The Town of Chapel Hill took more steps toward creating a climate action plan at a meeting earlier this month. They reviewed a draft of the plan meant to improve the town’s environmental impact and promote ways for the community to become more sustainable.

Since resolving to become eco-friendly in 2005, Chapel Hill has taken a variety of actions to try lessening climate change. Through changes like using hybrid and electric buses and installing LED lighting in various town facilities, the town has seen a 6.7 percent carbon reduction since 2005 and saved more than $160,000 in town utility costs since 2016.

But the climate action plan’s purpose is to go further. While preventing climate change and protecting the environment, it is also meant to serve as a framework for other local and state governments on how to approach environmental sustainability.

The council heard and discussed a draft for the climate action plan on April 17, giving feedback on which climate commitments the town has already made and what to continue improving. While the official plan is slated to be adopted in June 2020 with carbon footprint benchmarks in 2025 and 2050, some council members stressed moving the plan’s time frame to a sooner date. Council member Karen Stegman was one of those, citing new research as an indicator of global climate problems.

“What I’ve been reading is as a globe, we have about 10-12 years to get this under control,” she said. “I think we’re already seeing the impact locally and globally of climate change, so I would like, as we work on the plan, [to see] a greater sense of urgency.”

Council member Hongbin Gu advocated for the importance of the Chapel Hill community members buying into the plan as well.

“In Chapel Hill, the average citizen’s annual carbon footprint is 22 tons per capita,” Gu said, “which is 30 percent higher than the national average. That means we need to make serious efforts to not only talk about the town’s buildings and town’s bus fleet, but what we can do as a community.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger agreed that more can be done in the short term before the climate action plan becomes finalized, mentioning more electric vehicle charging stations, green stormwater infrastructure and planting more trees. But she said she is encouraged by the energy seen in Chapel Hill citizens to create environmental protection.

“We have a lot of community groups organizing around climate change initiatives and partnerships are really the way to make these things effective,” said Hemminger. “I’m excited about pulling everybody together and working on this [plan].”

Chapel Hill’s climate action plan is one step in a larger approach to environmental sustainability in Orange County. The Town of Carrboro adopted a climate action plan in 2017 and a committee between Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Orange County was recently appointed to share ideas on how to approach similar legislation.