Officials Near Release of City’s First Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Flooding of Mississippi River in 2011. - WARD ARCHER
  • Ward Archer
  • Flooding of Mississippi River in 2011.

Memphis is close to having its first action plan specifically aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

John Zeenah, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, previewed the Memphis Area Climate Action Plan to the Memphis City Council this week.

Zeenah said the staff in the Office of Resilience and Sustainability has been working with the public for about a year to produce it.

One of the climate risks that Memphis faces, Zeenah said, is river flooding and flash flooding, which together caused about $3.2 billion in property damage between 2007 and 2017.

Another climate risk here is the heat, Zeenah said: “Memphis is getting hotter. I’m not sure I have to convince you of that if you’ve been here the last couple of weeks.”

By 2046, the number of days in which the temperature rises above 95 degrees is expected to be several times greater than that number now, rising from less than 20 to more than 70 days, Zeenah said, citing a study by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

Under the climate action plan, officials will develop ways to measure, track, and curb GHG over time, using 2016 data as a baseline. The plan specifically focuses on three areas: transportation, energy, and waste. Zeenah said these are the main sources of emissions in the Memphis area.

In 2016, the Memphis area produced about 17,192,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, with 12 percent coming from waste, 42 percent from transportation, and 46 percent from energy.

The goal is to reduce emission amounts by 15 percent in 2020, 51 percent by 2035, and 71 percent by 2050, according to the plan.

According to Zeenah, these targets are “certainly ambitious, but they’re achievable by thinking about how we begin to take action today that can help set us on the path to success in the long run.”

To reduce the amount of energy used to power, heat, and cool structures, the plan suggests improving the energy efficiency of buildings and infrastructure by incentivizing green building designs, improving energy efficiency in low-income housing, and retrofitting street lights to LED. It also recommends a switch to renewable energy sources.

Eliminating a reliance on automobiles and shifting to low-carbon modes of transportation is also a big piece of the plan. That includes creating streets that are conducive to walking and biking, enhancing public transportation, and implementing land use patterns that support public transit, as well as encouraging the use of electric vehicles.

In the area of waste, the plan recommends reducing the amount of waste generated in order to move toward a zero-waste future, as well as improving technology used in wastewater treatment plants and landfills.

The final plan will be completed and released next month, Zeenah said. See a draft of the plan here

Doug McGowen, chief operating officer for the city, said the plan is a “big step for the city.”

Other cities like Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; and Washington, D.C., have adopted similar climate action plans.

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