Austin sees decrease in carbon dioxide emissions despite population increase


In 2015, Austin’s carbon dioxide emissions from city operations decreased five percent from 2014 and 32 percent from 2010. Emissions from 2015 were equivalent in weight to a large cruise ship.

Ten years ago, the Austin City Council approved the Austin Climate Protection Plan to reduce the effects of global warming and make Austin a more sustainable city overall. Zach Baumer, climate program manager for Austin’s Office of Sustainability, said Austin has successfully followed this plan, thanks to Austin Energy and its focus on renewable energy.

“The unique role that Austin plays compared to most major cities is that we own our electricity,” Baumer said. “The gains we have made with Austin Energy is the area where we are probably the biggest leader. The bottom line is that our activity is less carbon-intensive now, so even though we have more people using electricity, it’s by renewable sources.”

One of the goals of the Climate Protection Plan was to power all city buildings and facilities exclusively by renewable energy. According to Austin Energy, the city met this goal in 2012 and effectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent. 

The plan also called for Austin Energy to use renewable energy for 30 percent of its energy needs by 2020. According to the Statesman, Austin exceeded this goal in 2015, and now 31 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources. 

However, according to the Austin Community Carbon Footprint Report, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and mobile sources have increased since 2010. The emissions are lower than the Office of Sustainability predicted because of more fuel-efficient cars. 

Baumer said transportation is one of the most complicated energy issues to handle. 

“Transportation is such an interesting challenge because everyone wants it to be different for so many different reasons,” Baumer said. “There’s a lot of potential solutions, and the city is trying to promote all of them because we know not just one thing will solve the problem.”

He added that the Office of Sustainability currently encourages people to use public transportation, develop a more compact city plan and invest in electric, automated vehicles.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas had more energy-related carbon dioxide emissions than any other state in 2013. However, Austin has some of the most aggressive climate goals in the country, aiming for 50 to 80 percent carbon dioxide reduction by 2030, according to the National Climate Assessment.

Barrett Jaso, a communication science and disorders sophomore, said he tries to cut down on his environmental footprint by reducing and reusing plastic and minimizing the use of his car.

“I think it’s pretty easy to see that Austin attempts to be sustainable,” Jaso said. “The decrease in greenhouse gases is great. It really shows that the people here care about the environment. It’s nice to see people actively doing their part to keep Austin clean."