Cars key to addressing climate change in Sonoma County
If Sonoma County plans to follow through on its plans to combat climate change, its leaders will need to focus on gasoline burned by cars and trucks, as well as electricity and natural gas consumed by homes and offices.
A new report, Climate Action 2020 and Beyond, identifies transportation as the county’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with vehicle tailpipes emitting nearly 2 million metric tons a year, about half — 52 percent — of the county’s total.
Electricity and natural gas burned to heat, cool, light and run appliances in homes, offices and other buildings generates more than 1.2 million metric tons, one-third of the county’s total annual emissions of about 3.7 million metric tons, the report said.
Statewide, greenhouse gas emissions were 459 million metric tons in 2013, according to the California Air Resources Board.
Reducing emissions, primarily carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuels, “has become an environmental and societal imperative” in the campaign to forestall “the projected catastrophic effects” from global warming, the county’s report said.
The report, released by the county’s Regional Climate Protection Authority, sets a goal of reducing emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and putting the county on a path to hit 80 percent below those levels by 2050.
The first step is a more ambitious goal than California’s target of cutting back to 1990 levels by 2020, said Lauren Casey, director of climate programs for the authority, which was established in 2009. It was the nation’s first local government agency created specifically to address climate change.
Many of the emissions-curbing steps outlined in the report are “already happening,” she said, noting there is “generally broad support for addressing climate change in our communities.”
To hit the 2020 goal, the county would have to cut about 1 million metric tons of emissions from the baseline level of nearly 4 million tons in 1990, she said.
Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at or above 479 parts per million, putting natural systems and human health and well-being at “high risk,” the report said. In Sonoma County, those risks include “increased flooding, wildland fires and economic disruption,” it said.
Experts have called for stabilizing the atmospheric concentration at 450 parts per million, a goal that would require industrialized nations like the United States to push emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, chairman of the climate protection authority board of directors, which includes representatives from the county and all nine cities. “You can see the (emissions) trends continue to go up.”
Had the county done nothing since 1990, emissions would have risen from 4 million metric tons that year to 4.4 million tons in 2020 and would exceed 5 million tons in 2050 under what the report calls a “business as usual” scenario.
The report, which uses data from 2010, outlines a Climate Action Plan with broad steps to curb emissions and specific steps recommended for each community to consider, but none are mandatory and there are no penalties involved, Rabbitt said.
“It identifies all the areas where we can make some improvements,” he said, including more recycling to divert waste from conventional disposal. One problem there, Rabbitt noted, is the “bottom falling out” of the recycling market.