Soapbox

Climate-change fight will be won or lost locally

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a Dec. 6 signing ceremony at the U.S. embassy in Paris with other governors and local leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference.
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during a Dec. 6 signing ceremony at the U.S. embassy in Paris with other governors and local leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change conference. The Associated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown and a delegation of state and local officials and business leaders recently returned from the United Nations conference on climate change where they showcased California’s comprehensive program to reduce greenhouse gases.

On behalf of our state’s 482 cities and 58 counties, the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties applaud their vision and commitment. But as important as international agreements are, the struggle to stabilize our climate will be won or lost in local communities in California and around the world. We need to “think globally and act locally.”

Early next year, Brown and legislators must decide how to invest several billion dollars in state cap-and-trade revenues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On Thursday, the California Air Resources Board will consider the most recent three-year investment plan.

We’re pleased that the draft plan proposes an integrated local climate-action program to reduce emissions while improving public health and economic opportunity, particularly in disadvantaged communities that traditionally bear the brunt of environmental pollution.

Already, local agencies are reducing their carbon footprint in many ways — working with utilities to supply renewable energy to their customers, adopting green building standards, providing efficient transportation choices and promoting recycling and conserving water. Local actions are essential if California is to reduce carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, the goal necessary to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global warming.

California cities and counties are taking action now because reducing greenhouse gases also improves communities. We all benefit from lower energy bills. Cutting emissions reduces the risks of asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. Conserving water and reducing waste helps meet the critical resource needs of agriculture and industry, while investments in climate-friendly businesses have created thousands of high-paying jobs across California.

We’re proud of the work city and county leaders have done to make California a model for others to emulate. To encourage these innovations, our research and education affiliate, the Institute for Local Government, supports local action through the Beacon Program, helping communities share best practices, track results and celebrate successes.

For instance, Hayward’s water-treatment plant converts waste to energy while reclaiming 4 million gallons of water every day. San Mateo County’s green building policy requires LEED certification for county construction projects. Sacramento County received an award for its many sustainability innovations, such as the bio-refinery that turns 100 tons of food waste each day into compressed natural gas. South Gate received an award for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving 12 percent energy savings, while attracting new development that will improve housing options and economic opportunities for the city’s 100,000 residents.

Let’s follow up the good work done in Paris with an effective state and local climate-action partnership that will strengthen the economy, the environment and the health of California’s urban, suburban and rural communities.

Chris McKenzie is executive director of the League of California Cities and can be contacted at mckenzie@cacities.org. Matt Cate is executive director of the California State Association of Counties and can be contacted at mcate@counties.org.

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