RCPA’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory shows a 23% reduction in Countywide GHG Emissions since 1990

RCPA has recently published its fourth inventory of communitywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, bringing the report up to date through 2020 with thirty years of local inventory data. This article explores the details of the current inventory and provides RCPA’s initial analysis of emission reduction trends and future mobilization opportunities. In short, Sonoma County greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 stand at 3.04 MTCO2e (metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) and have decreased 22.9 percent from 1990. This reduction is just over 2% short of the Climate Action 2020 goal of reducing emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. While Sonoma County did not fully meet these ambitious 2020 climate goals, this level of GHG reduction is still an incredible accomplishment. It shows long-term dedication to climate protection efforts across all of RCPA’s member jurisdictions, agency partners, and local community-based organizations.

Background

In 2016,  RCPA led the Climate Action 2020 initiative and created the county’s first community GHG inventory using 2010 data. This effort also created a historical backcast using 1990 data to provide a benchmark from which to track the impacts of local climate protection campaigns. As part of Climate Action 2020, an ambitious set of goals was adopted by the RCPA Board, including the target of reducing GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.
Following the initial inventory in 2016, RCPA completed updates in 2018 using 2015 data, in 2020 using 2018 data, and now in 2022 with 2020 data. All of these inventories follow the U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions produced by ICLEI and last updated in July 2019.
Finally, as part of the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy adopted by the RCPA Board in March 2021, the countywide GHG goals have been further strengthened. The updated goals call for Sonoma County to become carbon neutral by 2030, working toward even deeper emissions reductions of 80% below 1990 levels by 2030. RCPA is also working with agency partners to expand local carbon sequestration efforts to balance the remaining emissions and ensure carbon neutrality.

2020 Inventory Overview

The results from RCPA’s inventory show that countywide emissions for 2020 were just over 3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Building Energy emissions stand at just over 2/3 of a million metric tons, or 23% of countywide emissions. Transportation emissions are the largest sector at 1.7 million tons and account for 58% of the total. Water, solid waste, and agriculture show much smaller emissions totals and lower percentages of the whole. As with past inventories, major opportunities still exist in lowering emissions from both the building and transportation sectors. RCPA will also look further into the solid waste and agricultural sectors for additional opportunities to make its 80% reduction goal.

When one looks at emission totals from 1990 to 2010, a time span of 30 years, a sharp downward trend is apparent, beginning at 3.94 million metric tons in 1990 to 3.0 million tons in 2020. As mentioned above, RCPA’s 2020 total is a 23% reduction from 1990 levels and falls just over 2% short of the countywide Climate Action 2020 goal. Although this indicates that the ambitious 2020 target was not met, this is still an incredible accomplishment and RCPA offers a whole-hearted thank you to anyone and everyone working on climate-related issues in Sonoma County for making this happen.

After reviewing the data used to calculate emission levels, RCPA estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic did impact Sonoma County’s emissions in 2020. Due to the “stay at home” orders and the subsequent slowing of the economy in 2020, vehicle miles traveled were dramatically lowered for a number of months in 2020 and 2021. This resulted in lowered greenhouse gas emissions in the on-road transportation sector that began to rise again as restrictions were lifted.
Although these short-term COVID-19 impacts on GHG emissions are evident, the long-term impacts are still uncertain. RCPA expects that emissions will continue to rise at a lower rate than vehicle miles traveled due to improvements in fuel efficiency and a shift from fossil fuel vehicles to hybrid and electric vehicles. The State of California’s recently announced requirement for 100 percent zero-emission vehicle sales by 2035 is another major step in this direction.

2020 Inventory Results by Sector

Building Energy
In the Building Energy sector, GHG emissions have been reduced nearly 50% as compared to the 1990 baseline. In general, energy efficiency programs continue to reduce the amount of raw energy consumed by local homeowners. Secondly, and more importantly, the formation of Sonoma Clean Power in 2014 has led to a dramatic reduction in GHG emissions as they have invested in new sources of 100% renewable power. Looking forward, efforts in the upcoming years will need to focus on replacing heating, cooling, and cooking that use natural gas. Instead, a dedicated effort will be needed to switch instead to heat pump and induction technologies that are more efficient and produce significantly fewer GHG emissions.

Transportation
The Transportation sector continued to be the largest contributor to emissions, with on-road emissions at 58% of total emissions. RCPA’s current analysis shows only a 1% reduction in emission since 1990, albeit with a 16% reduction from 2018. As mentioned prior, RCPA believes that this short-term reduction is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Sonoma County will need to work hard to keep these gains. Given that the transportation sector makes the majority of the entire inventory, RCPA efforts will continue to place great focus here. Specifically, RCPA is working closely with colleagues at Sonoma County Transportation Authority on two fronts. First, staff are continuing to implement “fuel-shift” strategies that increase the number of electric vehicles owned by local residents and businesses. Additionally, expanded focus also needs to be placed on “mode-shift strategies” that encourage the use of public transportation, bikes, scooters, or other forms of active transportation.

Water
Emissions from the water sector make up only 1% of the inventory and there has been negligible change between 2018 and 2020. Compared to 1990 emissions, there has been a 68% reduction in emissions, with this coming almost entirely from the water conveyance sub-sector. This dramatic decrease from 1990 levels is another Sonoma County success story featuring Sonoma Water and their Carbon Free Water campaign. Since 2015, Sonoma Water has had contracts in place to procure 100% of its electricity needs through renewables and carbon-free resources. This has been one of the leading factors in the dramatic 68% decrease in emissions related to water pumping and treatment systems.

Solid Waste
Emissions from solid waste currently make up only 6% of RCPA’s most recent inventory, but can be seen as another local success story. Jurisdictional efforts to comply with new state waste reduction laws over the past few years have contributed to this decrease in emissions. AB 1826 (Chesbro, 2014) requires businesses that generate a specified amount of organic waste per week to arrange for recycling services for that waste and for jurisdictions to implement a recycling program to divert organic waste from businesses subject to the law. Additionally, SB 1383 (Lara, 2016) sets requirements for jurisdictions to coordinate efforts between city and county planners, waste haulers, waste processing facilities, recyclers, commercial businesses, residents, and edible food recovery organizations to reduce organic waste disposal by 75 percent by 2025 and to rescue at least 20 percent of currently disposed surplus food by 2025 for people to eat instead of being throw away. Between these two efforts, almost all businesses in the county producing over four cubic yards of waste per week have access to a blue and green bin for recycling and composting. Given these statewide changes, and the local efforts of the countywide waste management authority, Zero Waste Sonoma, emissions from solid waste are down 50% from 1990 levels.

