Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Take The County Climate Change Survey

County kicks off planning process for carbon-neutrality by 2050 with citizen survey.

By - Jan 5th, 2023 02:52 pm

MCTS Battery Electric Bus. Photo Courtesy of MCTS.

Two years ago, Milwaukee County adopted a greenhouse emissions reduction goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and it’s asking for public feedback on climate concerns and confidence in local government to address them.

The carbon neutrality project was initiated by County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, who sponsored legislation committing the county to carbon neutrality. It built upon a previous policy adopted by the board which committed the county to meet the goal of a 50% reduction in its emissions as of 2005 by the year 2030.

The county’s Sustainability Task Force has already conducted some preliminary research, measured the county’s emissions, and developed a guiding framework for achieving the 2050 targets that prioritize inclusion of minorities and women, identifying disparities and making investments to close them. These goals are also key tenets of County Executive David Crowley‘s strategic plan.

The county government has released a survey seeking input from residents on what concerns them about a changing climate and what they would like to see prioritized in the county’s climate response. But the survey also offers an opportunity for citizens to give their assessment of the county’s ability to protect vulnerable people from extreme weather and housing insecurity. The county is offering versions of the survey in English, Spanish and Hmong.

The survey questions seek to gauge whether citizens feel they have sufficient access to energy, healthy food, affordable housing and public transportation; and then it seeks to gauge public confidence in the ability of these local systems and resources to respond to climate change. It also asks for specific concerns residents may have and what they feel the county government should do to protect them and county assets.

County Emissions Already Falling

The 2050 goal only covers the emissions created by county government operations, as the county does not have the authority to create or enforce general emission standards.

After the board adopted a 2017 policy committing the county to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, officials began researching the county’s emission levels in the recent past. The good news they found was that as of 2018 the county was already on track to achieve that goal of a 50% reduction in emission levels by 2030.

This surprising data was likely due to the county’s decreasing footprint — shuttering and selling off buildings in the face of financial trouble — and increasing fuel efficiency. On top of that WE Energies had been increasing the amount of energy produced by green and renewable sources. In 2020, the WE Energies Corporate Responsibility Report stated the utility had set targets of an 80% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.

The latest data shows that between 2019 and 2021 county government’s carbon emissions went down by 12%. Both the emissions directly produced by the county and produced by the energy the county purchased went down. The data indicates the county only needs to reduce emissions by an additional 18% to achieve its 2030 goal.

Climate Action 2050 Plan

The county is seeking public input now because it is beginning to develop a detailed plan for reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This detailed plan will include the county’s specific climate vulnerabilities and carbon emissions, methods for addressing them, and a strategy for implementing the plan and monitoring progress. The county has contracted with Energetics Incorporated, a clean energy consulting firm, to help the county develop the plan.

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