by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” That statement won’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention as the planet warms, dries, burns, and floods. But it still helps to see quotes like the one above from Climate Change 2021, the 3,949-page report released in August by the International Panel on Climate Change that definitively proves we are already in a climate emergency (IPCC 2021).
Fortunately, some local jurisdictions have not waited for their federal governments to get their climate action act together. Montgomery County, Maryland adopted a climate action plan in 2009 which was updated in June 2021 and illustrates how a comprehensive climate action plan incorporates many of the strategies found in our Ecocity Standards (Montgomery County 2021).
I would argue that Montgomery County actually launched its climate action plan in 1980 by adopting a farmland preservation program that ultimately saved most of its 93,000-acre countryside. Over time, this program curbed sprawl while concentrating growth within a central development corridor. This compact urban form, the first pillar of the Ecocity Standards, creates a solid foundation for Montgomery County to achieve the goals of its 2021 Climate Action Plan, including the elimination of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2035.
Compact urban form allows diverse, mixed-use neighborhoods where people can reach schools, shops, and worksites without a car, an objective that the Ecocity Standards calls “access by proximity”. Montgomery County’s climate action plan builds on that foundation by expanding public transportation, improving pedestrian infrastructure, and extending the bicycle network to 1,100 miles. By going countywide with its Shared Streets program, the county will reorganize the public right of way to devote more space to people, including outdoor dining as well as eco-mobility.
In alignment with the Ecocity Standards, Montgomery County plans to impose a net-zero-energy building code and promote photovoltaic generation by requiring solar or solar-ready construction on all new structures while incentivizing electrification and photovoltaics for existing buildings.
Montgomery County also proposes to put its greenbelt to work sequestering carbon. Some of these strategies will be familiar to readers of this newsletter such as increased forests, wetland restoration, and restorative agriculture including improved soil fertility and moisture-holding capacity. The plan notes that these measures also provide co-benefits like food security and resilience. In addition, Montgomery County is working with the Trust for Public Land and the Urban Drawdown Initiative on a tool to measure progress in using all nature-based solutions within a whole-system carbon management program that includes reusing waste wood to reduce the emissions currently generated when this wood is burned or left to rot.
The plan’s adaptation section includes many actions that can also be found in the Ecocity Standards playbook. Montgomery County aims to close current gaps in its Green Infrastructure Map, using natural resources for multiple benefits including air quality, flood control, water quality, habitat, wildlife corridors, and outdoor recreation.
The plan incorporates no fewer than 16 actions aimed at improving governmental capacity to understand and address climate change including an interdepartmental climate innovation lab that designs and implements mitigation and adaptation initiatives.
Ecocities need ecocitizens. Montgomery County’s climate action plan empowers that concept with aggressive public engagement goals: “A community-wide culture of sustainability, collective responsibility, and support for ambitious climate action needs to be encouraged so that community members act on a personal level to reduce their carbon footprints and build climate resilience” (Montgomery County 2021 p251).
To increase participation from currently under-represented populations, the plan also calls for establishment of a Community Justice Academy that graduates community ambassadors tasked with working at the community level to conceive and create solutions for integrated health, equity, and quality of life. In addition, many of the actions in this plan include equity enhancing measures aimed at climate justice.
Montgomery County is well positioned to meet its goal of zero GHG by 2035 partly because it started over 40 years ago. But that should not discourage jurisdictions that have not had a similar head start. To mangle an old saying: the best time to launch a climate action plan was 40 years ago, but the second best time is now.
International Panel on Climate Change. 2021. Climate Change 2021. Accessed 8-11-21 at https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report.pdf.
Montgomery County. 2021. Montgomery County Climate Action Plan. Accessed 8-11-21 at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/green/Resources/Files/climate/climate-action-plan.pdf.