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
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
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
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