Agriculture
Finally, the agriculture sector makes up 13% of the countywide total and has shown very little change from 1990 to 2018 to 2020. Given that the majority of these emissions are due to manure management, future efforts could focus here to evaluate additional reduction opportunities.

 


2020 Inventory Results by Jurisdiction

The full 2020 inventory report contains a profile page for each jurisdiction that shows the breakdown by sector and inventory year for each city. Emissions produced by each jurisdiction follow population levels very closely, with greater emission levels attributed to the larger jurisdictions. On a per capita basis, the larger cities produce lower emissions per capita than the smaller jurisdictions. RCPA will work with the smaller jurisdictions to identify the reasons for the differences and determine what actions can be taken to reduce their per capita emissions. The next blog post in this series will highlight the key similarities and differences across jurisdictions.

Conclusion

In conclusion, here are the key findings from the most recent 2020 GHG inventory:

  • Overall emissions have decreased 22.9% from 1990 levels, just short of RCPA’s 25% reduction goal.
  • Building energy emissions and emissions from solid waste have both decreased approximately 50% during this time.
  • Transportation continues to be the largest source of emissions and the largest opportunity area for future reductions.
  • Short-term impacts from COVID-19 are evident in the data, but long-term impacts are still uncertain.
  • And finally, to meet RCPA’s carbon neutrality goals for 2030, dramatic decreases in emissions and large-scale increases in sequestration are both needed.

In short, Sonoma County has made great progress so far, but work is far from complete. Onward toward 2030!

The full 2020 GHG Inventory Update Report can be found at the following link: https://rcpa.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/RCPA-Community-GHG-Inventory-2020-Update-FINAL-2022-09-06.pdf

Sebastopol Adopts Climate Action Framework, Project Supported by RCPA in alignment with Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy

On July 19th, 2022, the Sebastopol City Council unanimously adopted the Sebastopol Climate Action Framework, a document that will guide the City as it works to address the climate emergency. The Climate Action Framework provides Sebastopol with the next steps towards reaching the goals of the Climate Emergency Resolution adopted in 2019, which included a goal of reducing emissions to net zero by 2030, sequestering additional carbon from the atmosphere, preparing for current and future climate impacts, and centering equity and community engagement in the City’s ongoing climate actions. 

Sebastopol’s CivicSpark Fellow, Phoebe Goulden, led the development of the Sebastopol Climate Action Framework beginning in Fall 2021 and worked closely with the Sebastopol Climate Action Committee, Sebastopol Planning Department staff, and the Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) to assemble the plan. The Framework development process included comprehensive community engagement activities to understand better the concerns and priorities of Sebastopol community members in relation to climate change. These engagement activities included presentations to community-based organizations, holding a community workshop, soliciting input through a resident survey, and tabling at community events. This outreach was guided by a Community Engagement Strategy that was adopted in December 2021 to ensure that vulnerable populations were included throughout the effort.

Figure 1. Framework development process. More detail on the engagement process is available in Appendix C of the Framework.

 

What is the Climate Action Framework?

The Sebastopol Climate Action Framework is a key tool to aid the City and its residents in addressing the climate emergency. The Framework provides an overview of Sebastopol’s climate progress so far and sets community-driven goals for additional action in six areas: Transportation, Sustainable Land Use, Buildings and Clean Energy, Consumption and Waste, Community, and City Operations and Leadership.

Unlike a “climate action plan”, the Framework does not include specific actions that Sebastopol will take and is not certified under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The City of Petaluma adopted a similar approach in developing its Climate Emergency Framework in January 2021.

 

RCPA’s Role

RCPA was a key partner in the development of Sebastopol’s Climate Action Framework, hosting CivicSpark Fellow Phoebe Goulden in its Santa Rosa office for the 11-month CivicSpark service year. The Framework shares many of the goals of RCPA’s Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy, which was an important reference document throughout the Framework’s development. The four major areas of the Mobilization Strategy are Decarbonization, Carbon Sequestration and Ecosystem Services, Resilience and Adaptation, and Equity and Community Engagement. To better integrate Sebastopol’s goals with regional efforts, in Appendix A of the Framework: Actions for Future Consideration, each potential action is matched to one of the Climate Mobilization Strategy initiative areas. \

It is our hope that Sebastopol’s Climate Action Framework can serve as a model for other jurisdictions that are committed to climate action but face the challenge of limited resources to address climate change. A Climate Action Framework or similar document can provide direction and momentum for action while requiring a fraction of the time and funding that a formal Climate Action Plan can take to complete. The Community Engagement Strategy and other resources from Sebastopol’s Climate Action Framework can also serve as a reference for other jurisdictions embarking on a similar process.

 

Next Steps

The Framework does not commit the City of Sebastopol to specific climate actions but instead provides the process and principles by which to evaluate potential actions. Therefore, an important next step is to determine priority actions for the City to take on moving forward. An initial list of actions that could help Sebastopol achieve the Framework’s goals is included in Appendix A of the Framework: Actions for Future Consideration. Over the next few months, Sebastopol’s Climate Action Committee (CAC) will evaluate and prioritize emission-reduction and preparedness strategies, including those in Appendix A. The CAC’s recommendations will be brought to the Sebastopol City Council for approval and appropriation of funds.

The Framework also recognizes the need for continued regional collaboration to address cross-jurisdictional topics such as county traffic patterns, emissions from the consumption of goods and services, watershed-level issues that cut across city boundaries, and more. As the regional organization dedicated to climate efforts, RCPA will continue to facilitate this collaboration through its jurisdictional members, agency partners, citizen involvement committees, and coordinated work with the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. As part of this broader effort, the Sebastopol Climate Action Framework will allow the City, its residents, and its local community-based organizations to be leaders in combating climate change both within the city boundaries and across the entire county.

RCPA weighs in on CARB’s Draft 2022 Scoping Plan

RCPA recently submitted feedback to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on its Draft 2022 Scoping Plan, urging more aggressive action to address the climate emergency. The Scoping Plan is important because it guides future State-level policy and funding decisions that are essential to our success in achieving its local climate goals.

RCPA’s most significant concern with the draft plan is that it doesn’t go far enough fast enough to support the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy and our goal of carbon neutrality by 2030.

 

 

What is the Scoping Plan and why does it matter?

CARB is required under AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, to develop a Scoping Plan that describes how California will meet its climate goals. The first Scoping Plan was released in 2008, and the most recent update was completed in 2017. 

