Entering the Era of the Climate Emergency

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.

Global Emissions Pathways Consistent with 2°C or 1.5°C7

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.


RCPA Climate Emergency Resolution
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1. 2018 IPCC Report on Global warming of 1.5°C 

2. Global list of communities declaring a climate emergency 

3. 2015 Sonoma County Greenhouse Gas Inventory 

4. 2017 State of California Greenhouse Gas Inventory 

5. WWII Home Front Mobilization 

6. Sonoma County Office of Recovery and Resiliency 

7. 2016 Oil Change Report 

8. The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond, Carbon Brief