South Bend “Carbon Neutral 2050” Plan Passed Unanimously by City Council

Author: Alexander Hajek


South Bend City Council voted unanimously (7-0) to approve the Carbon Neutral 2050 Plan proposed by the South Bend Office of Sustainability at their November 25th meeting.

The Carbon Neutral 2050 Plan outlines the City of South Bend’s plan for cutting carbon emissions by 100% by 2050 by setting reductions benchmarks in line with the priorities outlined in the Paris Climate Accord. The plan aims to accomplish its goals by focusing on reducing building emissions through a series of incentive programs as opposed to new regulations.

The Carbon Neutral 2050 Plan aims to mitigate South Bend’s emissions contributions but does not address preventative measures to cope with the effects of climate change. The South Bend Office of Sustainability has already committed to proposing a plan detailing those preventative measures after a research and writing period. 

The climate plan outlines three specific carbon reduction goalposts: 26% reduction by 2025, 45% reduction by 2035, and 100% reduction by 2050, all relative to a 2005 emissions baseline. The 2025 goal post was directly lifted from the Paris Climate Accord’s proposed emissions reductions schedule and relies on existing reduction policies and technologies already in place in the community.

To meet the 2035 target, new short-term and medium-term proposals would be pursued and implemented. The plan acknowledges that the 2025-2035 emissions reductions would be relatively slow to achieve, given that some of these new proposals would take time to create and structure. The 2035-2050 period would rely far more on technologies and policies not yet available to lawmakers and municipal sustainability and infrastructure workers. The plan specifically targets the two largest sources of emissions: transportation and building energy use. Transportation accounts for 1/3 of city emissions while building energy use accounts for nearly 2/3 of city emissions. A full text of the Carbon Neutral 2050 Plan can be found here.  

Despite unanimous approval from City Council, the plan has received some criticism, especially from members of the Sunrise Movement, an organization of young people committed to the passage and implementation of the Green New Deal. The local Sunrise Movement chapter in South Bend is made up of Notre Dame, IUSB, and other local school students, as well as young people from South Bend and the Michiana region. Sunrise Movement activists attended both the November 18th and November 25th meetings.

Their major critique of the plan is that it does cut emissions quickly enough, citing UN climate change reports that estimate that the globe has until 2030 to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions past the emissions goals set by the Paris Climate Accord. Sunrise Movement activists were also concerned about the plan’s impact on communities of color and the poor, as well as the plan’s lack of language detailing how South Bend would build up its resilience to the effects of climate change. The Sunrise Movement hosted a sit-in outside Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s office the Friday before the council vote to protest for more aggressive climate change action. 

Despite criticism from the Sunrise Movement, there was general agreement among attendees to the November 18th meeting that the Carbon Neutral 2050 plan would have a positive effect on the city and region’s response to climate change. Professors from the University of Notre Dame and IUSB were in attendance, along with other members of the community, to voice their support for the plan. The "Carbon Neutral 2020" Plan is a product of the climate change resolution passed through city council in April of last year, overwhelmingly supported by Notre Dame professors and students, as well as young people, educators, and parents from the South Bend community at large. Work by activists, city officials, and community stakeholders is ongoing, so stay tuned for further progress.