 

The 2017 Scoping Plan evaluated progress toward the AB 32 goal of returning to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020. It also provided a technologically feasible and cost-effective path to achieving the SB 32 target of reducing GHG emissions by at least 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

Overview of the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan

For the first time, the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan evaluates scenarios to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035 or 2045 by reducing GHG emissions and increasing carbon sequestration on natural and working lands. Previous scoping plans focused on reducing transportation, energy, and industrial emissions.

CARB’s proposed scenario achieves carbon neutrality by 2045 through these two means:

    1. Reducing GHG emissions by deploying a broad portfolio of existing and emerging fossil fuel alternatives and clean technologies, and 
    2. Increasing carbon sequestration by adopting land management activities that prioritize restoration and enhancement of natural systems to improve resilience to climate change impacts and capture and store atmospheric carbon in the ground. 

RCPA’s Response

While the Draft 2022 Scoping Plan includes many actions aligned with RCPA’s Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy, including the Priority GHG Reduction Strategies for Local Government Action in Appendix D, the proposed scenario does not define a pathway for California to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

To support Sonoma County’s ambitious climate goals and address the scientific imperative, Sonoma County needs State support to significantly scale up our local actions and more rapidly transition our economy from its dependence on fossil fuels. RCPA urged CARB to consider the inclusion of a new scenario that enables the State to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.

What happens next?

A final version of the 2022 Scoping Plan is expected to go to the CARB board for approval later this year. RCPA will monitor the status of the plan and provide additional comments if necessary to ensure the plan supports our local climate goals.

Bans Against the Construction of New Gas Stations Spread throughout Sonoma County

It is indisputable that a climate emergency threatens the natural and human-built environments. All nine incorporated jurisdictions plus the County of Sonoma have adopted resolutions confirming this fact. The effects of global warming are already visible locally, with more dire impacts predicted to come in the near future. If we want to slow the increasing threat of climate change, as well as adapt to the altered ecological conditions before us, we need to take high-impact societal-wide actions immediately.

Ironically, the most needed actions may not provide immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the short-term, but are critical to ensure the elimination of long-term emissions potential. In other words, our near-term decisions have long-term consequences. This is especially true in relation to infrastructure upgrades and equipment installations that can potentially impact our behavior patterns for decades to come.

We see evidence for this fact in our work around converting buildings to be all-electric and transforming our transportation system. Moving away from natural gas appliances in residential buildings and installing high-efficiency electric alternatives for heating, cooling, hot water, clothes drying, and cooking are key capital decisions with long-term implications. Once new equipment is purchased and installed, it will be used for many years to come. The same long-term lock-in effect can be seen in our transportation systems as well.

Underground gasoline storage tanks have an expected service life of 40 years. Any new gas stations built now will have the potential to continue pumping fossil fuels for the next four decades. That puts the expected life of any new station many, many years past our current climate goals that have been set for 2030, 2040, and 2050. To reduce this long-term potential for additional fossil fuel use, multiple local jurisdictions have either adopted or are considering adopting bans on the construction of any new gas stations and the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure at any existing stations.

Sonoma County: A National Leader

Starting in February 2019, a grassroots community-based organization called the Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations (CONGAS) has been working to stop the construction of new gas stations in Sonoma County. After successfully protesting the construction of several proposed stations, a major victory came in March 2021 when the City of Petaluma adopted a permanent ban on the construction of any new stations within their city limits. This act made Petaluma the first city in the United States to enact such a ban.

Discussion followed at the next several Regional Climate Protection Authority board meetings on how to support other jurisdictions that were interested in following Petaluma’s lead. In September 2021, the RCPA Board adopted a resolution urging the County and the local incorporated jurisdictions to adopt the prohibition. Coordination meetings among municipal planning staff were held to share available resources, identify policy constraints, and identify subsequent actions.

Since that time, several additional jurisdictions have taken steps forward. The City of Rohnert Park adopted a permanent ban on the construction of new gas stations in March 2022, after passing a temporary moratorium the previous month. This action was followed by a ban in the City of Sebastopol that was adopted by the City Council in April 2022. Additionally, the Town of Windsor is bringing an item to their council shortly, with Santa Rosa and Cotati expected to follow later this year.

The table below shows the current status of local bans on the construction of new gas stations:

Jurisdiction Adoption of Bans on the Construction of New Gas Stations (as of April 20, 2022)
City of Cloverdale No action taken yet.
City of Cotati Draft ordinance being developed by Planning Department staff; No date set.
City of Healdsburg No action taken yet.
City of Petaluma Permanent ban approved by City Council on March 1, 2021.
City of Rohnert Park Permanent ban approved by City Council on March 22, 2022.
City of Santa Rosa Direction given by Climate Action Subcommittee on Feb. 9, 2022 to move forward with drafting ordinance and present to Planning Commission; No date set.
City of Sebastopol Permanent ban approved by City Council on April 19, 2022.
City of Sonoma No action taken yet.
Town of Windsor Direction given by City Council on Nov. 3, 2021 to move forward with drafting code; No date set.
County of Sonoma Broad support from Board of Supervisors on January 25, 2022; To be discussed as part of April 2022 General Plan Scoping Workshop to receive staff direction from BOS.
Regional Climate Protection Authority Adopted a resolution on September 13, 2021 urging the County and incorporated jurisdictions to adopt a prohibition on the construction of new gas stations.

Moving the Needle

Given that transportation accounts for over 60% of our local community greenhouse gas emissions, multiple actions are needed to meet our long-term climate goals. In addition to our work on banning the construction of new gas station, RCPA is partnering with our colleagues at Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) to implement strategies from the 2050 Comprehensive Transportation Plan, Vision Zero Action Plan, and Shift Sonoma County Plan that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making it easier and safer to get around without a car and accelerating the transition to electric vehicles. Starting later this year, we will also work with SCTA staff as they develop a new Countywide Active Transportation (CAT) Plan in partnership with multiple local jurisdictions.

These efforts are a valuable and needed complement to the work on banning the construction of new gas stations. We are working diligently to move both fronts forward in short order. Very shortly, we hope to be able to say that Sonoma County is the first county in the nation where all local jurisdictions agree that no new gas station infrastructure should be built or expanded in the face of our current climate emergency.

Onward!

Megadrought Solutions in Sonoma County

Despite a significant rainstorm in late 2021, the drought situation facing the American West is being classified as a “megadrought” and exhibits the driest conditions in at least 1,200 years, according to a new study published in Nature of Climate Change. [1]  Human-caused climate change is a key factor causing the dry conditions, which threaten to worsen going forward.

