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Building a blueprint from Ithaca's Green New Deal


Organizations Climate Now and The Future of Small Cities Institute host a panel with local experts on Ithaca Green New Deal

A full crowd showed up to the panel Sept. 29 to hear local experts and officials discuss Ithaca’s Green New Deal. (Source: Eva Salzman)

In 2019, Ithaca became the first city in the United States to plan to decarbonize 100% of its buildings by 2030. Being the torchbearer of this goal has attracted the eyes of other cities now looking to Ithaca as a blueprint. Now that Ithaca is three years into the plan, a panel was hosted Sept. 29 with local experts to evaluate what it will take to reach equitable decarbonization by 2030 and how other cities can do the same.

Reif Larsen, founder of The Future of Small Cities Institute, said the panel could help advance decarbonization plans in other cities. Larsen said if Ithaca can decarbonize successfully, it’s proof that other cities can too.

“We want to show them that this is possible,” Larsen said. “But we need to make a good economic case for why we should decarbonize, because that’s how we’re going to persuade the ‘sustainable-curious’ cities.”

The Ithaca Green New Deal (GND) was adopted with the goal of, in addition to decarbonizing the City by 2030, addressing inequality and injustice in the community. However, since its announcement, locals have expressed concern about the lack of progress made toward the GND’s goal, pushing the City to improve its plan.

To understand how Ithaca has altered the GND plans to reach its goal in the next seven years, Climate Now, an educational multimedia platform about climate science, teamed up with The Future of Small Cities Institute, an organization that designs sustainable solutions for small cities, to host a panel that could provide direction for other cities to eventually follow.

The panel was moderated by Climate Now founder James Lawler and featured local sustainability officials Dr. Luis Aguirre-Torres and Rebecca Evans as well as Dr. Neha Khanna and Dr. Aigbokhan Aloja Airewele, from Cornell University.

From left to right, panel organizer James Lawler and panelists Dr. Luis Aguirre-Torres, Dr. Neha Khanna, Rebecca Evans and Dr. Aigbokhan Aloja Airewele, prepare for the discussion. (Source: Eva Salzman)

Leading the way

Global temperature is on track to warm 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, which means in order to avoid serious impacts of global warming, there must be a global effort to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Katie Sims, independent candidate for Ithaca mayor and organizer with the Ithaca Tenants Union, said the updated GND plans could help other cities see what a successful GND looks like.

“The city staff has been working really hard to come up with … plans to tackle this at a whole-city level, which is what we need,” Sims said. “And then once we figure out how to do this at a whole-city level, it can be replicated in other cities, so the whole country can imagine what a Green New Deal looks like.”

How are plans changing?

One of the main goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal was to address historic inequalities and bring equity to the City. Rebecca Evans, Sustainability Planner for the City of Ithaca, said the original GND plan had no concrete instructions to do this. After talking with other experts and community members, Evans and her team decided that 65% of the entire GND budget would be used to service disadvantaged communities.

“The Green New Deal resolution really broadly said, ‘we’re going to address historic inequity,’ but it had zero teeth to it,” Evans said. “We need actual financial investment in these communities that can push them forward and provide opportunity, which is really what the Green New Deal is about — providing opportunity.”

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