California’s AB 32 Scoping Report: Local Government’s Role in Addressing Global Climate Change


California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) released late last week its Draft Scoping Plan, or what it is calling “a market-based roadmap guiding California toward its greenhouse gas emission goals.”


The plan will be baked into more final recommendations by November, when it will begin to lay out what legal measures the state will take to reduce carbon emissions in 12 category subgroups, including land use (which includes transportation design).


Local and regional government is being called upon by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers to create more densely developed, better planned communities, meaning towns, cites and developments that have good public transit, walkability and bikeability so people aren’t forced to drive everywhere for every need.


Transportation is the highest single category for carbon emissions in California, at 38% in 2004; unlike other categories, transportation is fast growing emissions–at a rate of 25%. In some areas of the state, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, transportation is responsible for about 50% of total carbon emissions. Other local or regional government areas targeted will be energy use, waste recycling and water use.


The state cites forecasts that global climate change can reduce California’s GDP by 20 percent or more from droughts, heat waves and severely reduced snowpack, impacting everything from its massive water distribution systems to coastlines, low-lying properties and its large winter sports industry.


We’re already seeing in California all-time record heat waves, droughts  and crazy numbers of wildfires. How much of all of this can be attributed to global climate change is debatable. After large parts of the state had its worst air quality on record last week from more than 1,000 wildfires that today required intervention from the National Guard, no one can reasonably argue that global climate change won’t produce at least the substantial risk of significant health and economic impacts.


The AB 32 scoping plan puts climate change mitigation costs–for everything from low-carbon fuel technologies to building improvement–at between -1 and 1% of its GDP.


In terms of local and regional governments, economic costs will result from “policies to reduce (GHG) transmissions by changing how we grow and build our communities.” Look for more actions like those taken by the Attorney Governor’s office last year against Southern California’s San Bernardino County for not including carbon emission impacts as part of planning and land use under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).


Also expect regional “blueprint planning networks” to take a major role in determining how carbon can be cut through coordinated scenario modeling, planning, actions and performance indictor metrics. These blueprint networks are already working with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research to make sure general plans and projects are consistent with carbon output scenarios and indicators that will be required under CEQA.


Other parts of the mix may include congestion pricing, as well as other ways to reduce indirect sources that will reduce vehicle trips, such as The US Green Building Council’s upcoming LEED–Neighborhood Development standards.


On the revenue-positive side of the ledger, towns, cities and counties should look to receiving “revenue generated as part of the program that could be distributed in a way to substantially mitigate any price increases.”


Local and regional governments in California are also already the nation’s leading beneficiaries of tax revenues from the rapidly advancing green economy. The growth of green technologies, such as PV solar, and advanced transportation (electric and plug-in hybrid fuel technologies), as well as building products and services (architecture, construction, landscaping, consulting) are some of the hottest growth industries in an otherwise stagnant job market.


All in all, AB 32 seeks a per-person carbon reduction from 14 tons for every state resident down to 10 tons per person by 2020.


So far, regional and local governments in California are expected to make only about 1-4 percent of these reductions; the next few months will shape until 2020 how every town, city or county will be expected to contribute its part in the nation’s first major systematic carbon reduction legislation.