The impacts of this continuing megadrought on the North Bay will be low reservoirs, water shortages, increased extreme heat events, and wildfire threats due to dry vegetation.
Researchers have known that before human industry, yearly water levels varied. That variability, however, has been intensified by the climate crisis. “According to their findings, soil moisture deficits doubled in the last 22 years compared with levels in the 1900s. Human-caused warming accounted for a 42 percent increase in severity,” reports The Guardian in a recent article. [2] The new research is considered by many to be a call-to-arms to protect water supplies through water efficiency.

Rather than accepting a warming future with less rainfall, Sonoma County residents have tools and tactics available to reduce their own water use, to ensure existing water supplies are used efficiently.

BayREN’s Water Upgrades Save program helps Sonoma County residents install water and energy-efficient upgrades — like high-efficiency toilets, showerheads, and aerators. Not only do these upgrades save water, they also lower water utility bills for renters and homeowners. This program is currently available in the City of Sebastopol, and soon in the City of Cloverdale. To learn more, visit: www.bayren.org/waterupgradessave

The Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership also offers a range of water efficiency resources to assist residents and businesses, including its Saving Water Challenge, which features 31 water-saving tips and a drawing for prizes such as a high-efficiency clothes washer and Smart Home Water Monitor. To learn more, visit: www.savingwaterpartnership.org/challenge/

Saving Water Challenge Tips from the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership

OUTDOOR

  • Adjust your lawn mower to the height of 1.5 to 2 inches.  Taller grass shades roots and holds soil moisture better than short grass.
  • Check your sprinkler system frequently and adjust sprinklers so only your plants are being watered and not the house, sidewalk, or street.
  • Redirect downspouts to the landscape to allow rainwater to be absorbed into the ground instead of going into the street.
  • Leave lawn clippings on your grass; this cools the ground and holds in moisture.
  • Wash your pets outdoors, in an area of your lawn that needs water.
  • Use porous material for walkways and patios to prevent wasteful runoff and keep your water in your yard.
  • Use a commercial car wash that recycles water.  Or, wash your car on the lawn, and you’ll water your grass at the same time.

GARDENING

  • When replanting your front or backyard, consider low-water plants to reduce water use.
  • Hold off on new plantings until the drought is over.
  • Water your plants deeply but less frequently to encourage deep root growth and drought tolerance.
  • Signs of overwatering: Leaves turn lighter shades of green or yellow, young shoots wilt, and sometimes moss or fungi grow.
  • Spreading a layer of organic mulch around plants helps retain soil moisture, saving water, time & money.
  • Set a timer when using the hose as a reminder to turn it off.  A running hose can waste up to 10 gallons per minute.

INDOOR

  • When running a bath, plug the bathtub before turning on the water.  Adjust the temperature as the tub fills.
  • When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run.  Fill one basin with wash water and the other with rinse water.
  • While you wait for hot water, collect the running water and use it to water plants.
  • Use water for up to 5 minutes while taking a shower.  Turn off the water when you are lathering soap.
  • If your toilet was installed before 1992, installing a new WaterSense® labeled toilet will reduce the amount of water used for each flush by 20% or more.
  • When you give your pet fresh water, don’t throw the old water down the drain.  Use it to water your plants.
  • For hot water and energy savings, insulate hot water pipes.

KITCHEN

  • Collect the water you use while rinsing fruit and vegetables.  Reuse it to water plants or to flush your toilet.
  • Don’t use running water to thaw food.  For water efficiency and food safety. Defrost food in the refrigerator.
  • Soak pots and pans instead of letting the water run while you scrub them clean.
  • Dishwashers use 4 to 7 gallons per load.  Washing by hand uses 1.5 to 2.5 gallons per minute of running water.
  • Scrape food scraps and residue into the compost bin rather than rinsing your dishes.
  • Instead of running the water while you wait for it to get cold, keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator.

CHECK FOR LEAKS

  • One drip every second adds up to five gallons per day!  Check your faucets and showerheads for leaks.
  • Put food coloring in your toilet tank.  If it seeps into the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak.  Fix it and start saving gallons.
  • Be a leak detective!  Check all hoses connectors and faucets regularly for leaks.
  • Monitor your water bill for unusually high use.  Your bill is a tool that can help you discover leaks.
  • Report broken pipes, leaky hydrants and errant sprinklers to property owners or your local water provider.

 

[1] Williams, A.P., Cook, B.I. & Smerdon, J.E. Rapid intensification of the emerging southwestern North American megadrought in 2020–2021. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01290-z
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/15/us-west-megadrought-worst-1200-years-study

RCPA Year in Review – 2021

The anticipation of emerging from the COVID pandemic in 2021 was squelched pretty early in the year and, as we closed out the holiday season with another surge, things are still very much uncertain. On the positive side of things, SCTA/RCPA did make progress and meet with successes in 2021, on both the transportation and climate fronts, and we made strides to address equity in our work.

Additionally, there were some staff changes this year with BC Capps being hired as the Climate Change Program Specialist, Phoebe Goulden joining the team as an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Fellow working with the City of Sebastopol, and Ross Clendenen taking over the Marketing and Community Engagement role after Brant Arthur departed for another agency to continue work on climate change.

Below are some additional highlights of our programs and projects from 2021:

 

Sonoma Climate Mobilization

In 2021 RCPA saw several advances for climate action in Sonoma County, including passage of the tenth and final local climate emergency resolution by the City of Rohnert Park, approval of a ban on the construction of new gas stations by the City of Petaluma, and adoption of the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy by the RCPA Board. The document builds on the Climate Action 2020 and Beyond plan published in 2016 and sets a new countywide goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030.

The Strategy contains thirteen overarching strategies within local authority that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase carbon sequestration by 2030. These strategies were developed by the RCPA in collaboration with its members, partners, advisory committees, and local climate experts. Staff has focused first on the initial set of priority projects that was adopted by the RCPA Board in March 2021 and worked with our member jurisdictions and advisory committees to determine priorities for 2022.

 

Equity and Climate

Climate change hazards tend to disproportionately impact our most vulnerable and disadvantaged community members. To address these impacts, the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy includes a strong commitment to equity. RCPA will use the Strategy’s equity principles and objectives to embed equity-centered design into every aspect of local climate policy design and implementation. RCPA will revise the strategies as it deepens its connections with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and strengthens its understanding of the impacts of systemic racism on these communities.

