Nabila Putri Salsabila


[Executive Summary] After conducting an overarching assessment of Omaha city’s current performance across 5 policy areas, a net-zero by 2050 plan for Omaha has been proposed, by considering social equity, economic and technical feasibility, practicality, and timeliness aspects. The proposal is a mixed strategy of emissions reduction through sectoral decarbonization and emissions removal through negative emissions, that consists of 1) low-carbon transport (fleet electrification and mode shift); 2) green building (building code and retrofit); 3) renewable electrification (utility-scale and distributed generation); and 4) urban nature (forest conservation and carbon offset purchase). A one-year working plan is devised to ensure successful project implementation. To anticipate setbacks, potential challenges have been explored, along with the ways to address them. Lastly, 14 potential diversified funding sources have been identified to finance the initiatives.

[Omaha City Context] Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska, United States (U.S.), with a 2019 population of 486,051 and median age of 34.9 [1,2]. It is located by the Missouri River, which causes the city to have a humid continental climate [3]. With a GDP of US$59 million in 2020 and a low unemployment rate of 3% in 2022, Omaha's economy is highly promising [4,5]. 87% of all employment in Omaha is dominated by private, non-farm sector, particularly in the areas of healthcare and social assistance, retail commerce, and finance and insurance [6]. Jean Stothert from the Republican Party has been the incumbent mayor since 2013. The city’s overall score for the 2021 Clean Energy Scorecard developed by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) was 8/100, resulting in Omaha to rank 89th among 100 U.S. cities [7]. The Scorecard compares cities’ performance across 5 policy areas: buildings, transportation, energy and water utilities, local government operations, and community-wide initiatives, by also taking into account racial and social equity aspects (e.g., access to transit). Each policy area's overall score is determined by the cities’ performance in each subcategory, and the subcategory comprises a more detailed assessment. The Scorecard aims to compile local policies and actions on clean energy deployment and energy efficiency advancement. According to the Scorecard, there is still a lot of room for improvement across all categories. Currently, Omaha does not have climate mitigation goals. Nonetheless, the city sets energy use per capita reduction goal by 10% by 2030 (compared to 2010 baseline). It only has a few initiatives to reduce emissions in the building sector, e.g., offering Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) to commercial property owners for financing the upfront cost of energy efficiency improvements with property taxes as repayment means [8], and requiring buildings to comply with the not-so-stringent 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is Nebraska’s standard. It does not have dedicated programs for energy efficiency, renewable energy, or electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in buildings. In regard to transportation, Omaha does not incorporate sustainable transport, emissions reduction strategy, or mode shift targets into its Master Plan. Indeed, it has established mixed-use zoning code and incentivized location-efficient development, but low-income households have no access to high-quality transit due to the very low average annual local transit funding per capita (US$38.23). The city also has a very low availability of public EV charging station, with only 11.1 per 100,000 people. Speaking of utilities, the municipally-owned Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) did not report its Scope 1 & 2 emissions, and it does not offer energy efficiency programs for its customers. It also demonstrates very low savings of electricity and did not report natural gas savings. The OPPD utility has set a net-zero emissions target by 2050, but the goal’s stringency is unable to be measured because of data unavailability. However, OPPD has produced 35.4% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2021 [9]. For municipal operations, the city has not yet installed renewable energy on its facilities, established sustainable procurement policies, or developed retrofit strategy. Omaha is categorized as “rapid-growth cities in midsize metros”, which are characterized by a large transport emissions share, limited transit systems, high energy use per capita in building and transportation, greater income inequality, and a small-yet-growing tax base. Hence, ACEEE’s main policy recommendations are to adopt EV charging-ready provisions in building codes, form partnerships to encourage utility clean energy goals/programs and investments, and adopt policies/programs targeting energy efficiency in existing buildings [10].

[Problem Statement] How might we formulate a climate action plan for Omaha city to become net-zero by 2050 that is socially equitable, economically feasible, realistic, and rapidly implementable? [Policy Proposal, Rationale, Timeframe, and Effort vs. Impact Analysis] Because net-zero refers to a state in which the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions going into the atmosphere are balanced by their removal from the atmosphere, a mixed strategy of GHG emissions reduction (through sectoral decarbonization) and GHG emissions removal (through negative emissions solutions) will be proposed [11]. Effort vs. impact analysis and the project timeframe would be embedded in each mitigation strategy. The 4 pillars of decarbonization are:

Low-carbon Transport

Why this sector?

