For decades, New Haven has led by example with its world-class pizza. Now, the city is hoping to become a pioneer in a very different area: climate change policy.

For New Haven officials and activists, the city’s new Climate and Sustainability Framework, which was announced last month, is not only of vital importance to the city’s future, but also a symbol of environmental leadership.

“Given the national climate and current trends about disbelieving science and undermining climate change, the way we need to address these problems is through municipal and state governments,” said Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, the executive director of the New Haven Land Trust. Elicker said New Haven is taking “exactly the right step.”

The city’s framework outlines some ambitious goals: By 2030, New Haven will strive to reduce its carbon emissions by 55 percent of 1999 levels; by 2050, the city hopes to go carbon neutral. To fulfill these objectives, the plan offers a variety of proposals — 97, to be exact — ranging from small-scale and relatively easy-to-implement changes, such as teaching residents how to build rain gardens, to broader and longer-term solutions, like integrating clean energy into the city’s infrastructure. Each of the proposals falls under one of six different environmental policy areas: electric power, buildings, transportation, materials management, land and infrastructure or food.

Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, chair of the Board of Alders’ City Service and Environmental Policy Committee, believes the city is moving in a positive direction — even if it’s moving slowly.

“Sometimes we have to take baby steps,” he said.

One of the framework’s main focuses is transportation, which, according to Doug Hausladen ’04, director of the New Haven Department of Transportation, “is the number one emitter of greenhouse gas in America,” contributing more to climate change than even the power industry. “The city of New Haven must and is responding to climate change by leading with an alternative transportation strategy that will hopefully reduce our emissions in the long run,” Hausladen said.

To underscore the importance of taking climate change seriously, DeCola pointed to the unprecedented intensity and variety of natural disasters in 2017.

After seeing the damage caused by climate events in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida, DeCola said he felt more committed than ever to addressing climate change. Those regions are not the only ones at risk, he added. In the next 50 years, he said, the predicted 21-inch rise in sea levels would be catastrophic for New Haven and coastal cities across the U.S. and the world.

Some seaside neighborhoods, like Lower Fair Haven, Morris Cove and City Point, face an especially daunting challenge with rising sea levels, DeCola observed, emphasizing the need to confront the issue head on.

“We can’t just move our city,” DeCola said.

According to Giovanni Zinn, the city engineer, the sustainability framework presents an opportunity not only to address climate change from a numbers and policy standpoint, but also to encourage collaboration among city officials, residents and activists to come up with innovative solutions.

The city decided to create the framework “to bring everyone together” to address the demands of climate change, Zinn said.

In fact, several members of the Yale Sustainability Office helped the city develop its new framework, according to Brianne Mullen, Urban Sustainability Program associate at the Yale Sustainability Office.

In an email to the News, Mullen said the Sustainability Office looks forward to “continued collaboration” with the city to make the shared Yale–New Haven community more sustainable.

Even though the framework has been put in place — and signals a step in the right direction — there is still a lot to be done before the city’s goals are realized.

“This is really when the hard work starts,” Zinn said.

Max Graham | max.m.graham@yale.edu