RCPA convenes the Climate Action Advisory Committee (CAAC) quarterly to gather information, feedback, and advice on the development and implementation of climate action programs. As identified in the Mobilization Strategy, RCPA staff worked to ensure that the evaluation process for selecting incoming CAAC members encouraged a more diverse representation from a wider range of stakeholders. These proposed changes were adopted by the RCPA Board in April and several new members were added to the CAAC for the July 2021 meeting.

 

RCPA Hosts CivicSpark Fellow

One way RCPA is supporting jurisdictions is by hosting an AmeriCorps CivicSpark Fellow to support the City of Sebastopol’s Climate Action Committee and develop their Climate Action Framework. The Framework will build on RCPA’s Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy to provide a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change in Sebastopol. In addition to helping Sebastopol meet its emission reduction and resiliency goals, these projects will serve as a resource for other Sonoma County jurisdictions interested in applying the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy to their own community and advancing climate goals.

 

Electric Vehicles

In 2021, RCPA completed work on a project funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission. The purpose of the project was to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles in Sonoma County by expanding electric vehicle knowledge and availability of EV charging stations. The project provided information and advice to prospective drivers, local jurisdiction staff, and local employers through presentations, webinars, an online knowledge base called EV101, and other online resources. The project also completed detailed assessments of the best locations for the installation of EV chargers and created an online map displaying these locations for reference by local jurisdictional planning staff.

Learn more:

 

Water Upgrades Save

In June 2021, the City of Sebastopol became the first Bay Area water utility to join BayREN Water Upgrades Save and begin customer services. In August 2021, the Cloverdale City Council voted to join the program and will begin customer services in early 2022. The innovative regional program enables municipal water customers to install water and energy efficiency upgrades with little to no upfront cost — using a monthly on-bill charge that is significantly lower than the estimated savings — so they begin saving right away.

This inclusive financing model removes typical market barriers, enabling water customers to participate without an upfront cost or new debt and regardless of their status as property owner or renter. The Association of Bay Area Governments provides capital to install the customer-side efficiency projects while the Program provides the utilities with a turnkey service, assisting each water customer from savings estimate to project completion.

As a CPUC water-energy nexus program, Water Upgrades Save helps utilities meet new drought-driven state and local water efficiency targets, reach local difficult-to-serve customers (e.g., low- and moderate-income property owners and renters,) and invest in customer-side conservation to protect the water supply.

Learn more:

 

Local Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) Implementation

RCPA represents Sonoma County in the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) to implement cost-effective energy saving programs and to develop and administer successful climate, resource, and sustainability programs. RCPA partners with the County of Sonoma Energy and Sustainability Division (ESD) to implement the single family, multifamily, commercial, and codes and standards programs in Sonoma County.

Several important milestones for 2021 include the debut of the new BayREN Business Program for commercial businesses, extensive work by the Codes and Standards Program on 2022 electric reach code opportunities, and the adoption of the BayREN Sonoma Roadmap to guide local program activities over the next few years.

 

Urban Land Institute Report Released

In April, RCPA and the Urban Land Institute (ULI) convened a virtual ULI Resilience Advisory Services Panel for Sonoma County. During the virtual engagement, the panel met with stakeholders from across Sonoma County to gain a deeper understanding of the 2017, 2019, and 2020 wildfires and their impact on local residents, infrastructure, housing, and the economy. The final report on the panel’s 40 recommendations was published in November. This work was made possible with support from the Kresge Foundation, City of Santa Rosa, and the County of Sonoma. RCPA staff will work throughout 2022 to further evaluate the recommendations to determine which actions are most appropriate for implementation by RCPA members and partners.

 

Looking Toward the Future

RCPA staff is excited about the year ahead. Although the challenges are still large and time is running short, we remain dedicated to enacting a just transition away from fossil fuels and dramatically lowering our greenhouse gas emissions to restore a safe climate. Our upcoming work for 2022 includes efforts on a number of important fronts:

  • Continuing to support local jurisdictions to develop ordinances to cease all construction of new gas station infrastructure in Sonoma County
  • Developing local energy reach codes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new construction and developing a strategy to equitably transition our existing buildings to be all-electric
  • Supporting the installation of additional electric vehicle charging stations and implementing the strategies of the SCTA Comprehensive Transportation Plan
  • Supporting jurisdictions in their efforts to protect and manage their urban tree canopies and identifying areas to integrate climate-related policies into local and countywide general plan updates

 

Collectively we march onward toward a brighter future!

 

Accelerating EV Adoption in Sonoma County

Sonoma County’s emissions from transportation account for roughly 60 percent of total emissions, according to RCPA’s most recent greenhouse gas inventory.

To meet RCPA’s 2030 goal of achieving carbon neutrality, we must transform our transportation system from one based on fossil fuel powered cars to one that is multimodal, with more feasible clean power options for getting around in Sonoma County. These options include safer bicycle and pedestrian routes, improved transit service, and replacement of fossil fuel powered vehicles with electric vehicles (EVs).

To achieve this goal, RCPA’s Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy includes two strategies focused on changing how we get around in Sonoma County:

  1. Drive Less Sonoma County – Make it easier to get around Sonoma County without a car.
  2. EV Access for All Partnership – Accelerate the transition to 100 percent electric vehicles (EVs) for all transportation needs not otherwise met by biking or walking.

This post will focus on RCPA’s work to accelerate the transition from fossil fuel powered to electric vehicles.

Over the last few years, RCPA has worked to provide education and resources to help local drivers transition to EVs and to increase the number of publicly accessible EV charging stations in Sonoma County. For example, RCPA:

  • Implemented the Sonoma EV 101 service – A 24/7 responsive online knowledge base for common electric vehicle questions. The knowledge base includes articles that address three core questions: 1. What kind of EVs can I buy? 2. Where can I charge them? And 3. What rebates and incentives are available?
  • Promoted workplace charging stations by contacting over 40 private and public employers to share information about workplace charging solutions and sources of grant funding to assist employers in installing charging stations.
  • Refined existing EV charging station siting analysis with an improved online map that shows opportunities for charging in Sonoma County. Using this updated map, the team developed a list of the top 20 electric vehicle charging station siting zones in Sonoma County and presented them to elected representatives of each jurisdiction along with EV charging network providers.

How many EVs are there in Sonoma County?

At the end of 2020, there were almost 10,000 EVs registered in Sonoma County (figure 1) [1]. An additional 1,440 EVs were sold in Sonoma County during the first half of 2021.

Figure 1: EVs Registered in Sonoma County as of December 31, 2020

The rate of EV adoption will need to increase significantly to meet the goal of 100,000 registered EVs in Sonoma County by 2030 (figure 2). This goal was established in the 2017 Shift Sonoma County Low Carbon Transportation Action Plan.

