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City Passes Bold Sustainability, Climate Action Plan (Subscriber Content)

By Bob Conrad
Published: Last Updated on
Image: Ty O’Neil.

The Reno City Council last week approved a sustainability and climate action plan that aims to reduce carbon emissions. According to city officials, the region’s carbon emissions have already seen reductions.

“The total carbon emissions dropped significantly from 3.2 million metric tons in 2008 to 2.75 million metric tons in 2014,” the city reported. “This translates to a 13.62 percent drop in total emissions in six years, or 2.27 percent per year.”

Carbon emission reductions were attributed to Nevada’s growing renewable energy portfolio, increases in energy efficiency, fuel efficiencies, recycling, and reducing the reliance on coal-fired power plants.

But the city’s plan is premised on what it is calling a crisis. City staff noted frequent and recurring wildfires and flooding the Reno area has experienced in recent years to support this claim.

The city’s approval of the plan marks a significant step after initially working toward this effort since 2015 when Reno joined the Global Covenant of Mayors on Climate and Energy. The Biggest Little City joined 9.000 other municipalities vowing to battle climate change.

“These cities are accelerating ambitious, measurable climate and energy initiatives that lead to an inclusive, low-emission and climate-resilient society in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement,” according to city staff. “The Paris Climate Agreement is an international treaty ratified in October 2016, which aims to limit the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius, with efforts to limit the increase in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius.”

This is important, staff noted, because “cities are responsible for 75% of the global greenhouse gas emissions that create climate change.”

Reno’s sustainability plan tackles everything from access to fresh, healthy food, green building standards, waste reduction, and protecting water resources.

Reno Kicked Off Fastest-Warming Cities List

The City of Reno’s Sustainability Manager testified to the City Council last week that Reno is the fastest-warming city in the country.

“Reno is growing hotter more quickly than any city in the United States, said Sustainability Manager Lynne Barker. “Our average annual temperature rose more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years.”

That point was mentioned at least three times in the city’s plan, but a reason for the warming wasn’t explained thoroughly in the city’s plan.

After Reno’s warming trend was noted in the publication’s introduction, the next paragraph states that “climate change already is blamed for larger, more frequent wildfires.” (That’s another complicated issue, as demonstrated in this report about Great Basin wildfire threats from 2008.)

The city noted that a 2016 Climate Central report identified Reno as the fastest-warming city in the U.S. A more recent Climate Central report from April, however, showed that Reno had been kicked off the list altogether. Las Vegas supplanted us in the number one spot.

Reno is getting hotter, faster than any other city in the state. Nevertheless, researchers kicked Reno off the list of fastest-warming cities this year because of “data inconsistencies.” SOURCE: Climate Central.

Growing Cities Means Higher Temperatures

State Climatologist Stephanie McAfee at the University of Nevada, Reno explained Reno’s warming reality is not just because of climate change. It’s also because we’re a city and a burgeoning one at that.

“If you’re interested in what’s happening in cities, you probably don’t want to correct for urban heating,” she said. “Hot is hot, and it has the same kinds of health impacts, energy, and water use implications, etc. irrespective of whether the heat is caused by greenhouse gases, city structure, a random warm year, or some combination thereof. 

“Although the area around Reno has warmed, Reno itself has warmed more — especially during summer nights, which is a hallmark of urban heating,” she added. “So, Reno is warming because of climate. It’s also warming because the city itself is growing.”

Heat Island Cooling Strategies

1. Increase trees and vegetation
2. Plant green roofs, or install cool roofs
3. Use cooler, more heat-reflective pavement
4. Practice smart growth
(SOURCE: EPA)

It turns out Reno wasn’t included in this year’s Climate Central report because of data concerns. But Climate Central, by the time of publication, could not say exactly why.

“I confirmed Reno is top-ranked in that data set,” said Climate Central’s Peter Girard. “It wasn’t included in the national TV graphic because of the large anomaly. (We recognize there was a station siting issue that we’re researching further.)”

Mark Faucette with the National Weather Service in Reno said, however, that Reno’s instruments have not changed in recent years.

“There was no change between 2016 and 2019 from what I can tell to the observing site,” he said. “The instrumentation change … happened by about 1994 when the old observing system at the airport was replaced with an automated system.”

A 2008 publication on temperatures changes around the U.S. noted that “the unadjusted data suggest that [Reno’s] station developed a local trend beginning in the 1970s, possibly as a result of a growing urban heat island influence. [Reno’s] station likely experienced urbanization effects when it was located in the city and then after its relocation in the mid-1930s to an airport site.”

Urban heating can cause problems with data interpretations, but it can also help explain warming trends in cities and, importantly, what can be done about them.

“It’s those buildings and lots of pavement that retain more heat than outlying areas that are primarily composed of vegetation.”

“As to implications about what’s causing warming, I wish the 2019 Climate Central report had mentioned urban heating — their 2016 report does,” McAfee said. “The City of Reno is very on top of the fact that urban heating is an issue here. They discuss it in the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan and have worked with students, faculty, and researchers here and at DRI on urban heat island questions.

“It’s one of the reasons the sustainability plan pushes for expansion of the urban tree canopy — it’s a relatively easy way to mitigate the urban heat island.”

In other words, there’s more to the story as to why Reno’s temperature is rising.

“It’s those buildings and lots of pavement that retain more heat than outlying areas that are primarily composed of vegetation,” said Christopher Kucharik with the University of Wisconsin in a video explaining urban heat islands. “In the context of climate change and impacts, because cities have an elevated temperature already, they’re more likely to feel the effects sooner and more pronounced as climate becomes warmer.”

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