CURRENTS: The Role of Regional Climate Action

by Suzanne Smith, Sonoma County Transportation Authority, Regional Climate Protection Authority

Climate Action 2020

Sonoma County communities have a long history of planning and implementing regional initiatives to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. This tradition includes the creation of the nation’s first Regional Climate Protection Authority (RCPA) in 2009, a move that recognized both the magnitude and the cross-jurisdictional nature of climate change challenges.

These Sonoma County communities are now collaborating on Climate Action 2020, and beyond – a regional program to build a countywide framework for responding to climate change by identifying short term priority actions and establishing long term goals. By developing a community-wide climate action plan for all of Sonoma County, each jurisdiction will be able to comply with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), take the next steps towards a long-term low carbon future, and provide a framework to address greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts under California Environmental Quality Action (CEQA).

Climate Action 2020 will establish a foundation for the RCPA to support communities in preparing for and responding local climate impacts.

Benefits of regional planning

If ever an issue called for coordinated, multi-partner efforts, it is climate change. The approach in Climate Action 2020 calls for coordinated local actions to achieve a countywide target—reduce countywide GHG emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020—including leveraging initiatives already underway at the federal, state and regional (Bay Area) level.

The project began in 2013 because each city and the County of Sonoma were in need of a roadmap to respond to climate challenges and the RCPA model afforded a way to develop one that was efficient, consistent, and comprehensive. The project has maximized efficiency through countywide analysis and tools, developed using consistent methodology with input and customization for every community. It’s expected that the most effective measures to reduce GHG emissions will be increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles, increasing renewable energy use and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings.

Meeting the goals in the plan will only be possible if each jurisdiction in Sonoma County fulfills their commitments to climate action within their scope of authority as part of a regional approach. Our goal of connecting regional policy and local policy makes Sonoma County a model for other communities facing similar challenges.

Global importance

While meeting the goals in Climate Action 2020 are important for Sonoma County, our actions help make up a patchwork of global climate action. The approach in Climate Action 2020 is similar to the bottom-up strategy of the Paris COP21 agreement, with individualized commitments that help us reach a common goal.

Another key feature of the Paris agreement is to reconvene every five years and reassess commitments based on progress in science, technology and public support. In the same way, CA2020 is the start of a process that we’ll be updating over the years.

During the next five years, local governments can fill a critical role in climate action as the Paris treaty won’t go in effect until 2020. Local action, like Climate Action 2020, is possible because many local leaders understand the threat of climate change and are in the best position to be a first-responders in climate action – protecting residents and preparing the community for success in a changing environment. The Paris agreement shows that we’ll need greater commitments to get to keep below 1.5C of warming; but with Paris in the books, now is the time for local action.