Chapter 2: Executive Summary

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The City of Salem is taking action to respond to climate change.

The City of Salem is taking action to respond to climate change. Knowing that climate impacts have already begun to exacerbate hazards for our residents, the City has adopted ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and is strengthening our ability to address climate-related challenges. Building on regional action and with global deadlines to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rapidly approaching, Salem’s Climate Action Plan comes at an opportune time to make real progress.

This climate action plan has two overarching strategic goals: to reduce GHG emissions (mitigation) and to increase climate resilience (adaptation). Both goals must be accomplished through equitable processes so that residents who are most vulnerable to climate-related hazards are engaged in planning processes, protected from severe impacts, and are able to access resources and opportunities to better prepare for climate change.

In addition to the main goals of reducing emissions and increasing resilience, the plan also aims to identify strategies to accomplish these goals, to prioritize these strategies, and to identify key partners in implementing the plan.

Salem’s Changing Climate

Salem residents will notice several changes in the climate in coming decades. The shifts in climate are projected to occur in three main areas: warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increased risk of wildfire. Some of the most significant projected climate impacts are the following:

  • The number of days with a heat index over 90°F will increase from a historic average of 7 per year to 33 per year by mid-century.
  • Hotter and drier conditions are likely to cause more frequent droughts.
  • More intense rainfall and rain-on-snow events could also lead to flood events in areas outside of historical high-risk zones.
  • Wildfire is a significantly increasing risk across the state of Oregon. The number of extreme fire danger days1 in Salem will double by mid-century, increasing from a historic average of 10 per year to 20 per year. Extremely large, intense fires will become more likely under hotter and drier climate scenarios.
  • Poor to hazardous air quality resulting from wildfires could greatly impact unsheltered populations and people with underlying health issues such as asthma, diabetes and obesity.

Salem’s Emissions Reduction Goal

In October 2020, the Salem City Council voted to adopt GHG emissions reduction goals. The goals are as follows:

By 2035

Salem’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to 50% of the citywide greenhouse gas emissions from the baseline year of 2016, and

BY 2050

Salem is carbon neutral.

These goals have guided the development of the strategies in this plan. Meeting these goals will require the community to rally around a shared vision of the future and to adopt new policies, behaviors and practices.

Where Do Salem’s Emissions Come From?

53% of Salem's GHG emissions come from transportation

Salem’s greenhouse gas inventory2 shows the source and helps to show where emissions reductions can occur. Using 2016 as the baseline year, the City completed its first GHG inventory in 2019. The inventory shows that total GHG emissions in 2016 were 1,553,573 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This equates to roughly 9.59 MtCO2e per capita. Emissions from transportation were by far the largest source of emissions, constituting more than half (53%) of the total. Emissions from electricity was the second largest category at 26%. Stationary combustion from the use of natural gas, propane, and other fossil fuels was the third largest contributor at 16%.

City of Salem gross GHG emissions by source (2016)*


Figure 1


Reducing Emissions

To achieve reductions in emissions, it will be necessary to make significant changes in the ways that the Salem community uses transportation and energy.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Forecasts

Two forecasts were created to show what levels of GHG reductions Salem might be able to achieve under different scenarios. A baseline, or business-as-usual, scenario was created that modeled how GHG emissions may change over time if no climate actions were taken. Building upon that baseline forecast, two different emissions reduction scenarios were modeled that showed the projected effects of actions that Salem could take.

Scenario 1

The first scenario modeled the outcome of Salem achieving ten emissions reductions targets:

  • Double the rate of electric vehicle (EV) adoption
  • Quadruple the rate of transit ridership
  • Double the rate at which residents use biking and walking
  • Transition to a zero-emissions bus fleet
  • Reduce the amount of passenger vehicle traffic coming into and out of Salem by 40%
  • Reduce the amount of traffic within Salem by 10%
  • Halt all growth in natural gas emissions
  • Improve building efficiency by an average of 10% by 2050
  • Maximize onsite solar
  • Maximize carbon sequestration of plants and trees

The outcome of Scenario 1 showed a 43% net reduction from 2016 levels by 2035, and a 58% net reduction from 2016 levels by 2050. In this scenario, Salem would not meet its goals.

