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Portland Public Schools Adopts New Climate Policy

  • After two years of drafting and community engagement, Oregon’s Portland Public School Board recently passed a climate change policy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and minimize other negative environmental impacts.

    The district’s Climate Crisis Response, Climate Justice and Sustainable Practices Policy calls for Oregon’s largest public school system to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the year 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040. To do this, the district will not allow gas-fired equipment in any of its new buildings and will phase it out of all existing buildings by 2050.

    The policy also calls for standardizing waste prevention practices across schools, including greater recycling and food waste reduction, maximizing “green” school yards with increased shade trees and green spaces, and transitioning to electric or low-emission buses and other vehicles.

    In addition, the 50,000-student school district will develop a curriculum and resources to educate students and staffs on climate solutions, and support student-led climate justice, climate action, and climate resiliency initiatives.

    The district’s Climate Justice Committee, which supports the teaching and learning of climate change and climate justice, worked with Oregon nonprofit Eco-School Network to provide an initial comprehensive policy draft informed by youth climate leaders and the Portland school system’s commitment to racial equity.

    District leaders, students and community members vigorously debated about the feasibility, costs, and priorities of phasing out fossil fuel infrastructure needed to meet the climate policy’s carbon reduction goals. But they ultimately came together to develop a climate policy everyone could agree on. 

    “Adoption of this policy is both a challenge and opportunity,” wrote Portland student council representative Danny Cage, school board member Julia Brim-Edwards and Portland Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero in a March opinion piece in the Oregonian. “We will need to work together to meet these aggressive goals, and we expect students and our community to hold us accountable for measurable progress.”

    As part of the climate policy, the district will establish a Climate Crisis Response Committee made up of a majority of members who identify as people of color. The committee will report to the school board annually on the progress the district is making in transitioning vehicles, adopting new practices to reduce and recycle, and implementing more sustainable operational practices.

    The adoption of a climate policy is just one of the ways Portland Public Schools has been in the forefront of efforts to combat climate change. In 2019, the school system hired a programs manager for climate change and climate justice, in what district officials said was the first role of its kind in any school system in the nation. And in 2021, the school district launched a K-12 climate change curriculum that was incorporated into social studies and science classes.