Chapter 3: Introduction

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This Climate Action Plan seeks to chart a course of action for Salem to become a climate-smart city of 2050

Situated in a verdant, forested valley along the Willamette River, Salem enjoys an idyllic natural setting which is a source of joy and pride for residents. Residents of Salem are also accustomed to periodic natural disasters. Earthquakes and floods have been defining characteristics of the area since the beginning of recorded history, but in recent years, the impacts of climate change have become increasingly evident. The area has experienced record temperatures, record drought, flooding, and, most recently, a historic wildfire season in 2020 and destructive ice storm in early 2021.

The serious impacts of these events have prompted governments across the Pacific Northwest to take ambitious steps to assess future climate impacts, reduce greenhouse gas emissions—what's known in the climate world as "mitigation"—and increase resilience to climate change, or the effort known as "adaptation." This Climate Action Plan seeks to chart a course of action for Salem to become a climate-smart city of 2050: a city that has embraced a carbon-free way of life, that has enhanced equity for all residents, and that protects its residents from the most severe impacts of climate change so that the city can continue to thrive.

A Growing Population

Changes to Salem's climate will take place in the context of a rapidly growing city. Salem’s population is projected to grow 28% by 20353. This growth may itself lead to increased climate hazards, as the need for additional housing may lead to increased pressure to build in fire and flood risk zones, and more people may need health or emergency services during extreme heat or hazardous air quality events. In addition, a higher population means that in the future, more individuals will be driving, using electricity and consuming goods, which may lead to increased GHG emissions at the same time the city is trying to make deep reductions.


Approach to Equity

The effects of climate change will not be borne equally by Salem residents—those who contribute least to climate change will suffer the most serious consequences. Some Salemites already experience intersecting vulnerabilities due to racial discrimination, poverty, disability, housing insecurity, linguistic isolation, and barriers to nature, healthy food, and economic opportunities. Climate change will exacerbate those vulnerabilities and create new ones. People who live in floodplains, who live with medical conditions, who are unsheltered, and/or who have limited financial and social resources to recover from extreme weather events will have the most difficulty adapting to climate impacts.

Equity means all residents have the opportunity to participate and thrive in an inclusive society. This requires rectifying unequal access to resources and opportunities caused by historic and current systems of oppression and exclusion related to race, income, ability, gender, sexual identity, and other factors. An equitable community overcomes disparities by providing increased levels of support to community members based on their needs. In Salem, it is a priority to advance equity in decision-making processes and the outcomes of those processes, including policies, investments, practices, and procedures. Several strategies in this plan have the potential to increase equity in Salem by addressing systems and practices that have historically disadvantaged groups of Salem residents and by maximizing benefits for frontline communities. Many of the equity strategies are overarching actions that apply to not only the climate action plan, but other facets of City governance and community equity.

Going forward, as the recommendations of this plan are implemented, it will be important for Salem to act from the following equity principles to ensure a fair transition to a climate-smart future. Each of these principles corresponds to one of the seven Action Areas of this Plan:

  1. Prioritize actions and allocation of public funding that improve safe mobility and increase transportation choice in low-income neighborhoods. Intentionally engage residents in low-income neighborhoods during planning and decision-making phases to better understand the needs and priorities of specific areas in Salem.
  2. Implement strategies such that those responsible for the greatest amount of GHG emissions take the greatest action towards reducing emissions. Ensure the transition to renewable energy generation does not disproportionately affect low-income individuals and households. In decision-making and implementation, elevate the perspective of those most affected by climate change. Use equity frameworks and criteria to evaluate and execute all strategies.
  3. Make green spaces and benefits of natural resources accessible to all Salem residents. Prioritize underserved areas and neglected neighborhoods when implementing strategies. Intentionally include residents of these areas and neighborhoods throughout planning and decision-making processes.
  4. Cultivate affordable cost of living standards within Salem’s economy. Ensure all residents have access to safe and affordable housing options.
  5. Intentionally and thoughtfully engage historically excluded communities throughout future planning and implementation efforts related to climate action strategies.
  6. Prioritize residents who do not currently have access to healthy foods and grocery stores during implementation of food-related strategies.
  7. Ensure that waste disposal practices do not disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods or historically marginalized communities.

Salem 2050 Vision

What would a carbon-neutral and resilient Salem of 2050 be like?