In its Electric Vehicle 2021 report, the Bloomberg New Energy Forecast (BNEF) predicted that the global outlook for EV adoption is improving based on a combination of policy support, improvements in battery performance, decreases in battery cost, expansion of EV charging infrastructure, and growing commitments from automakers to transition their fleets to EVs.[2]

The number of available EV models has increased significantly from under 100 models in 2015 to over 350 in 2020. Over the same period, the average range of EVs increased from roughly 130 to 210 miles.[3]

An often overlooked benefit of EVs is the money they save consumers in ongoing fuel and maintenance costs. In a recent study of relative ownership costs of currently available EVs and comparable internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, Consumer Reports found the following:[4]

  • Seven of the nine most popular EVs on the market cost first-time owners less than the best-selling, and top-rated ICE vehicles in their class, in many cases matching or exceeding the performance of some of the top-performing ICE vehicles in their class.
  • Lifetime ownership costs for all nine of the most popular EVs on the market under $50,000 are many thousands of dollars cheaper than the best-selling and top-rated ICE vehicles in their class, with typical savings ranging between $6,000 and $10,000.

The rapid advances in the EV market combined with State and federal policy and funding support will make EVs accessible to a broader range of people and increase the likelihood of Sonoma County meeting its 2030 EV adoption goal.

Where are the EV charging stations?

The Shift plan set a goal of 11,000 public and shared private charging stations by 2030. As of July 1, 2021, Sonoma County had a total of 791 charging stations, the majority of which are Level 2 (figure 3). Level 2 chargers can provide about 14 to 35 miles of range per hour of charging compared with about 5 miles of range per hour for Level 1 chargers. DC Fast chargers are able to charge an EV to 80 percent capacity in about 30 minutes. [5]

Figure 3: Public and Shared Private EV Chargers in Sonoma County as of July 1, 2021

Between 2018 and 2021, the number of EV charging stations in Sonoma County increased as shown in Figure 4. New EV charging stations were installed in portions of the county such as the coast that previously did not have access to public EV charging stations.

A map with more details on EV charging stations is available at https://www.plugshare.com/.

Figure 4: Sonoma County EV Charging Stations 2018 vs. 2021

What will it take to meet our 2030 EV goal?

The transition to EVs appears to be at a tipping point due to increased awareness of the climate crisis, rapid expansion of EV models and battery range, and supportive public policies like Governor Newsom’s executive order banning sales of new gas powered vehicles in 2035. What needs to happen here in Sonoma County to achieve our local goal of 100,000 registered EVs by 2030?

One critical action will be to make EVs more accessible and affordable to all Sonoma County residents. Early adopters of EVs have been primarily higher income households with access to private charging in single family homes. To reach Sonoma County’s 2030 EV adoption target, EVs must become more accessible to lower income households and residents of multifamily units.

RCPA is working with the Decommissioning Internal-Combustion Vehicles (DIVE) Group at Stanford University [6] to support community engagement on the topic of EVs in Sonoma County. RCPA wants to increase its understanding of the needs and barriers relative to EV adoption in low income communities in order to design more effective EV policies and programs.

RCPA will also continue working with local jurisdictions and partner agencies to facilitate the deployment of more public EV charging stations, with a focus on workplace and multifamily locations. RCPA plans to research policy options to require installation of EV charging infrastructure and equipment in public locations as well as research upcoming funding opportunities to accelerate deployment.

Reducing transportation emissions in Sonoma County is challenging. Electrifying our transportation system is one key strategy to get us to zero emissions. We also need to create more options for getting around without a car and will explore these opportunities in future blog posts.

In the meantime, let us know your ideas for lightening the carbon footprint of our transportation system by sending an email to info@rcpa.ca.gov.


References:

[1] California Energy Commission (2021). California Energy Commission Zero Emission Vehicle and Infrastructure Statistics. Data last updated 4/30/21. Retrieved 8/23/21 from https://www.energy.ca.gov/zevstats

[2] Electric Vehicle Outlook 2021, BloombergNEF, https://about.bnef.com/electric-vehicle-outlook/

[3] IEA, Electric car models available globally and average range, 2015-2020, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/data-and-statistics/charts/electric-car-models-available-globally-and-average-range-2015-2020-2

[4] Electric Vehicle Ownership Costs: Today’s Electric Vehicles Offer Big Savings for Consumers, Consumer Reports, October 2020, https://advocacy.consumerreports.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/EV-Ownership-Cost-Final-Report-1.pdf

[5] California Energy Commission (2021). California Energy Commission Zero Emission Vehicle and Infrastructure Statistics. Data last updated 7/1/21. Retrieved 8/23/21 from http://www.energy.ca.gov/zevstats.

[6] More information on the Decommissioning Internal-Combustion Vehicles Group is available at https://dived8.sites.stanford.edu/

Extreme Drought Hits Hard as New Water Program Debuts in Sebastopol

As California enters a third year of drought, Bay Area communities are mobilizing to reduce water use.

In the City of Sebastopol that includes joining to help its residents save water and lower their utility bills.

“Sebastopol had the foresight to be the first Bay Area city to enroll in this program, before the drought was declared,” said Vice Mayor Sarah Glade Gurney, noting the City’s January 2021 decision, which enables its water customers to install water efficiency upgrades with little-to-no upfront cost using an on-bill charge that is significantly lower than the estimated savings — so they begin saving right away.

In early May, as Sebastopol launched its Water Upgrades $ave service, Governor Newsom expanded his state of emergency drought proclamation to 41 of the state’s 58 counties. The action came as two years of below normal precipitation, super dry soils, and historically low reservoirs threaten local water supplies.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Bay Area drought conditions will persist at least through August 31 and six of nine Bay Area counties include areas of exceptional drought, with effects such as widespread water shortages or restrictions, exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses, and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.

The drought is already being felt in the North Bay agricultural industry where grape growers are pruning vines to reduce water need, dairies are selling stock and importing water for remaining animals, and farmers are focusing on crops that need less water, according to The Press Democrat.

In response, Bay Area jurisdictions and water suppliers are declaring drought emergencies and setting voluntary, and in some cases mandatory, 10 to 20 percent water use restrictions as well as expanding water conservation programs.

These efforts will soon get help from a $5.1 billion drought infrastructure, preparedness, and response campaign included in Governor Newsom’s California Comeback Plan, which is expected to be adopted by the State legislature in June.

