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Aug 09

Climate Change

Posted on August 9, 2021 at 9:03 AM by Angela O'Brien

Climate Action

Did you know that Roanoke is one of only a few of the largest cities in Virginia to have a Climate Action Plan and Greenhouse Gas Emission reduction goals?  Roanoke and the Town of Blacksburg are the only communities in the entirety of southwestern Virginia to have adopted such plans.  In response to a recent inquiry I had regarding how the City has progressed on its various environmental goals and in light of the most recent report issued by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this week’s post will focus on Roanoke’s efforts at addressing climate change.

Action Plans

Back in 2005 Roanoke initiated a Climate Action Plan.  One result of that plan was adoption by the City Council of a Resolution to become the first city in Virginia to join ICLEI - an organization dedicated to improving the global environment through local government initiatives.  As part of joining this organization, the City committed to the organization’s Five Milestones process for identifying greenhouse gas emissions and developing strategies for their reduction in both local government operations and the broader community.  Since adoption of the Resolution, the City has partnered with Virginia Tech’s Green Engineering Program to establish a baseline carbon footprint and to conduct annual assessments against that baseline.  


In 2008, City Council adopted a Resolution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from municipal operations by 12.5% over a five-year period and emissions from the broader community by 10% over the same time period.  Through a variety of targeted initiatives, emissions from municipal operations were actually decreased by 25% and by 13% for the broader community during the stated time period.  Therefore, in 2016, the Council established a new target of further emission reductions from municipal operations by another 12.5% and another 13.4% community-wide by 2019.

Projects and Initiatives

The City’s efforts at addressing sustainability and climate change are many and varied.  In the most recent Climate Action Plan prepared by the City (2015-2020), projects and initiatives around Building & Energy, Transportation, Waste Management, Water Resources, Land Use, Tree Canopy, Open Space and Food Access are all included.  Some specific projects and initiatives include, energy efficiency upgrades in municipal buildings, support of and participation in the SolarizeVA and SolSmart programs, installation of solar powered traffic control and warning signals, electrification of the City fleet through purchase of electric vehicles and transit buses, stream restoration projects and validation of sustainability as a key theme in the recent update of the City’s Comprehensive Plan.

Next Steps

The City’s Climate Action Plan is due for an update this year.  A number of communities are taking more aggressive steps in response to climate change and environmental impacts, setting carbon neutral targets and renewable electric source goals.  Governor Northam recently issued an Executive Order  to expand access to renewable energy, support Clean Energy Jobs of the Future and set the goal to produce 100 percent of electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.  The City recently expanded its membership beyond ICLEI, joining the Compact of Mayors and the Building Better Challenge.  Many exciting (and challenging) opportunities lie ahead as we update the Plan.  At their meeting on August 16, City Council will receive an update from our Virginia Tech partners on how we are doing in achieving our emissions reduction goals and what recommendations they might have as we consider our next steps in doing our part locally to contribute to global sustainability.


— Bob Cowell


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