June 26, 2015

Mayor Hales (center), along with Sustainability director John Wasiutynski (left) and Douglas Tsoi (right) addresses the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday.

Amid an unusually early summer heat wave, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners  approved a City of Portland/Multnomah County update of the 2015 Climate Action Plan Thursday.

First adopted in 2009, the plan needs to be updated every five years to review practices, data and goals and remain accurate and current. At its core, the action plan asks Multnomah County and the City of Portland to commit to lowering carbon emissions and maintaining more efficient infrastructure. The plan also calls for the governments to be conscious of how the changes impact human rights, keeping economic status, race and age in mind as they achieve their goals.

John Wasiutynski, director of the Office of Sustainability for Multnomah County, said it was critical that the plan strive for both environmental and social justice. The people widely expected to suffer most from climate change are those who don’t have the money, the physical or mental capacity to escape its impact.

“It’s very real that an equity strategy is a climate strategy,” Wasiutynski said. “I think it’s very real that when we start talking about housing, that’s not just a human rights issue but an environmental justice issue.”

Commissioners meeting Thursday. The 2015 Climate Action Plan is a joint commitment between the governments.

On Wednesday, June 24 Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury testified about the plan before the Portland City Council. In a show of partnership, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales appeared before the Board of Multnomah County Commissioners when the plan was considered on Thursday.

“What we commit here will be watched, not only by our own citizens who are passionately concerned about these issues, but watched by the world and that’s a little bit of a scary opportunity, but it’s also an opportunity to make a difference,” the mayor said.

Wasiutynski told the Board of Commissioners on Thursday that the public is already facing the “stark realities’’ of climate change.

“Thirteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. 2015 is on pace to be the hottest year on record. Right here in Oregon, 20 of 36 counties are in drought,” he said.

Wasiutynski also nodded to this weekend’s 100 degree forecast -- arriving just a week after the official beginning of summer.

Duncan Hwang of APANO, told county commissioners that climate change has the most detrimental effects on the most vulnerable.

About a dozen people testified before the Board of Commissioners, including Douglas Tsoi, who works on the Advisory Committee on Sustainability and Innovation for Multnomah County and Duncan Hwang from the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon. Both spoke of the hard work that went into researching and preparing the plan and how critical its actions are to improving quality of life in the environment.

After a unanimous vote to pass the action plan, each commissioner made comments about the decision. Commissioner Jules Bailey, who has a background in energy efficiency and economics, urged the public to take part in the Climate Action Plan.

“We have to have local leadership. If the county and the city don’t step up, take action and provide a roadmap then it’s not  going to happen. Change happens from the bottom up,” said Bailey. “Climate change is happening faster than it’s ever happened before and we know that we need to cut carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. But as we’ve also heard, it’s also about people and it’s about equity and this plan addresses that.”

Included in the 2015 update of the Climate Action Plan are 200 actions that are set to roll out within the next five years. The public can expect to see target areas such as East Portland neighborhoods, areas thick with concrete but thin with trees altered in an effort to reduce energy use, improve walkability, increase green space and much more.

For anyone who wants to be more involved in climate efficient practices, check out the Planning & Sustainability Bureau’s effort Climate Action Now. The City of Portland’s website contains information and advice on alternate transportation options, consumer choices and more.