Charleston Climate Action Plan: 1 Year Later

Dear climate stalwarts,

We had a great May Meeting to kick off the return of CCC Monthly Meetings! To capture an in-person event – its rhythms, energy, and people – in newsletter form would be impossible, but I’ll be sharing some key information from the meeting for the folks who couldn’t make it. For this email, I’ll go over the Charleston CAP 1 year check-in.


Charleston Climate Action Plan



The Charleston Climate Action Plan was passed unanimously by City Council in May of 2021, after a year-long development with the input of 150+ local experts (and some CCC yokels). The CAP features 52 initiatives in four main action categories: Buildings, Transportation, Waste, and Carbon Sinks (natural CO2 absorbers like trees and marshes).

Sustainability Director Katie McKain keeps a progress chart up-to-date on the City website – you can see it here. She’s marked all the initiatives as either completed/ongoing, started, or not started.

  • 38% of overall initiatives are completed/ongoing (20 total initiatives).

  • 23% of overall initiatives have been started (12 total initiatives)

  • 38% of overall initiatives haven’t been started at all (20 initiatives)

It’s important to keep in mind that not all green completed/ongoing initiatives are created equal. For example, Transportation Initiative 12: Establish temporary and permanent car free areas such as rethinking curb spaces is marked green because of the temporarily car-free roads downtown during COVID – but there are no permanent car-free areas downtown at the moment. And then you have Waste Initiative 6: Explore ways to create more opportunities for community wide composting, such as drop centers, referring to the City’s robust community composting pilot program – an ongoing big success.

So a year in, the Charleston CAP is moving the City along, but not yet transforming it into the climate leader it could be. Some categories, like Waste, have seen a good deal of progress; others, like Buildings, have much left to be done. We’ve identified two major constriction points:

1. Zoning codes

The City recently worked on a new Comprehensive Plan, and one result of that is an entirely new set of zoning codes are going to be developed. Some of the biggest and most impactful CAP initiatives need to be done through the new zoning codes, such as:

Buildings 3: Consider expanding incentives for sustainable construction and renewable energy via the zoning code, such as building certification programs like Charleston RISES

Carbon Sinks 3: Examine land use policy to make room for existing marshes to migrate, such as adjusting zoning and developing more stringent marsh buffers

Work on the new codes should begin in the Fall. Our job will be to get involved in the process and push for as much climate-active practices to be embedded in the codes as possible. We’ll keep you updated on how and when to give input and ensure these action items happen!



Graphic by Christina Animashaun for Vox


2. BUDGET

Right now, the Charleston Sustainability Office consists of one person: Director Katie McKain. It’s simply too much to expect one person, however hypercompetent, to manage the deployment of an ambitious Climate Action Plan, maintain day-to-day sustainability work, compose public outreach, etc.

Katie has applied for more staff in the next City budget: someone to work on energy, a communications and outreach person, and a grantwriter. But she’s applied for more staff in the past, only to have City Council not approve it.

As a climate activism group with a vested interest in the City’s Climate Action Plan success, there are few things more important than pushing the City to fund additional staff and resources for implementing it. Numerous action items aren’t moving forward simply because there’s no point person for them! For example:


Buildings 6: Consider creating stronger guidelines above minimum code for new City construction, include total cost of ownership standards and consideration of a tailored Charleston RISES certification

As the City pursues putting solar panels on its buildings, it encounters many obstacles: shaded areas, roofing that needs to be replaced, the threat of heavy wind, etc. The solar feasibility studies for each building are moving slowly. We need a dedicated energy person to steward and champion this process!


Transportation 11: Improve and expand bicycle and pedestrian facilities and infrastructure, such as intersection improvements, bicycle repair service stations and bicycle corridors identified in the People Pedal Plan

The Traffic & Transportation Office doesn’t have a planner, and the Planning Department doesn't have a transportation person. We need a dedicated item in the budget for this – and the good news is, they had this position identified and ready to fund before COVID hit, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to get this done.


The future we need


Carbon Sinks 10: Perform street tree inventory and use data to guide funding to maintain existing canopy and seek opportunities to grow canopy and diversify species

Trees are wonderful allies in climate mitigation and adaptation – they absorb and sequester CO2, and they also help reduce flooding, protect from overactive sun, and improve air quality. The City needs to embrace them! Parks doesn’t have the money for more trees or to manage the trees we currently have – our arborists can check on a tree once a year, if they’re lucky.

To perform a street tree inventory (geocode, map, species, age, recorded maintenance, condition, etc.) would cost $4000 – but it’s always denied in the budget. To ensure we have a healthy tree population, we need to know our species diversity, age status, etc. is in a healthy place!

Also, there are plenty of good grants out there for trees, but who would manage them? We could really use a chief tree officer.



The budget discussions have just started, and they’ll be ongoing for months to come. So now is a great time to start beating the drum: FUND CLIMATE ACTION. If you live in Charleston, you can find out who your City Councilmember is and their contact info here. If you don’t, you still have a right to push the City to stand up for climate action – reach out to Mayor Tecklenburg at tecklenburgj@charleston-sc.gov. Some sample talking points:

"I'm excited to see the City show leadership on climate action, and I would like to see that prioritized in the next budget cycle by funding more dedicated staff."

"Increasing funding for Climate Action Plan implementation will make for a healthier, greener, more livable city -- as well as show leadership on a crisis that existentially threatens Charleston."

"I'm concerned that the City of Charleston doesn't have more dedicated Sustainability staff, and would like to see that corrected in the next budget cycle."

When it comes to local government, it doesn’t take all that many voices raising up for Council to take notice. Let’s get loud and make sure the Charleston Climate Action Plan is funded and successful!

Best, Belvin Olasov, CCC Co-director

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