COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For the first time in city history, Columbus has a plan to fight climate change.

Mayor Andrew Ginther on Thursday unveiled the Climate Action Plan, which takes a multifaceted approach to reduce Columbus’ carbon emissions and make it carbon neutral by 2050. That means any carbon released into the atmosphere by city operations would be balanced by removing the equivalent amount.

The plan acknowledges local climate impacts predicted for Columbus this century, including extreme heat, increasing flooding and threats to water and air quality, if carbon emissions worldwide are not drastically reduced in the coming decades.

“Rising temperatures and rainfall totals, more frequent severe flooding, costlier home repairs and home energy bills,” Ginther said. “All of this and more is occurring and will occur with greater frequency and intensity if we don’t act now to reduce our carbon footprint and support our most vulnerable residents.”

Columbus’ plan also treats climate change as a “social justice issue,” Ginther said, as the people “most likely to be affected by the fallout from a changing climate are also the ones who can afford it the least.”

The Climate Action Plan outlines 13 strategies to help Columbus — Ohio’s largest city and the nation’s 14th largest — fully offset its greenhouse gas emissions in the next 29 years, compared to its 2013 emissions level.

Goals in the 102-page plan include increasing renewable energy use; improving the energy efficiency of buildings; making the city’s passenger vehicle fleet fully electric by 2030; and reducing the waste that the city’s generates.

Columbus residents “deserve ambitious and real action right now, rather than in the future” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council. “We commend Mayor Ginther for outlining an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 45% by 2030 and 100% by 2050.”

The initial draft of the plan, released in November 2020, had Columbus reducing carbon emissions only 25% by 2030. Several months of discussions with citizens, business leaders and environmental groups, Ginther said, led to the final version.

Initiatives to improve environment, business, growth

Helping pay for the city’s climate plan is $10 million in Ginther’s proposed budget for next year. The full budget still needs to be approved by city council, but it includes support for clean energy jobs, energy efficiency initiatives and a “Green Fund” that would incentivize solar projects for nonprofits and affordable housing.

Columbus is already making progress on improving transportation, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pegs as the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at 29%. Columbus has already begun electrifying its vehicle fleet, as the first electric COTA buses hit roads in October.

Ginther said he expects Columbus — population 900,000 — to add another 1 million residents over the next 30 years, so the city’s climate plan aims to grow Columbus in a sustainable way.

“You see this aligned with our climate action plan,” he said, “looking at the emissions created by new construction trends and the way our building code informs that.”

Figures released earlier this year by the U.S. Census Bureau showed Columbus is among the fastest growing cities nationwide, and it’s the fastest growing large city in the Midwest.

Ginther also argued that investments in sustainability will make Columbus more attractive to businesses looking to lay down roots, a vision praised by Kenny McDonald, president of One Columbus, the 11-county central Ohio region’s economic development organization.

“As a business community we must prioritize sustainability in our work to realize this vision to become more equitable, and a more prosperous region, and in the end a more competitive economy,” McDonald said.

The plan is a “living document,” Ginther said, meaning it is open to updates, which will happen at least every five years after the first in 2025. The plan sets forth a first revision in 2030, with regular emissions calculations and plan evaluations before then.