.1% of emissions occurring in the top seven sectors.

Commercial electricity was the highest single emitter at 24.9%, followed by residential energy — combined electricity and natural gas — at 32.9%. Staff calculated municipal operations emissions separately and discovered that they only accounted for 1.4% of citywide emissions, or the equivalent of 12,478 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Julie Lyons Bricker, grants coordinator and energy and sustainability manager, said the findings show that municipal action is limited in its ability to reduce the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and the responsibility will fall on the community, specifically the commercial and residential sectors.

“(The results show) there are huge opportunities for residential energy waste reduction that doesn’t necessarily cost money, and especially in the long run, (those efforts) will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also save money,” she said.

Staff used inventory software ClearPath, which is available through the International Council for Local Environments and has been used by more than 500 cities, towns and counties to manage local climate mitigation efforts, to compile data and convert energy and other emission sources into carbon dioxide equivalents in metric tons.

Lyons Bricker said that her team populated the inventory with data obtained through city service providers and fellow staff to determine energy usage, transportation, waste generation, sewer-water treatment and fugitive emissions numbers.

Due to lack of feasibility or applicability, it did not track categories including food consumption; consumption of durable and nondurable goods; leisure travel; non-municipal gasoline-powered yard maintenance equipment usage; non-municipal off-road vehicle usage; and non-municipal leakage from air conditioners, chillers and refrigerators.

In order to hit greenhouse gas reduction targets, the sustainability plan focuses on five initially identified areas: energy, water, waste, transportation and quality of life.

The Royal Oak Environmental Advisory Board will form a steering committee and smaller focus groups to begin learning more about the community’s behaviors and use that information to pinpoint actionable steps for change.

The effects of climate change are already noticeable locally “through increased temperatures, heavy rain and flooding events, other extreme weather events, increased transmission of disease through insects and pets, and other disruptions that threaten our economy, residents and overall quality of life,” according to the resolution.

It continues to state that “the transition to a low-carbon community reliant on the efficient use of renewable energy resources and electrified transportation will provide a range of benefits including improved air quality, enhanced public health, increased national and energy security, local green jobs, reduced reliance on finite resources and myriad other positive outcomes.”

The resolution directs staff to develop a sustainability plan and update the greenhouse gas inventory every three years to ensure that the “goals are economically feasible and in alignment with ongoing updates to scientific findings regarding climate change.”

Royal Oak’s current green initiatives include single-stream recycling; municipal building recycling programs; a new food composting program at the library, senior center and City Hall; municipal rain gardens and bioswales; and a tree replacement ordinance and fund.

The next steps will be to undergo an extensive community engagement and feedback campaign through town halls and surveys; pen multiple drafts in preparation for a final feedback session; present the plan to the City Commission for approval; and begin implementing actions.

“It will be a little aggressive for a little city like us, but with technology and policy, that will do the heavy lifting. Not every action will have an equal outcome, and we want to have really big outcomes,” said Dr. Amanda Herzog, Environmental Advisory Board chair and engineer. “We have to think of this as a journey, not a destination.”

Commissioner Kyle DuBuc expressed strong support for the outlined plan.

“We’re all in this together, and if we set goals that we can’t achieve, then it’s for naught,” DuBuc said. “This is really exciting to see some tangible, actionable, really meaningful information about where we are and to inform where we want to go.”

Mayor Michael Fournier said he looked forward to educating and learning from the city’s residents, business partners and other stakeholders to ensure the plan is a success.

Lyons Bricker said staff particularly took into account a 2019 special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that illustrates how limiting global warming by 2 degrees Celsius may not be enough and aims to reduce warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“In some ways, this is flexible work that we’re doing because we don’t know what kind of technologies will be here in four years or six years or eight years, and so we’re making our best guesses,” Lyons Bricker said.

Several residents called in during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their support of the city’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase sustainability.

For more information, visit romi.gov and search for “NAI GHG Goals Resolution January 25, 2021” or call Royal Oak City Hall at (248) 246-3000. To get involved in the process, email Julie Lyons Bricker at julieb@romi.gov.

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