Local Government Actions for Climate Change

This page last reviewed June 12, 2019

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Recognizing the important role local governments play in the successful implementation of AB 32, the initial Scoping Plan called for local governments to set municipal and communitywide GHG reduction targets of 15 percent below then-current levels by 2020, to coincide with the statewide limit.  As California continues to build its climate policy framework, there is a need for local government climate action planning to adopt mid-term and long-term reduction targets that are consistent with scientific assessments and the statewide goal of reducing emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  Local government reduction targets should chart a reduction trajectory that is consistent with, or exceeds, the trajectory created by statewide goals.

The initial Scoping Plan, as well as the First Update to the Scoping Plan, contain the main strategies California will use to reduce the GHGs that cause climate change.  These actions include direct regulations alternative compliance mechanisms, monetary and non-monetary incentives, voluntary actions and market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade system.  The program is funded by the AB 32 Cost of Implementation Fee Regulation.

Local Government Role in Reducing GHG Emissions

Essential partners in achieving California’s goals to reduce GHGs, local governments have broad influence and authority over activities that contribute to significant direct and indirect GHG emissions.  Through their planning and permitting processes, local ordinances, outreach and education efforts, and municipal operations many local governments have become leaders in reducing GHG emissions.  Many of the measures in the Scoping Plan to reduce GHG emissions rely on local government actions.

As detailed in the Scoping Plan Update, local governments have initiated efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those required by the State. Cities and counties are improving their municipal operations by upgrading their vehicle fleets, retrofitting government buildings and streetlights, purchasing greener products, implementing waste-reduction policies, and more. In addition, they are adopting more sustainable codes, standards, and general plan improvements to reduce their community’s emissions.  

To enable local and regional leadership to further reduce GHG emissions, California is striving to provide a supportive framework to advance community-wide, voluntary efforts.  In addition to reducing emissions across sectors, many of these activities also can bring benefits to households and businesses, create more sustainable lifestyles and help our communities thrive.

Local Government Climate Action Plans

Local governments can help California meet its AB 32 targets through climate action planning.  To this end, CARB is partnering with other state agencies and organizations to maintain a Local Government Toolkit. The purpose of the Local Government Toolkit is to provide a comprehensive resource, or clearinghouse of guidance and tools to assist local governments in reducing GHG emissions and saving money.

A variety of tools are available to assist with climate action planning including information on:

     1.  How to calculate and inventory current GHG emissions using recognized municipal and community scale protocols
          recommended targets to reduce GHG emissions
     2.  Cost-saving strategies to employ now 
     3.  Financial resources to get started
     4.  Case studies to learn what other cities have been able to accomplish

In addition, the Toolkit contains links and tools related to the following CARB research-based information that can help local governments plan for more sustainable communities:

     1.  Land Use and Transportation Planning
     2.  Green Building
     3.  Cool Communities

Finally, the Toolkit contains information on outreach programs available for local governments to engage their community, such as the CoolCalifornia City Challenge, as well as recognition programs, such as the Institute for Local Government’s Beacon Awards and CoolCalifornia Small Business Awards, to acknowledge and celebrate climate action success.

Senate Bill 375

The largest contributor to GHG emissions in California is the transportation sector.  Recognizing the need to reduce travel demand through smart city and regional planning, Senate Bill 375 (SB 375, Statutes of 2008) was passed requiring metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to meet GHG emission reduction targets through integrated transportation, land use and housing planning.  While SB 375 sets planning requirements for MPOs, it is ultimately up to local jurisdictions to implement many of the land use and transportation strategies.

In 2018, CARB adopted more aggressive SB 375 targets as one measure to support progress toward the 2017 Scoping Plan goals, which aim to get SCSs that plan to achieve, in aggregate, a 19 percent reduction in statewide per capita GHG emissions reductions relative to 2005 by 2035 from passenger vehicles. However, additional state and local actions are needed to achieve the transportation system reductions necessary to meet our climate goals, which is approximately 25 percent reduction in statewide per capita GHG emissions by 2035 relative to 2005.

The 2017 Scoping Plan Update includes a discussion of the relationship between local government actions and achievement of the State’s long-term GHG emissions reduction goals, and non-binding recommendations to support local governments in their efforts to reduce GHG emissions. The 2017 Scoping Plan Update also identifies that slower growth in VMT from more efficient land use development patterns would promote achievement of the State’s climate goals.

The following document includes technical information on what level of statewide VMT reduction would promote achievement of statewide GHG emissions reduction targets and the 2017 Scoping Plan goals. The document describes the relationship between those GHG emissions reductions goals and the level of per capita VMT and GHG emissions reduction anticipated in existing SCSs. The analysis in this document may serve multiple uses, including providing non-binding technical information that acts as an optional aide to local governments and lead agencies when evaluating an individual project’s transportation-related GHG impacts and whether they are consistent with statewide 2030 and 2050 GHG emissions reduction goals in response to Senate Bill (SB) 743 (Chapter 386, Stats. 2013).

CARB 2017 Scoping Plan-Identified VMT Reductions and Relationship to State Climate Goals

Governor's Office of Planning and Research Transportation Impacts (SB 743)

Other Regulations

The Commercial Recycling Regulation requires each local jurisdiction to implement a Commercial Recycling Program beginning on July 1, 2012, that provides education, outreach and monitoring of businesses subject to the regulation.  If a jurisdiction already has a commercial recycling program that meets these criteria it would not be required to implement a new or expanded program.

Local jurisdiction that operate a turbine, process heater, boiler or a waste water treatment plant that emits between 10,000 and 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e.) per year, are required to report GHG emissions to CARB under our Mandatory Reporting Regulation

For questions or comments, please contact Neil Matouka at (916) 440-8206