Opportunities in cleaner transportation, building energy and carbon farming

The latest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory for Sonoma County shows that community based annual emissions in 2018 were 13% below 1990 levels, with more progress needed to meet Sonoma County’s 2020 goal of 25% below 1990 levels. The new report from the Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) uses the most recently available data showing that Sonoma County emitted 3.41 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MT CO2e) in 2018. This was slightly lower than the 2015 emissions of 3.44 MT CO2e measured in the previous inventory.

The RCPA is committed to measuring, tracking, and reporting Sonoma County GHG emissions to communicate progress and focus our actions. In order to meet Sonoma County’s 2020 goals for GHG reductions, the county will need to reduce another 0.5 MT CO2e. Even steeper reductions will be needed by 2030, in line with the scientific imperative, to avoid the catastrophic impacts of unchecked climate change.

Sonoma County Supervisor and RCPA Chair Susan Gorin said, “It is clear that we are moving the needle in the right direction, and we can do more by building off of the clean power, open spaces and resilient communities we have been investing in for years.”

Transportation continues to be the largest source of emissions for the county, with 60% of total countywide emissions in 2018. Between 2015 and 2018, vehicle miles traveled by residents and workers within the county increased by almost 10%. Emissions during this same time increased by only 3% due to improvements in fuel efficiency, such as a shift to hybrid and electric vehicles.

While 2018 may have been an all-time high for vehicle miles travelled, 2020 could turn out to be much different. Vehicle miles travelled were down nearly 75% in April 2020, during shelter in place orders, and were still down 42% on average through the month of June.

Emissions from energy used in buildings decreased 12% between 2015 and 2018, or 37% between 1990 and 2018. This reduction is largely attributed to Sonoma Clean Power, which was created in 2014 to provide cleaner electricity. As our electricity supply has grown cleaner, emissions from natural gas have become the next opportunity to decarbonize; such as upgrading space heating, water heating, and cooking.

Livestock and fertilizer emissions are the third largest source of emissions in Sonoma County, with increased emissions in 2018 due to livestock population growth. These working lands can also be part of the solution by using carbon farming techniques to sequester carbon in the soil.

Emissions from waste sent to landfills decreased 7% between 2015 and 2018 due to increased recycling and composting. While the total tons of waste disposed increased significantly in 2018 due to debris from the 2017 wildfires, the resulting debris was largely ash with minimal gases left to escape.

Countywide emissions from water and wastewater decreased by 4% from 2015 to 2018. Starting in 2015, Sonoma Water has contracted 100% of its electricity needs for moving water and processing wastewater through renewable and carbon free resources.

This 2018 inventory report is an important milestone in our work to reduce countywide emissions. Our regional approach to reducing GHG emissions relies on the unique capacity of each community to reduce emissions, as well as statewide policies and programs that play a critical support role. Looking ahead, the RCPA has developed a new Strategic Plan to accelerate and focus our efforts to meet our 2030 goal to reduce emissions even further.