Scenario 2

The second scenario modeled what it would take to meet Salem’s 2035 and 2050 goals. This model assumed that all emissions reduction targets in the Scenario 1 were met, and then added nine additional targets:

  • Halt the entry of non-resident internal combustion engine traffic
  • Halt the entry of internal combustion engine heavy trucking
  • Halt internal combustion air traffic
  • Ensure a 100% renewables-only electricity grid
  • Remove all fossil fuel-derived natural gas systems in the built environment
  • Remove all other building fossil fuels (e.g. propane, diesel) in the built environment
  • Achieve zero waste through circular economy, compost, recycling
  • Capture all wastewater emissions
  • Halt all septic emissions by requiring locations on septic to join centralized wastewater treatment

The outcome of Scenario 2 showed what it would take for Salem to meet its goal of reducing emissions 50% by 2035 and achieving net zero by 2050.

It is important to note that this model shows just one possible way of achieving the goals. The actual path that Salem will take will undoubtedly look different as time goes on. Some of the emissions reductions could be accomplished in other ways and in different combinations. Technological and behavioral solutions that cannot yet be quantified may play an important role by 2050.

Benefit-Cost Analysis

A detailed benefit-cost analysis (see Appendix 6) was performed on ten climate action strategies selected by three Salem City Council members who served on the Climate Action Plan Task Force. The strategies were selected based on their projected impact to the City of Salem’s budget and the desire for analysis that may inform future policy decisions.

In-depth interviews with subject matter experts from the City of Salem, the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments, Cherriots, Friends of Trees, the City of Portland, and the Energy Trust of Oregon were conducted to inform the analysis.

The top-level findings are listed below.

Most Cost-Effective Climate Action Strategies

  1. Charge for parking on-street in downtown.
  2. Support energy efficiency and weatherization for lower income households (including renters) and small business owners.
  3. Support additional tree canopy in low canopy neighborhoods.

Looking Forward

With strategic planning, determined resolve, collaborative partnerships, and collective will, the Salem community can achieve significant progress in reducing emissions and becoming a climate-smart city.

The City of Salem is taking action to respond to climate change.

The City of Salem is taking action to respond to climate change. Knowing that climate impacts have already begun to exacerbate hazards for our residents, the City has adopted ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and is strengthening our ability to address climate-related challenges. Building on regional action and with global deadlines to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rapidly approaching, Salem’s Climate Action Plan comes at an opportune time to make real progress.

This climate action plan has two overarching strategic goals: to reduce GHG emissions (mitigation) and to increase climate resilience (adaptation). Both goals must be accomplished through equitable processes so that residents who are most vulnerable to climate-related hazards are engaged in planning processes, protected from severe impacts, and are able to access resources and opportunities to better prepare for climate change.

In addition to the main goals of reducing emissions and increasing resilience, the plan also aims to identify strategies to accomplish these goals, to prioritize these strategies, and to identify key partners in implementing the plan.

Salem’s Changing Climate

Salem residents will notice several changes in the climate in coming decades. The shifts in climate are projected to occur in three main areas: warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and increased risk of wildfire. Some of the most significant projected climate impacts are the following:

  • The number of days with a heat index over 90°F will increase from a historic average of 7 per year to 33 per year by mid-century.
  • Hotter and drier conditions are likely to cause more frequent droughts.
  • More intense rainfall and rain-on-snow events could also lead to flood events in areas outside of historical high-risk zones.
  • Wildfire is a significantly increasing risk across the state of Oregon. The number of extreme fire danger days1 in Salem will double by mid-century, increasing from a historic average of 10 per year to 20 per year. Extremely large, intense fires will become more likely under hotter and drier climate scenarios.
  • Poor to hazardous air quality resulting from wildfires could greatly impact unsheltered populations and people with underlying health issues such as asthma, diabetes and obesity.

Salem’s Emissions Reduction Goal

In October 2020, the Salem City Council voted to adopt GHG emissions reduction goals. The goals are as follows:

By 2035

Salem’s greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to 50% of the citywide greenhouse gas emissions from the baseline year of 2016, and

BY 2050

Salem is carbon neutral.