  1. Transportation now accounts for 28% of U.S. energy use and 25–38% of energy use in most cities in industrialized nations, surpassing the power sector as the largest emitter [12]. More than 90% of the fuel used is petroleum-based [13].
  2. Maximizing transport energy efficiency, lowering its emissions, and ensuring accessibility to residents are important tasks for local governments. Municipalities control zoning laws, which shape land use. Regional commuting patterns are thus influenced by cities.

Mitigation strategies:

A. Electrify private and public fleets


  1. Electrification is a feasible road transport decarbonization alternative that is superior to biofuels;
  2. Promising growth and learning curve (EV is becoming more affordable);
  3. High fuel efficiency compared to hydrogen and power-to-liquid cars;
  4. Low adoption barriers, requiring minimum behavioral change [14]

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: High vs. High

Policy measures: Provide combination of the following monetary and non-monetary incentives for private fleets owner (on top of federal and state government incentives): upfront cost and charger subsidy or rebate, VAT or income tax reduction, free parking, free charging, access to bus or fast travel lane > Procure EV for municipalities and public agencies fleets (including existing Omaha Metro transit and school bus) > Upgrade to energy-efficient lighting (LED) for street and public places > Expand the installation of EV charging stations at public buildings and marginalized communities area, and partner with provider to offer EV charging-as-a-service (subscription-based)

B. Encourage mode shift to public transport, bike and walk, and shared mobility

Rationale: Compared to private transport, public transport reduces traffic congestion, is more environmentally friendly (because it emits lower or even near-zero-emissions and contributes less to air pollution), more accessible to the low-income households, and most of the time, more cost-effective.

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: Medium vs. High

Policy Measures: Introduce EV-as-a-service (EV leasing) or EV carsharing to provide affordable and clean transport options, and mandate ridesharing provider to gradually upgrade their fleets to EV (both two-wheeler and four-wheeler) > Partner with transport provider to offer free or reduced cost transit rides for students, employees, senior citizens, and low-income or marginalized communities > Enter into agreement with micromobility provider (e.g., e-scooter or e-bike sharing) and prepare with the necessary regulatory frameworks > Create more connected and protected bike lanes and sidewalks to support bike to school or work program > Work with urban planners and project developers to establish 15-minute neighborhoods for future development, where residents can reach most of their destinations within 15 minutes (transit-oriented development)

Green Building

Why this sector?

  1. Building accounts for nearly 40% of global energy-related CO2 and as much as 70% in large cities. Energy efficiency improvements offer benefits beyond cost savings: improved health and safety and increased comfort [15].
  2. There is a leeway to act in this sector because Nebraska allows local jurisdictions to adopt other building energy codes other than the 2009 IECC.

Mitigation strategies:

A. Through building code, require new and renovated buildings to meet efficiency standards and be solar-ready and EV charging-ready

Rationale: Building codes are expected to save energy equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road (or 245 coal plants off the grid) between 2010-2040. Installing these measures upfront can be significantly less costly than retrofitting these buildings later [7].

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: Medium vs. High

Policy measures: Adopt the 2021 IECC for residential buildings and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1-2019 standards for commercial buildings > Require large commercial buildings to receive an ENERGY STAR® or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification > Set design requirements for new construction so that buildings can support renewables and EV charging infrastructure in the future without major retrofits (e.g. minimum areas on roofs, minimum electrical panels ratings, sufficient wiring in parking, etc.) > Appoint code officials responsible for enforcing all building codes who can perform reviews/inspections, track code violations, and raise awareness/compliance > Provide free training and technical assistance (guidance, software/tools) to builders, contractors, engineers, and architects > Provide combination of the following financial/non-financial incentives and financing schemes: tax abatement, permit fee reductions or waivers, grants, rebates, fast-tracking the permitting process, or PACE financing [16]

B. Require retrofitting and retrocommissioning of existing residential, municipal, commercial, and industrial building

Rationale: 1) Comprehensive upgrades can save commercial building energy use by 20–50%, while deep retrofits in residential can achieve energy savings of >50%; 2) retrocommissioning reduce energy use by ~15% in commercial buildings, with <1 year payback; 3) aside from savings energy, cost, and emissions, retrofits extend building’s life and raise property values