In the fall of 2020, Salem residents contributed hundreds of ideas in response to the question, “What would a carbon-neutral and resilient Salem of 2050 be like?” Their responses paint a picture of a carbon-free, resilient, and thriving community. This vision drove the development of strategies in this plan.

Residents’ vision for a climate-smart city of the future is that by 2050, Salem will have achieved:

Net Zero Emissions from Energy

Salem’s utilities have transitioned to carbon-free sources of energy and all residents have benefited from stable electricity prices. All buildings are maximally energy efficient, solar energy is widely used, and the city has achieved its goal of carbon neutrality.

A Connected, Multi-Modal Transportation Network

Residents have the ability to travel safely and affordably in all transportation modes, including the zero-emissions public transit system. New housing and commercial developments have added density, sidewalk and transit connectivity, and walkable neighborhoods. Biking and walking trails have been expanded.

A Healthy Local Food System


A thriving local food system provides abundant, accessible and affordable healthy food for all. Community gardens and farmers markets can be found throughout the city, providing both food and social connectivity.

Accessible and Affordable Resources for All Residents

All Salem residents have access to affordable housing, healthcare, healthy food, jobs and transportation. When natural disasters strike, people know where to go to get help, which allows them to bounce back successfully.

Zero Waste

(“Zero waste” is defined as diverting 90% of waste from landfills through waste reduction, composting, recycling and reusing.)

A closed-loop system in which products are recycled or remanufactured has resulted in a dramatic reduction of waste. A city-wide composting program collects all food scraps and yard waste and turns it into compost which is sold to gardeners.

Climate-Smart Economic Development

Local small businesses are thriving, thanks to a variety of partnership and support programs and the choices by residents to support their local economy. Environmentally sustainable business practices are the norm, and green jobs have substantially increased.

Natural Resource Protection

Salem’s parks and trees are thriving, thanks to investments in the tree canopy and the incorporation of native plants in parks across the city. Careful management practices have reduced storm runoff, and water quality has been protected with increased buffers.

A Cohesive and Caring Community

Salem is an engaged, caring community with a shared vision that works together to achieve climate goals. Formerly underrepresented voices have helped to shape city policies and practices in ways that have improved quality of life for all residents.

This Climate Action Plan seeks to chart a course of action for Salem to become a climate-smart city of 2050

Situated in a verdant, forested valley along the Willamette River, Salem enjoys an idyllic natural setting which is a source of joy and pride for residents. Residents of Salem are also accustomed to periodic natural disasters. Earthquakes and floods have been defining characteristics of the area since the beginning of recorded history, but in recent years, the impacts of climate change have become increasingly evident. The area has experienced record temperatures, record drought, flooding, and, most recently, a historic wildfire season in 2020 and destructive ice storm in early 2021.

The serious impacts of these events have prompted governments across the Pacific Northwest to take ambitious steps to assess future climate impacts, reduce greenhouse gas emissions—what's known in the climate world as "mitigation"—and increase resilience to climate change, or the effort known as "adaptation." This Climate Action Plan seeks to chart a course of action for Salem to become a climate-smart city of 2050: a city that has embraced a carbon-free way of life, that has enhanced equity for all residents, and that protects its residents from the most severe impacts of climate change so that the city can continue to thrive.

A Growing Population

Changes to Salem's climate will take place in the context of a rapidly growing city. Salem’s population is projected to grow 28% by 20353. This growth may itself lead to increased climate hazards, as the need for additional housing may lead to increased pressure to build in fire and flood risk zones, and more people may need health or emergency services during extreme heat or hazardous air quality events. In addition, a higher population means that in the future, more individuals will be driving, using electricity and consuming goods, which may lead to increased GHG emissions at the same time the city is trying to make deep reductions.


Approach to Equity

The effects of climate change will not be borne equally by Salem residents—those who contribute least to climate change will suffer the most serious consequences. Some Salemites already experience intersecting vulnerabilities due to racial discrimination, poverty, disability, housing insecurity, linguistic isolation, and barriers to nature, healthy food, and economic opportunities. Climate change will exacerbate those vulnerabilities and create new ones. People who live in floodplains, who live with medical conditions, who are unsheltered, and/or who have limited financial and social resources to recover from extreme weather events will have the most difficulty adapting to climate impacts.

