City, Temple share goals in climate plans

Both Philadelphia and Temple plan to reduce transportation, waste and other climate hazards and reach carbon neutrality 2050.

An Indego bike station, a Philadelphia bike share program, is located at 13th and Montgomery Streets on Temple’s campus. The bikes are one of Philadelphia’s sustainability efforts. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Last year was tied for the hottest year on record for Philadelphia, with average temperatures more than 57 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Weather Underground. 

To reduce these climbing numbers, Mayor Jim Kenney announced the city of Philadelphia will reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and released a draft of the city’s Climate Action Playbook on Jan. 15, WHYY reported

This carbon neutral goal will mean increased measures by the city to reduce carbon emissions in sectors like construction, transportation and waste management, as well as actions taken to adapt the city to hazards associated with climate change.  

Temple University released its own Climate Action Plan in 2010 and then published an updated plan in 2019. The most recent plan reiterated Temple’s original pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Climate Action Playbook outlines the city’s plans for achieving the goal, how the effects of climate change will impact the city and how they intend to adapt to those effects. The playbook is a compilation of preexisting plans already underway to reach its climate goals.

The initiatives include improving the public transit system by funding public transportation and requiring zero emissions on private vehicles by 2035, upgrading and building more energy-efficient and climate-resilient infrastructure and reducing food waste through partnerships with the Natural Resources Defense Council and composting programs.  

The city’s plan is not a legislative act, so it will not force Temple to make any changes, but it does support the university’s preexisting plan, as it has some similar goals, said Rebecca Collins, director of sustainability at Temple’s Office of Sustainability

“All climate action plans and energy plans help support growth across organizations,” Collins said. “We are always learning from each other.” 

This new plan expands on Kenney’s 2017 commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, which other cities, like Denver, Colorado, and New York City, also adopted.

The plan shares some goals from Temple’s plan, like the university working with SEPTA to make public transportation more accessible, incorporating green building methods like energy and water conservation features and reducing 50 percent of food waste from dining facilities by 2022.  

Buildings and industry make up 75 percent of the city’s carbon footprint, transportation makes up 22 percent and waste makes up three percent, according to the playbook.

As carbon emissions grow and harmful gases, like carbon dioxide, are trapped in the atmosphere causing yearly average temperatures to rise, people are also faced with food shortages and extreme weather events, National Geographic reported.  

Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said this expansion was made because the city’s plan to reduce emissions by 80 percent wasn’t reducing city emissions fast enough to offset the effects of climate change. 

“We actually need to do even more collectively to, kind of, you know, really stave off the worst of climate change,” she said.

The initiatives will focus on helping Black and brown communities and neighborhoods experiencing economic hardship and will create more equity within the city, as these front-line communities are threatened the most by climate change, according to the playbook. 

While the city experiences the effects of climate change overall, communities of color and areas experiencing economic hardship, like those around Temple’s campus, are hit the hardest while generally contributing the lowest amount of carbon emissions, Knapp said. 

Kimberley Thomas, a geography and urban studies professor, said that Temple’s surrounding communities are more vulnerable to climate change effects because the population is primarily people of color and those experiencing economic hardship. 

These communities typically face higher temperatures and more heat-related deaths, frequent flooding and increased susceptibility to disease, according to the United Nations.  

“Given the fact that particularly Temple’s community around North Philadelphia is more vulnerable than other areas because it is, you know, predominantly Black, predominantly low-income, these are communities that need to be thought of front and center in any climate response,” Thomas said.

Larger institutions, like universities, impact the city’s overall carbon footprint and have a role to play in reducing it, Knapp said. 

“A larger institution, I think, has a bigger responsibility because they have a bigger impact and I think has a more of a … moral responsibility to their communities that they serve, to the students they serve and to kind of be playing that leadership role as well,” she added. 

To get larger institutions more involved with the carbon neutrality benchmark, the city created the Climate Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia in 2019, a network of colleges and universities like Temple, businesses and cultural organizations to reduce emissions and pollution in the city. 

Temple uses a “three-pronged approach” that involves making facilities more energy-efficient, evaluating energy sources and offsetting carbon emissions to reach its goal of carbon neutrality, Collins said. 

As the second-largest university in the state, Temple emitted a gross total of 157,290 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2019, a 1.2 percent increase from 2018, according to the 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Update by the Office of Sustainability. 

In the 2019-20 academic year alone, the university’s three campus biodigesters, which process organic materials like pre-consumer and post-consumer food waste at food services on campus, processed more than 90,000 pounds of organic material, Collins said. 

With the mayor’s new commitment, the city is holding itself to a higher standard of efficiency, so other institutions now have no other option but to follow the city’s footsteps in reaching net-zero emissions, Collins said. 

“In order for us to make progress, we need to keep on evaluating our programs and our goals and understanding where we can push ourselves,” Collins added. “So I think it’s a great way for the city to reflect on progress and future.”

The best way for Temple students to get involved with reaching the university and city’s climate goal is to be politically vocal about the climate change issues they care about, Collins said. 

“Stay engaged and stay active and really advocate for the things that you think are important,” Collins said. 

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