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: High vs. High

Policy measures: Introduce Weatherization Assistance Program that allows upgrades for eligible low-income households at no cost (e.g., wall insulation, lighting replacement, green/cool roof) [17] > Launch pay-as-you-save (on-bill repayment/financing) scheme: third party or utilities pay the initial cost and then charge customer on monthly bill, but total bill goes down because energy savings exceed the repayment [18] > Prioritize to retrofit public housing and homes in the lowest quintile of socioeconomic vulnerability > Provide combination of the following financial/non-financial incentives and financing schemes: property tax abatement, grants, rebates, or PACE financing 3.

Renewable Electrification

Why this sector?

  1. Electric power generates the second largest share of emissions. Approximately 60% of U.S. electricity comes from fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas [13].
  2. The investment level and efficiency programs offered by publicly-owned utilities like the one in Omaha are typically subject to some influence from the cities they serve. Municipal utilities are often required to collaborate with local regulations, sustainability initiatives, and climate plans.

Mitigation strategies:

A. Scale up utility-scale renewable investment (wind, solar, and battery)

Rationale: Utility-scale energy production is among the most cost-effective ways to deploy clean energy due to economies of scale

Timeframe: 3-5 years

Effort vs. Impact: High vs. High

Policy measures: Partner with and support OPPD to achieve its net-zero target by 2050 (deployment of ~1,100 MW solar, ~500 MW wind, and ~150 MW of battery storage) [19] > Provide combination of the following financial/non-financial incentives and financing schemes (on top of federal and state government incentives): tax exemptions, subsidies, loans, grants, fast-tracking the permitting process, etc. [20]

B. Boost renewable distributed generation adoption for commercial, municipalities, community, and households

Rationale: Distributed generation (rooftop solar panel, micro wind turbine, and small-scale battery) results in less energy wasted, higher efficiency, and greater resilience because the energy is produced close to the user

Timeframe: 3-5 years

Effort vs. Impact: Medium vs. High

Policy measures: Provide combination of the following financial/non-financial incentives and financing schemes (on top of federal and state government incentives): tax exemptions, subsidies, loans, grants, etc. [20] > Mandate municipalities and large commercial actors to source its electricity from renewables (either as on-grid or distributed generation) > Offer attractive financing schemes, e.g. bulk or group purchase program that enable accessibility and affordability to low-income households, renewable-as-a-service (subscription-based service that eliminates upfront cost)

Urban Nature

Why this sector? Urban forestry provides climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience benefits for the communities. Negative emissions solutions are required to balance hard-to-abate emissions, reverse the build-up of historic emissions, and balance Earth’s own emissions (e.g., forest fires) [21]. It will allow the city to achieve net zero after other reduction measures are implemented.

Mitigation strategies:

A. Conserve and restore urban forests

Rationale: aside from the mitigation and adaptation benefits, urban forest provides co-benefits such as cleaner air and water, reduced flood risk and heatwave impact, habitat, recreation, and improved public health

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: Low vs. Medium

Policy measures: Plant and maintain trees around private homes, along streets, parking lots, mobility hubs, in parks, and along streamways > Promote the conservation, restoration and management of natural and engineered green infrastructure > Collaborate with private or non-profit to incorporate tree planting in its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme

B. Purchase verified and certified carbon credits

Rationale: Carbon offset projects (avoidance or removal) in other countries could be more cost-effective than the one implemented in Omaha

Timeframe: 1-3 years

Effort vs. Impact: Low vs. Medium

Policy measures: Purchase verified and certified carbon credits from trusted project developers like South Pole with a mix of negative emissions solutions (both nature-based and tech-based, such as blue carbon, Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage/BECCS, and Direct Air Capture/DAC) as well as non-nature-based like renewable energy and waste management [Implementation Plan] The first year of the planning phase of the project implementation is regarded as the most crucial part. The detailed project implementation plan for each mitigation strategy will follow later upon first year completion.