Equity means all residents have the opportunity to participate and thrive in an inclusive society. This requires rectifying unequal access to resources and opportunities caused by historic and current systems of oppression and exclusion related to race, income, ability, gender, sexual identity, and other factors. An equitable community overcomes disparities by providing increased levels of support to community members based on their needs. In Salem, it is a priority to advance equity in decision-making processes and the outcomes of those processes, including policies, investments, practices, and procedures. Several strategies in this plan have the potential to increase equity in Salem by addressing systems and practices that have historically disadvantaged groups of Salem residents and by maximizing benefits for frontline communities. Many of the equity strategies are overarching actions that apply to not only the climate action plan, but other facets of City governance and community equity.

Going forward, as the recommendations of this plan are implemented, it will be important for Salem to act from the following equity principles to ensure a fair transition to a climate-smart future. Each of these principles corresponds to one of the seven Action Areas of this Plan:

  1. Prioritize actions and allocation of public funding that improve safe mobility and increase transportation choice in low-income neighborhoods. Intentionally engage residents in low-income neighborhoods during planning and decision-making phases to better understand the needs and priorities of specific areas in Salem.
  2. Implement strategies such that those responsible for the greatest amount of GHG emissions take the greatest action towards reducing emissions. Ensure the transition to renewable energy generation does not disproportionately affect low-income individuals and households. In decision-making and implementation, elevate the perspective of those most affected by climate change. Use equity frameworks and criteria to evaluate and execute all strategies.
  3. Make green spaces and benefits of natural resources accessible to all Salem residents. Prioritize underserved areas and neglected neighborhoods when implementing strategies. Intentionally include residents of these areas and neighborhoods throughout planning and decision-making processes.
  4. Cultivate affordable cost of living standards within Salem’s economy. Ensure all residents have access to safe and affordable housing options.
  5. Intentionally and thoughtfully engage historically excluded communities throughout future planning and implementation efforts related to climate action strategies.
  6. Prioritize residents who do not currently have access to healthy foods and grocery stores during implementation of food-related strategies.
  7. Ensure that waste disposal practices do not disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods or historically marginalized communities.

Salem 2050 Vision

What would a carbon-neutral and resilient Salem of 2050 be like?

In the fall of 2020, Salem residents contributed hundreds of ideas in response to the question, “What would a carbon-neutral and resilient Salem of 2050 be like?” Their responses paint a picture of a carbon-free, resilient, and thriving community. This vision drove the development of strategies in this plan.

Residents’ vision for a climate-smart city of the future is that by 2050, Salem will have achieved:

Net Zero Emissions from Energy

Salem’s utilities have transitioned to carbon-free sources of energy and all residents have benefited from stable electricity prices. All buildings are maximally energy efficient, solar energy is widely used, and the city has achieved its goal of carbon neutrality.

A Connected, Multi-Modal Transportation Network

Residents have the ability to travel safely and affordably in all transportation modes, including the zero-emissions public transit system. New housing and commercial developments have added density, sidewalk and transit connectivity, and walkable neighborhoods. Biking and walking trails have been expanded.

A Healthy Local Food System


A thriving local food system provides abundant, accessible and affordable healthy food for all. Community gardens and farmers markets can be found throughout the city, providing both food and social connectivity.

Accessible and Affordable Resources for All Residents

All Salem residents have access to affordable housing, healthcare, healthy food, jobs and transportation. When natural disasters strike, people know where to go to get help, which allows them to bounce back successfully.

Zero Waste

(“Zero waste” is defined as diverting 90% of waste from landfills through waste reduction, composting, recycling and reusing.)

A closed-loop system in which products are recycled or remanufactured has resulted in a dramatic reduction of waste. A city-wide composting program collects all food scraps and yard waste and turns it into compost which is sold to gardeners.

Climate-Smart Economic Development

Local small businesses are thriving, thanks to a variety of partnership and support programs and the choices by residents to support their local economy. Environmentally sustainable business practices are the norm, and green jobs have substantially increased.

Natural Resource Protection

Salem’s parks and trees are thriving, thanks to investments in the tree canopy and the incorporation of native plants in parks across the city. Careful management practices have reduced storm runoff, and water quality has been protected with increased buffers.

A Cohesive and Caring Community

Salem is an engaged, caring community with a shared vision that works together to achieve climate goals. Formerly underrepresented voices have helped to shape city policies and practices in ways that have improved quality of life for all residents.

Page last updated: 15 November 2021, 15:06