Even as drought pressures grow, Water Upgrades $ave can help water utilities meet emergency and long-term conservation targets by investing in indoor and outdoor customer-side upgrades using a turnkey service that provides utility capital and installs upgrades for participating customers, who use a portion of their savings to repay the project cost over time with the on-bill charge.

The new regional program is based on three pilots in the Town of Windsor, City of Hayward, and East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which were conducted by the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority, which serves as Water Upgrades $ave program manager. Serving both homeowners and renters, the pilots delivered an annual average utility bill savings of 20 percent for single family and 30 percent for multifamily projects.

Commenting on the City of Sebastopol’s interest in the program, Vice Mayor Gurney said that while “the Water Upgrades $ave program will benefit local governments by buffering the impact of our rate increase, it will also help our local citizens by giving them an affordable tool to lower their water and energy use.”

Pulling Carbon Out of the Air to Protect Our Climate

Climate action is about more than reducing the pollution being released into our atmosphere. While our primary work has been focused on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and turning to carbon-free sources, we will also need to focus on removing GHGs that are already in our atmosphere. This is especially true if we want to move fast enough to become carbon neutral by 2030.

As part of the Climate Emergency Resolution adopted by the RCPA Board in September 2019, we developed a Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy. The overall goal of the strategy is to quickly reduce GHG emissions and to capture and store the remaining atmospheric carbon dioxide in order to reach net zero emissions by 2030. This goal is known as reaching “carbon neutrality” and is shared by many current climate action plans. In short, we need to reduce what we produce (GHG emissions), and then store away any excess emissions to reduce the long-term global warming potential of these atmospheric gasses.

With this goal in mind, the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy was adopted by the RCPA Board on March 8, 2021 and work is now transitioning to the development of more detailed cost estimates and implementation plans. The mobilization strategy is organized around four large initiative areas: decarbonization (reducing our emissions), carbon sequestration and ecosystem services (capturing and storing our emissions), resilience and adaptation (living with the impacts of climate change), and equity and community engagement (ensuring that all members of our community are included.)

This blog article focuses on the second initiative area of the mobilization strategy: Sequestration and Ecosystem Services. See our previous blog on Decarbonization for details on our work in this area.

The Earth has been sequestering carbon for over 3 billion years

First off, carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this process has already been taking place for over three billion years via photosynthesis in green plants. During this process,  carbon dioxide and water are converted to oxygen and simple sugars that allow the plant to grow and store carbon throughout its life. As long as the plant is actively growing, or the plant material is kept from decomposing, the absorbed  carbon remains in a stable form and is locked away from increasing atmospheric global warming.

It is worth noting that there are numerous other methods of carbon sequestration being researched across the globe – ranging from natural methods such as forest protection and urban tree planting, to more technologic methods such as direct air capture and direct ocean capture. Carbon dioxide that is captured and stored using technological methods can then be injected into underground reservoirs, or be processed into stable materials that provide long-term storage such as concrete building blocks or sidewalk pavers.

Locally, our mobilization strategy is focused exclusively on methods of storing carbon naturally through forest protection, tree planting, and supporting local agricultural producers to plan, implement, and scale carbon sequestration in their ongoing operations. Carbon sequestration is a critical part of achieving the Sonoma Climate Mobilization goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030. There are existing efforts on rural lands to increase sequestration, with the potential to increase sequestration in the urban parts of the county as well. Sonoma County’s forestlands and wetlands, especially the Sonoma Baylands, provide additional capacity to sequester carbon.

Ecosystem services make our lives possible

A second key aspect of this initiative is the role that ecosystem services play in providing vital benefits for human survival. There has been extensive work undertaken over the past decade by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District to identify and quantify the benefits of ecosystem services provided by natural and working lands.

Some of these benefits include improving water quality and delivery, preventing soil erosion or accumulation, keeping disease organisms in check, assisting with nutrient cycling, providing the physical materials that society uses (such as lumber and food), and maintaining genetic and biological diversity. Another important function that ecosystem services provide is allowing humans to interact meaningfully with nature, such as providing places for recreation, spiritually significant natural areas, and opportunities for scientific research and education. Taken together, the combined benefits of carbon sequestration and ecosystem services highlight the important nexus of climate protection, ecological biodiversity, and human health.

What actions are first and who should be involved?

Within the sequestration initiative of the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy, there are three main strategies identified and 16 specific objectives that RCPA intends to tackle over the upcoming years. Upon adoption, our Board prioritized a subset of actions for immediate action during 2021-2022.

The Carbon Sequestration and Ecosystem Services initiative covers protecting existing carbon stocks, increasing those carbon stocks, and scaling up infrastructure for sequestration (see full list below).  The first objective to prioritize under the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy is Objective 8.1: Support local agricultural producers to plan, implement, and scale carbon sequestration. We expect to form a working group and begin holding meetings later this spring to further explore this objective along with the other priority actions from the Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy.

The scope of our partners working on carbon sequestration and ecosystem services is broad but is far from complete. You can learn more and fill out our community survey to stay in touch at the Sonoma Climate Mobilization page. If you know of an organization that should be on the contact list below, please send an email to info@rcpa.ca.gov so that we can invite them to our next working group meeting. Only by working together collectively and comprehensively can we begin to approach our goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2030.

 

Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy – Carbon Sequestration Partners

  • Permit Sonoma
  • Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District
  • Sonoma County Department of Agriculture
  • Sonoma County Regional Parks
  • Zero Waste Sonoma
  • Sonoma Resource Conservation District
  • Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • UC Cooperative Extension
  • Rebuild North Bay Foundation
  • Good Fire Alliance
  • LandPaths
  • Sonoma Land Trust
  • Audubon Canyon Ranch
  • CalFire
  • Bodega Land Trust
  • Greenbelt Alliance
  • American Farmland Trust
  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers
  • Fire Safe Sonoma
  • Resilient Landscapes Coalition
  • Renewable Sonoma
  • Carbon Cycle Institute
  • Sonoma County Farm Bureau
  • Sonoma County Winegrowers
  • North Bay Conservation Corps
  • Safe Ag Safe Schools (SASS) coalition
  • ReScape California
  • California Landscape Contractors Association
  • Russian River Watershed Association
  • REcology
  • Zero Foodprint
  • The Center for Social and Environmental Stewardship
  • Nursery at Sonoma County Jail Industries
  • California Native Plant Society Milo Baker Chapter
  • Point Blue Conservation Science (STRAW program)
  • Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation
  • Petaluma Wetlands Alliance
  • Daily Acts
  • Sonoma County Master Gardeners
  • ReScape California
  • California Landscape Contractors Association
  • Green Garden Group
  • Los Cien
  • North Bay Organizing Project
  • Latino Service Providers
  • La Plaza
  • Sunrise Movement

