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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill awarded 'A' ranking for its work against climate change, some disagree

A solar panel installed nearby Rosemary Street in Chapel Hill, NC.

The Town of Chapel Hill has been given an “A" ranking by environmental nonprofit CDP for 2022 to recognize the Town’s vision, achievements and commitment to the fight against climate change.

CDP annually ranks companies and cities by evaluating their environmental responsibility and providing benchmarks in order to measure their performance.

This is Chapel Hill’s second year being awarded an "A" ranking, the highest ranking given. Chapel Hill was one of 122 cities around the world to make the A list, alongside other cities including Washington, D.C., Cape Town, Melbourne and Toronto. 

In order to qualify for an "A" ranking, a city must have a published climate action plan, have a city-wide emission inventory, complete a climate risk and vulnerability assessment, have a climate adaptation plan and disclose the information publicly through the CDP-ICLEI Track. 

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she was “over the moon” about Chapel Hill’s inclusion on the A list.

“I'm proud of our Town and how much we believe in this,” she said.

Hemminger said the Town had lost its way but has now taken a number of steps to address climate change. She said a lot of work has been done to make transportation more eco-friendly — including purchasing electric buses, purchasing more electric vehicle charging stations and creating multimodal paths of transportation so that citizens are less dependent on cars for transportation.

Other steps the Town has taken in the climate fight include hiring additional climate action staff, changing town light fixtures to LED lighting, composting at facilities and beginning the early stages of planning a community solar program, Hemminger said. 

John Richardson, community sustainability manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, said the recurring feedback from the CDP is helpful when planning climate response because climate action can be a moving target. 

“The best thing that this tells us is that we're currently doing the right things at the right time,” he said.

Richardson also said the Town has been working on sustainable development, by incentivizing new developments to be energy efficient and retrofitting existing buildings to make them more eco-friendly.

Climate change can be viewed as insurmountable, but he said there are many reasons to be optimistic. 

“My belief is that taking local action is incredibly meaningful,” Richardson said. “I have every confidence that we locally are going to achieve our goals.”

While Hemminger and Richardson were excited about the Town's standing, Town council member Adam Searing said the Town was only superficially meeting its goals. 

“I think it’s undeserved,” Searing said.

He said he disapproves of the Town’s climate response plan because the Town is taking preserved open space and developing on it. 

“If we are turning around and taking informal parkland that our residents are just begging us to keep as a park in the only area of East Chapel Hill that doesn't have a park, then I think it's very hard for me to say that Chapel Hill really cares about climate change with a straight face,” he said.

He explained that failing to preserve this land contributes to a loss of trees and green space. 

Searing said he commends the Town staff for the work they’ve done on climate action and placed the majority of the blame on the Town Council. 

“I’d rank us a 'C,'” Searing said. “You don't take preserved open space and slate it for development and expect to get an A on your climate plan.”

Hemminger said individuals can do their part in the climate fight in a number of ways, like switching laundry detergent or reducing their vehicle footprint, while Richardson added that leaving the leaves in your yard is an easy way to rebuild ecosystems. 

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Searing said individuals can participate in climate action by getting involved in local politics. 


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