Victory! Mayor Scott Signs Net Zero Operations Bill

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On Earth Day, Mayor Scott signed Councilman Mark Conway’s bill to make City government operations net zero by 2045! 

YOU made this win happen by writing to your City Councilmembers and the Mayor, posting on social media, and sharing our action alert with your friends and family. Read on for more details on this bill and the strengthening amendments that we advocated for with our partners. 

Making City Government Operations Net Zero by 2045

On April 4th, the Baltimore City Council passed Ordinance 21-0161 to make City government operations net zero by 2045. Mayor Scott signed the bill into law on Earth Day, April 22nd.

This bill is part of Councilman Mark Conway’s package of bills to address the climate crisis. 21-0161 codifies some of the goals outlined in the Global Warming Solutions – Carbon Neutral City resolution that the City Council adopted earlier this year and ensures that City operations set an example of how to move toward net zero emissions. 

We worked with our partners at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the National Aquarium to propose eight strengthening amendments to 21-0161, the majority of which were adopted in the final version of the bill. You can see the different versions of the bill and the adopted amendments on Legistar. Here’s a breakdown of the amendments that we advocated for and what was and was not approved by the City Council: 

  • Faster Timeline & Interim Targets: The original bill required City operations to be net zero by 2050 with no interim targets. The City Council accepted our amendment to move up the timeline to 2045 and to set interim emission reduction goals of 30% by 2025 and 60% by 2030. 
  • Defining & Limiting Offsets: The original bill defined “net zero” as “the balancing of greenhouse gas emissions with emissions off-sets that cause an equivalent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” This definition would have allowed the City to rely too heavily (or entirely!) on offsets instead of prioritizing emissions reductions. The original bill also did not include a definition of “carbon offsets” or information about what types of offsets would be acceptable. We recommended an amendment to change the bill’s definition of “net zero emissions” to limit the use of offsets, similar to the definition in Austin’s Climate Equity Plan (p. 35). In addition to adding the interim emission reduction targets listed above, which will help prioritize emission reductions over the use of offsets, the City Council partially accepted our amendment to add a definition of carbon offsets similar to that in Austin’s Climate Equity Plan (pp. 44 – 45) However, the City Council did not include our recommendations to limit the use of carbon offsets to 10% of the 2045 goal, to add parameters (such as being third-party verified) for what types of carbon offsets will be accepted, to prioritize carbon offsets that are located close to Baltimore and create additional environmental and equity benefits, or to phase out “avoided emissions” by 2040. Since these recommendations were not included, we will need to hold the City accountable as this law is implemented to ensure that emissions reductions are prioritized, that offsets are used only as a last resort, and that when they are used, offsets are as equitable as possible. 
  • Centering Environmental Justice: The original bill did not include provisions for centering environmental justice or prioritizing frontline communities in the City’s net zero transition. We made several recommendations to ensure that justice is at the forefront of the City’s approach. The City Council accepted our amendment to ensure that building upgrades, capital investments, and other expenditures associated with this bill are implemented first in the communities most impacted by climate change and pollution. The City also adopted our amendment to require the use of key environmental justice indicators (such as criteria pollutants) to track community environmental health impacts. This will encourage the City to reduce both overall greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in the most impacted communities. 
  • Increasing Participation & Accountability: The original bill did not explicitly require public participation or accountability mechanisms in its implementation. The City Council accepted our amendment to require additional transparency and community-based public participation mechanisms to provide input and track progress of the net zero transition. 
  • Ensuring Capacity: The original bill did not include a mechanism to ensure the City has adequate capacity to implement the net zero transition. The City Council adopted our amendment to include an assessment of any additional staffing needs required to implement this ordinance. 

It’s important to note that “net zero” does not mean the same thing as “zero emissions.” Becoming net zero simply means that Baltimore’s greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by the amount of emissions the city removes from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration, offsets, or other mechanisms. By contrast, zero emissions means a hard end to all emissions with no balance sheet or offsets. Zero emissions must be the ultimate goal to prevent climate catastrophe, but well-crafted net zero policies can help cut emissions and build toward that target. With the above strengthening amendments, City Council Bill 21-0161 puts Baltimore on a good path toward net zero by 2045 and sets the City up to pursue zero emissions in the long-run. 

What’s Next?

The two remaining bills in Councilman Conway’s climate package, Building Code – Cool Roofs (21-0160) and Procurement – Zero-Emission Vehicles (21-0159) remain in committee while councilmembers and City agencies work through amendments. Stay tuned for updates and opportunities to push these bills across the finish line! 

If you aren’t already, make sure to sign up for our action alerts so you’re in the loop for future advocacy opportunities. Thank you for fighting for clean water and strong communities.