 

Initiative: Carbon Sequestration and Ecosystem Services

7 Strategy 7: Protect Existing Carbon Stocks
7.1 Support the
implementation of forest management practices that protect existing carbon
stocks by reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Increase carbon
sequestration by growing large, mature trees and moving surplus biomass to
the soil carbon pool through mulching in place, prescribed fire, conservation
burns, and off site uses, including compost and mulch production.
7.2 Work with the
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District on strategic
land protection and stewardship actions that increase carbon sequestration
and minimize conversion to land uses that have a lower capacity to sequester
carbon.
7.3 Work with Permit
Sonoma to implement existing and develop new land use policies (e.g., Sonoma
County General Plan, Williamson Act, etc.) that result in measurable carbon
sequestration.
7.4 Implement
countywide fire-safe landscape practices, tree care and protection, and
compost/mulch applications
7.5 Partner with
outdoor recreation and environmental education partners to offer tours of
sequestration projects to members of frontline communities.
8 Strategy 8: Increase Carbon Stocks
* 8.1 Support local agricultural producers to plan, implement, and
scale carbon sequestration.
8.2 Increase our urban
forest cover starting with communities impacted by recent fires and in
frontline communities.
8.3 Implement
regenerative land management practices at the municipal scale, including
practices that draw down carbon, reduce GHG emissions, and improve watershed
and human health.
8.4 Develop engagement
strategies that specifically target members of frontline communities to
increase urban forest cover, implement regenerative land management
practices, and improve human health.
9 Strategy 9: Scale Up Infrastructure for Sequestration
9.1 Create a
“sequester local” program to help Sonoma County businesses reinvest
carbon-offset dollars within the community.
9.2 Secure permanent
Resource Conservation District funding for scaling carbon farming, starting
with $2 million and increasing to $20 million per year within the next ten
years.
9.3 Scale up the
infrastructure necessary to fully implement Carbon Farm Plans.
9.4 Develop a
comprehensive residential carbon gardening education campaign.
9.5 Develop a carbon
sequestration training for landscape professionals, and County and municipal
parks and recreation staff.
9.6 Use policies,
civic incentives, and educational efforts to take action and build civic
engagement toward achieving Sonoma County’s ambitious climate action goals.
9.7 Implement
additional equity recommendations identified by the Climate Action Advisory
Committee and other community partners in Strategy 12: Engage, Educate,
Empower for Equitable Climate Action.
* Priority RCPA Objective for 2021-2022

Taking carbon out of the equation

Our world is still largely run on fossil fuels. From petroleum-fueled cars to natural gas stoves, we have relied on burning things to get energy from the beginning of human history. Decarbonization means turning a new page in our evolution, where we stop relying on fire and start using smarter, cleaner forms of energy.

Decarbonization means eliminating carbon dioxide from energy sources, and pulling this off will require a careful reworking of many of our systems. The good news is that we have proven solutions to decarbonize most of the activities that produce the majority of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This breakdown of Sonoma County’s 2018 emissions shows where these emissions come from:

The challenge is we need to move quickly to slow and stop the destructive consequences of climate change —  which will require a big investment and strong public support. Perhaps most importantly, we will need to invest in solutions that include all people and help mend the existing inequalities in our current systems. 

Developed by RCPA in collaboration with a broad range of Sonoma County stakeholders, the forthcoming Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy (SCMS) addresses these challenges and outlines a number of opportunities to decarbonize Sonoma County, several of which are featured in the latest Draft Strategy.

Drive Less Sonoma County Campaign

Transportation is the largest contributor to local GHG emissions. The Drive Less Sonoma County Campaign is a set of actions aimed at making it easier to get around Sonoma County without a car. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a huge rise in bicycling as citizens sought virus-free alternatives to mass transit. This campaign will explore how these new active-mobility habits can continue and make a lasting, permanent reduction in drive-alone trips.

One Drive Less action is to implement a network of low-stress bike and pedestrian facilities (such as well-marked and stand-alone pathways, bike lanes, sidewalks) that would allow safe access to major bus and rail transit hubs, schools, employment centers, and medical facilities. Another action is to implement the recommendations from the Vision Zero Action Plan to end traffic fatalities and make walking and biking safer.

The Drive Less campaign will also support a “next generation” transit system for Sonoma County that is an attractive and viable option to driving alone and provides equitable mobility for all. Few people only use one form of transportation, so creating a network of decarbonized options is essential for success.

All-Electric Buildings Campaign

Building energy is the second largest source of emissions in Sonoma County. The All-Electric Buildings Campaign will accelerate the electrification of existing buildings by taking advantage of new opportunities to meet almost all of our building energy needs with a clean electric grid.

The campaign proposes to integrate equity into building electrification plans by prioritizing funding for building electrification investments in disadvantaged communities; while also developing a date-certain, funded, and phased retrofit requirement for existing buildings to transition to all electric.

Zero Waste by 2030

The emissions produced by landfilling food and other organic material are also a significant issue. The Zero Waste by 2030 initiative will develop policies, programs, and education campaigns to eliminate waste sent to landfills.

At the heart of this campaign is developing a program to achieve zero organics to landfill by 2030. This would also require adopting a countywide construction and demolition ordinance that would support contractors to meet recycling goals for construction waste.

To achieve the needed shift in behavior, the Zero Waste by 2030 initiative proposes launching a community-wide zero waste campaign with a focus on reuse and reduced consumption. This will require working closely with each community in Sonoma County to meet residents where they are.

Decarbonization is not enough

We propose these high impact decarbonization strategies  to increase our chances of staying within a healthy range for human living and happiness. In a climate emergency, the most important thing we can do is to stop emitting carbon. The CO2 we emit today will stay in the atmosphere and influence the climate for the next 100 years, so decarbonizing is part of the “don’t dig the hole any deeper” principle.

But decarbonization is not enough. With CO2 staying in our atmosphere for generations to come, we need to find effective ways to pull carbon out of the air through sequestration, while also preparing for a changing world by strengthening our resilience. Most importantly, we will need to address equity to make sure everyone can make it through the changes ahead. 

What’s Next?

Our upcoming blogs will address sequestration, resilience and equity. The Sonoma Climate Mobilization Strategy will be presented to the RCPA Board of Directors on December 14 (check here for the agenda). In early 2021, RCPA staff will convene working groups to start developing funding and implementation plans. You can learn more and find ways to get involved on the Sonoma Climate Mobilization page.