This year, Earth Day in Portland will be celebrated in the spotlight of the United Nations. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has selected Portland as the North American host city for this year’s World Environment Day on June 5, 2013. Established by the UN General Assembly in 1972, World Environment Day is celebrated in more than 120 nations, focusing international attention on environmental issues.
In the 45 days from Earth Day (April 22) to World Environment Day, a variety of public events will celebrate Portland’s leadership in sustainability and green living. The City and UNEP are encouraging community groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals to join in by organizing or participating in public events during this time. Follow events for UNWED at www.portlandoregon.gov/wed and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/2013wedportland .
From Portland’s Solarize and energy efficiency programs to our world renowned green building services, green streets and curbside composting and recycling program — which has reduced household garbage by nearly 40 percent — we have a lot to celebrate this year. Hosting the United Nations World Environment Day is a great opportunity to showcase Portland’s story and legacy of leadership to the world.
So how did we get here today?
In the 1990s and 2000s, many new efforts were begun by Portlanders that focused on sustainable building, energy and water efficiency, recycling and waste reduction, biking infrastructure, solar and wind power, stormwater management, and creating walkable, connected neighborhoods.
In 1993, Portland became the first U.S. city to adopt a climate action plan for its entire community. At that time, few Americans cared much about what was then called “global warming.” The focus of the plan was to reduce carbon emissions — but to do it in a way that would help families save money, reduce local air pollution, cut operating costs for businesses, and build more livable, walkable neighborhoods.
The 1993 plan has been updated regularly and has been a success. Per capita carbon emissions are down by more than 25 percent, with total emissions down six percent (below 1990 levels). At the same time, carbon emissions in the United States have increased by about 10 percent.
In response to this increasingly urgent need to shift to a low-carbon economy and community, in 2009 Portland adopted a new Climate Action Plan with a goal of reducing 1990 level emissions by 80 percent. To reach that goal, the City has focused on both innovative and practical solutions in such areas as transportation and land use, energy efficiency, renewable energy and solid waste reduction.
Portland is moving in the right direction, and the gap between Portland’s success and the U.S. average tells a compelling story — that American cities can be both prosperous and reduce carbon emissions.
What’s Next for Portland?
Achieving an 80-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 remains a very ambitious goal. Proposed new efforts on the horizon include:
- More bikeways and an additional seven miles of light rail.
- Enhanced energy efficiency programs.
- New rules for energy performance disclosure for commercial buildings.
- More solar and wind power generation.
- Investments in district-scale energy systems and community-owned solar energy installations.
- Improved zoning and a new Comprehensive Plan that focuses on creating more healthy, connected neighborhoods.
- More technical assistance for companies pursuing sustainable operations.
- The City’s first climate preparedness plan.
Portland’s success relies on its strong partnerships between residents, businesses, nonprofits, academic institutions and other governments. Together these individuals and organizations work to be a catalyst for action, as they continue to seek new partnerships with cities around the world.
This is our chance to shine and our challenge to stay in a leadership position. It’s also a chance for the rest of the cities in the world to push us forward toward greater innovations. How will you celebrate Earth Day?
Bureau of Planning and Sustainability