One-year Working Plan:

  1. Form an independent Net-Zero Omaha City Taskforce and the corresponding working groups with a diverse representation of stakeholders from key sectors and multiple disciplines, with an inclusive participatory process
  2. Designate the person-in-charge inside the local government who will be responsible for coordination and collaboration/partnership
  3. Launch leadership development and capacity building for local government to raise awareness from within the organization
  4. Formulate a climate action strategy by benchmarking from similar cities with a robust plan, e.g., Kansas City
  5. Announce climate action pledge for transparency and accountability
  6. Promote citizen engagement through public consultation of the proposed action plans with locals and establish a network of climate leaders
  7. Collaborate with non-state actors and leverage the network, e.g. Global Covenant of Mayors or C40 Cities (global alliance for city climate leadership)
  8. Develop the appropriate project management framework and policy development processes to accelerate adoption and implementation
  9. Strategize ways to raise funding and gain support from public, private sector, and non-profit or philanthropy
  10. Assess the economic viability (cost-benefit analysis) and technical feasibility of all mitigation strategies and policy measures for program prioritization, as well as the political acceptance
  11. Devise ways to measure, monitor, and evaluate the project performance (or policy progress) towards reaching goals and targets


There are many co-benefits that result from aiming toward net-zero. First, neighborhoods that encourage walking and cycling boost public health and social cohesiveness, and reduce fatalities caused by air pollution and traffic accidents. Second, low-carbon transport enhances air and water quality, decrease traffic congestion, and reduce noise pollution. Third, ramping up renewable electricity will generate green jobs. Fourth, diversifying electricity generation will lower geopolitical security threats by lowering reliance on fossil fuel imports. Fifth, sustainable transportation promotes equality by ensuring accessibility and affordability for low-income households. Finally, nature-based solutions provide environmental co-benefits beyond mitigation.

Potential Challenges

Implementing the proposed climate action plan might entail the following challenges:

  1. High policy costs due to the nature of incentives As opposed to taxes, incentives put a burden on the budget, but they have higher public acceptance. Therefore, it is important to strategize ways to diversify funding beyond public investment (partnership with private sector, grants from philanthropy, etc.) and to adjust incentives based on cost trends.
  2. Social resistance arising from impacted stakeholders Some opposing parties might refuse to support the transition due to various reasons. They might obstruct the move by lobbying the government to work in their favor. The key to getting opposing stakeholders on board is to have just energy transition mechanism, e.g. reskilling and retraining of displaced workers.
  3. Energy efficiency effort might induce rebound effects Direct rebound effect occurs when higher efficiency and lower environmental impact lead to higher consumption of products/services. While, indirect effect occurs because re-spending of savings is allocated to high environmental impact purchase. Consumer education can help change this behavior.
  4. The displacement of low-income communities This unintended consequence could occur if buildings with a majority of low-income tenants are required to adhere to building performance standards. To mitigate this issue, local government needs to establish multiple compliance pathways and provide technical and financial assistance to building owners, while enacting affordability requirements.
  5. Non-permanence risk of nature-based solutions In the long run, nature-based solutions will face limited deployment due to land use and resource constraints. It also bears non-permanence risk, e.g. due to wildfires. Therefore, it is important to have a balanced mix that includes hybrid and tech-based carbon removals, such as BECCS or DAC.

Funding Sources

Potential funding sources are as follows:

  1. Inflation Reduction Act: financial and technical support for clean energy, energy efficiency, and low-carbon transportation [22]
  2. Energy Efficiency Community Block Grants and Community Development Block Grants: grants for energy efficiency improvements [23]
  3. Green, Resilient, and Efficient Affordable Homes for Tenants (GREAHT): retrofit for affordable housing [24]
  4. HOPE for HOMES Act: retrofit rebates initiative [25]
  5. Zero-Emission Homes Act: rebates for household electrification [26]
  6. Community Project Funding: funding for local community projects that do not fit into the state’s existing grants/loans programs [27]
  7. Omaha Foundation Community Interest Funds: grants for social equity [28]
  8. Redirection of current municipal budget allocation for highways/roads to low-carbon transport mitigation strategies [29]
  9. Public-Private-Partnership [30]
  10. Philanthropic grants, e.g. from Climateworks Foundation [31]
  11. Partner with voluntary carbon market project developers to convert some of emissions savings into carbon credits (but need to avoid double counting)
  12. Sale of obsolete assets owned by municipalities or public agencies, e.g., fossil-based fleets
  13. Redirection of fossil fuel subsidies [32]
  14. Companies voluntary investment