These goals have guided the development of the strategies in this plan. Meeting these goals will require the community to rally around a shared vision of the future and to adopt new policies, behaviors and practices.

Where Do Salem’s Emissions Come From?

53% of Salem's GHG emissions come from transportation

Salem’s greenhouse gas inventory2 shows the source and helps to show where emissions reductions can occur. Using 2016 as the baseline year, the City completed its first GHG inventory in 2019. The inventory shows that total GHG emissions in 2016 were 1,553,573 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e). This equates to roughly 9.59 MtCO2e per capita. Emissions from transportation were by far the largest source of emissions, constituting more than half (53%) of the total. Emissions from electricity was the second largest category at 26%. Stationary combustion from the use of natural gas, propane, and other fossil fuels was the third largest contributor at 16%.

City of Salem gross GHG emissions by source (2016)*


Figure 1


Reducing Emissions

To achieve reductions in emissions, it will be necessary to make significant changes in the ways that the Salem community uses transportation and energy.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Forecasts

Two forecasts were created to show what levels of GHG reductions Salem might be able to achieve under different scenarios. A baseline, or business-as-usual, scenario was created that modeled how GHG emissions may change over time if no climate actions were taken. Building upon that baseline forecast, two different emissions reduction scenarios were modeled that showed the projected effects of actions that Salem could take.

Scenario 1

The first scenario modeled the outcome of Salem achieving ten emissions reductions targets:

  • Double the rate of electric vehicle (EV) adoption
  • Quadruple the rate of transit ridership
  • Double the rate at which residents use biking and walking
  • Transition to a zero-emissions bus fleet
  • Reduce the amount of passenger vehicle traffic coming into and out of Salem by 40%
  • Reduce the amount of traffic within Salem by 10%
  • Halt all growth in natural gas emissions
  • Improve building efficiency by an average of 10% by 2050
  • Maximize onsite solar
  • Maximize carbon sequestration of plants and trees

The outcome of Scenario 1 showed a 43% net reduction from 2016 levels by 2035, and a 58% net reduction from 2016 levels by 2050. In this scenario, Salem would not meet its goals.

Scenario 2

The second scenario modeled what it would take to meet Salem’s 2035 and 2050 goals. This model assumed that all emissions reduction targets in the Scenario 1 were met, and then added nine additional targets:

  • Halt the entry of non-resident internal combustion engine traffic
  • Halt the entry of internal combustion engine heavy trucking
  • Halt internal combustion air traffic
  • Ensure a 100% renewables-only electricity grid
  • Remove all fossil fuel-derived natural gas systems in the built environment
  • Remove all other building fossil fuels (e.g. propane, diesel) in the built environment
  • Achieve zero waste through circular economy, compost, recycling
  • Capture all wastewater emissions
  • Halt all septic emissions by requiring locations on septic to join centralized wastewater treatment

The outcome of Scenario 2 showed what it would take for Salem to meet its goal of reducing emissions 50% by 2035 and achieving net zero by 2050.

It is important to note that this model shows just one possible way of achieving the goals. The actual path that Salem will take will undoubtedly look different as time goes on. Some of the emissions reductions could be accomplished in other ways and in different combinations. Technological and behavioral solutions that cannot yet be quantified may play an important role by 2050.

Benefit-Cost Analysis

A detailed benefit-cost analysis (see Appendix 6) was performed on ten climate action strategies selected by three Salem City Council members who served on the Climate Action Plan Task Force. The strategies were selected based on their projected impact to the City of Salem’s budget and the desire for analysis that may inform future policy decisions.

In-depth interviews with subject matter experts from the City of Salem, the Mid-Willamette Valley Council of Governments, Cherriots, Friends of Trees, the City of Portland, and the Energy Trust of Oregon were conducted to inform the analysis.

The top-level findings are listed below.

Most Cost-Effective Climate Action Strategies

  1. Charge for parking on-street in downtown.
  2. Support energy efficiency and weatherization for lower income households (including renters) and small business owners.
  3. Support additional tree canopy in low canopy neighborhoods.

Looking Forward

With strategic planning, determined resolve, collaborative partnerships, and collective will, the Salem community can achieve significant progress in reducing emissions and becoming a climate-smart city.

Page last updated: 15 November 2021, 15:06