California's Climate Change AB 32 Approved: Blueprint for Obama?

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Yesterday California's Air Resources Board (CARB) approved plans to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020, in what is shaping up to be a template for action by the new Obama administration and Congress.

Though CARB's chair Mary Nichols apparently did not get Obama's appointment to lead the US EPA (that will probably go to Lisa Jackson), Nichols may ironically end up impacting national climate change regulations even more in her current position planning and implementing California's Global Climate Change Solutions Act, or AB 32. 


Mary Nichols of CARB

AB 32 was passed by the California Legislature and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006. For students of history, that was before the Bush administration even formally acknowledged that climate change was made more severe by human activity.

Now that Washington DC has come around to the need for taking action on addressing climate change, Obama is using California's goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 1990 levels as his overriding milestone. Next comes the Obama cabinet's climate-energy policy framework, which will draw upon California's metrics-based sectoral carbon-reduction roadmap.

So what happens in California will not stay in California (sorry Las Vegas!): from low-carbon fuels standards, to energy efficiency and industry cap and trade programs, there will be massive echos nationally and even globally.

One update in yesterday's document from the draft plan released this summer is greater emphasis placed on regional government to manage land use and planning under Senate Bill 375 (see post from last month). Regional state "blueprint planning" efforts with metro planning and transit agencies will help develop smarter less-carbon intensive growth, while reducing new sprawl.

Local governments' requirements to reduce carbon include water use and conservation, green building and a role in adhering to the blueprint planning at the regional level. The good will be rewarded with faster permits through less environmental reviews and more federal highway funding, while laggards will suffer the opposite impacts. 

One other AB 32 update in the fine print is that CARB has expanded its land use and planning carbon mitigation strategy. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) was the sole metric considered by the agency to manage compliance. Now CARB says that reducing VMT is important, but also necessary is the encouragement of multi-modal transportation.

Measuring multi-modal transit rates (public transit use, carpooling, walking and biking to work, school or chores) is an approach I've used all along to measure how well communities demonstrate continual sustainability improvement. I've been advocating that state leaders in Sacramento look beyond VMT. Glad to see they're coming around to the understanding that VMT by itself:

  • does not accurately measure vehicle use at the level of cities or communities. VMT includes "pass through" traffic data on freeways, arterials, etc. from other towns or locations. Some communities with great public transit, walkability and bikability hate it, as VMT doesn't accurately reflect the efficacy of local planning, programs and policies.
  • is a negative incentive, or "stick" that says, "drive less or else"

AB 32's regional blueprint process should draw upon easily available public census data. Communities can learn much about their problems and cures by analyzing how much people ride public transit, walk, bicycle, carpool and telecommute, particularly as new policies, light rail lines or pedestrian pathways with mixed-use development are launched.  

With such a baseline government can then use transportation demand management strategies, funding mechanisms, public awareness and even information technology to get more people to make these less-polluting choices more frequently.    

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About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Warren Karlenzig published on December 12, 2008 8:39 AM.

A Way Forward for US Auto Blues and the Climate: Ford and Chevron? was the previous entry in this blog.

Common Current's Top Ten 2008 Sustainability Stories is the next entry in this blog.

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