RCPA Year in Review – 2019
Monday, December 30, 2019
So much has changed in 2019. For the RCPA, it seems like the conversation around the climate crisis has changed most of all. At the start of the year, an October 2018 United Nations report sounded the alarm that we must sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030; while Greta Thunberg, who was just named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, was not yet a household name.
Later in 2019, Sonoma County residents were called once again to confront a dangerous wildfire, mandatory evacuations, and Public Safety Power Shutoffs that left thousands without electricity or gas for days at a time. This experience has focused local attention on the threat to our community as well as the need to mobilize solutions within the next decade. As a result, RCPA pursued a range of initiatives designed to address the immediacy and scale of the challenge.
In response to the United Nations report, nearly every member jurisdiction passed, or is working to pass, a Climate Emergency Resolution. RCPA’s Board passed our own resolution in September committing to deepen connections with our partners and each Sonoma County community to collectively develop a 2030 Climate Emergency Mobilization Strategy that will translate these intentions into actions.
This summer, ahead of our first power shutoff, RCPA convened multiple County stakeholders to better understand how Sonoma County can build community resilience to these periods of deenergization while still advancing our efforts to transition our buildings transportation systems away from fossil fuels. Building on these conversations and with support from the Kresge Foundation, the RCPA, City of Santa Rosa, and County of Sonoma have invited the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to assemble a Sonoma County Resilience Advisory Panel to assess land use, development, and local energy grid strategies in relation to community preparedness for power shutoffs and wildfire resilience. The panel of ULI members will convene in March 2020 to interview Sonoma County stakeholders, conduct site visits and provide detailed recommendations to advance local energy grid resilience.
RCPA also supported local government initiatives to pass all-electric construction ordinances, a significant step towards decarbonization of our new buildings. To expand our work to reduce emissions from existing buildings, RCPA teamed with the County of Sonoma Energy and Sustainability Department to expand energy efficiency programs for single family homes and multi-family buildings, and evolve building codes and standards in the years ahead. This work is funded by the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN), a collaboration of the nine Bay Area counties that provides regional-scale energy efficiency programs, services and resources.
RCPA developed the new regional BayREN Water Bill Savings Program that helps municipal water utility customers install eligible water efficiency equipment with no up-front cost ― using a utility-approved on-bill charge that is significantly lower than the estimated savings., The new program is based on three pilots, including Windsor Efficiency PAYS® and will begin operation region-wide in 2020.
These activities have been guided by our new Strategic Plan that charts a county-wide climate action path for the next five years. To inform the Plan, RCPA staff conducted a robust needs assessment to better understand the key challenges and barriers to climate action that our members continue to experience as they strive to reduce emissions and build resilience. This strategic effort is enabling RCPA to deliver more value to member jurisdictions as they mobilize climate action that also advances critical local priorities.
In support of the Strategic Plan process, select community mobilization tools were tested in collaboration with Daily Acts as part of the Sonoma Climate Challenge to reduce over 500 tons of CO2 in 2019. This collaboration resulted in nearly 500 households taking over 600 actions to reduce energy, save money, and spread the Challenge to new communities. RCPA staff look forward to continuing to engage with and learn from community leaders as we all work to mobilize strategic solutions to the climate crisis.
Climate scientists tell us we will face greater challenges in the years ahead and this year’s wildfires have made it clear we are all in this together. Sonoma County is poised to make great strides toward an economy-wide decarbonization that science says is needed to preserve a world where we can still thrive.
Entering the Era of the Climate Emergency
Thursday, September 5, 2019
Have you heard a news report, or maybe a friend, saying we have 10-12 years to act on climate change?
In late 2018, many headlines about the latest United Nations climate report warned that we have until 2030 to sharply reduce emissions or face disruption of essential social systems.1 That warning seems to have stuck in people’s minds more than all the previous reports.
We are now witnessing the beginning of a logical response to this crisis as over 985 local governments representing over 212 million people in 18 countries have declared a climate emergency.2
It is time to mobilize
In Sonoma County, we have focused on protecting our climate for many years — and with some success. Starting in 2010 we have been below 1990 levels,3 while statewide California reduced emissions from building energy and curbed transportation growth to get below 1990 levels in 2017.4
Still, it is not enough. When you watch the news reports of severe weather and read the latest scientific forecasts, it is clear that we need a robust and coordinated response that enables significant systems change.
The scientific consensus tells us that the world needs to contain warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5°C) to have the best chance of escaping the worst impacts of climate change. In order to do that, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we need to achieve zero net emissions before 2050 and get halfway there by 2030.1
Declaring a climate emergency is the next step in that effort.
Passing a Climate Emergency Resolution recognizes that government can play an important role in developing policy while empowering and incentivizing the business community, non-profits, and all residents to take action. The challenge of reducing emissions, while we search for new ways to soak up carbon in the atmosphere, is too large for any one player.
The good news is that we’ve done this before, like when the U.S. mobilized the home front for WWII in a few short years.5 By working together to create systemic change, we can move beyond the model of individual action that has brought us to where we are. The recent wildfires show us that Sonoma County’s super-power lies in the strength of our community and our shared ability to overcome challenges.6
A better world is possible
Looking forward to 2030 and beyond, it’s clear that staying below 1.5°C will also enable us to tackle inequities across social and economic systems and to begin to shrink the ever-widening wealth gap. The UN report notes that “improved air quality resulting from projected reductions in many non-CO2 emissions provide direct and immediate population health benefits.”1
Meeting this challenge means putting ourselves on a path for healthier lives, more equitable communities, and long term stewardship of our planet that allows the natural world to play an important role in drawing down carbon emissions.
Our community can achieve the best outcome for all residents by mobilizing to stay below 1.5°C of warming. The difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C world means a doubling in the duration of warm spells and a 214 percent increase in the frequency of extreme temperatures over land.8 These increased impacts will affect us all while disadvantaged communities will be disproportionately impacted.
The shift starts now
Declaring a Climate Emergency signals a shift in how local governments view their role and responsibilities in this time of crisis as well as an acknowledgement that mobilization requires deep, inclusive community engagement and participation. Tough choices, along with increased need for coalition building, will challenge us to reimagine our local boundaries and how we currently get things done.
Mobilizing for this emergency over the coming years will require all of us to upend the systems that drive climate change. The opportunity is ahead of us. We believe that we’ll get there, but only if we go together.
The Climate Emergency Resolution goes before the RCPA board on September 9 with templates for each city as well as direction for the RCPA to develop a 2030 Climate Mobilization Strategy. You can stay connected by subscribing to our RCPA newsletter where we will provide updates and information on when the Climate Emergency Resolution will come before each local council.