Overview of Humboldt County Climate Action Plan

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Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Increased sea level rise is one of the climate change effects predicted to impact on Humboldt County.

Last week, Humboldt County and the City of Eureka held a meeting to talk about their joint Climate Action Plan. The Climate Action Plan is a multi-jurisdictional plan to take action to address climate change on a local level. The plan consists of three primary components: an accounting of existing emissions, an emissions reduction target, and a set of strategies to achieve that target.

First to accounting of emissions, the Plan provides a snapshot of emissions in a year–2015–and emissions are broken down into various sectors: transportation, agriculture, electricity consumption, and so forth. Initial number presented by the County show our emissions profile is consistent with those of other places. Transportation is, by far, the largest emitter, with 54% of total emissions. Next is agriculture, totalling 13%, and then stationary combustion (like home heating) with 12% and electricity usage at 11%.

On the emission totals, these are not without some controversy because of some of the assumptions inherent in the model. For example, carbon emissions associated with biomass energy production are assumed to be zero because of the regenerative nature of forests. If, however, the County assumed that biomass was not carbon neutral, electricity consumption may well be the largest total emitter of greenhouse gases. EPIC appreciates that the county has adopted a standardized model and so the numbers are not being cooked to favor the biomass industry. That said, providing better clarity on the actual emissions associated with biomass production will be important in future revisions to the CAP and in discussions before the Redwood Coast Energy Authority.

Understanding total emissions is necessary to set an emissions reduction target. The county has not yet adopted a target. EPIC recommends that in setting a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, the county be in line with the best available science, in line with state-mandated goals, and the target set sufficient benchmarks that the public and county can gauge progress. We recommend that the Climate Action Plan set a goal of zero net carbon emissions by 2045, with a benchmark of 50% emission reductions from 2015 emissions levels by 2030 (hereafter “zero net target”).

A zero net target is in line with the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change, which found that to limit warming to 1.5°C implies reaching zero net emissions by 2050 and approximately 50% net reductions by 2030. (Rogelj 2018 (“In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).”).)

A zero net target is likewise in line with existing California state law. California has set various targets for global greenhouse gas emissions and the county is obligated to set a target that conforms with state requirements. Given multiple potential emission targets, we recommend that the county set the target in line with the most ambitious target yet issued and the most recently issued target. In 2018, Governor Brown issued Executive Order B-55-18 which ordered the state to achieve carbon neutrality no later than 2045 and maintain negative emissions thereafter. Our proposed zero net target builds off Governor Brown’s order by providing clearer intermediate direction of 50% emission reductions compared to 2015 emission levels.

The last component of the Climate Action Plan is comprised of strategies to achieve that target. This is where the rubber meets the road. Unfortunately, this component of the plan is still a work in progress and individual strategies have not been made public. However, looking at the Climate Action Plans adopted by other jurisdictions, we can expect that our plan will be a little bit of everything: from incentivizing households to adopt low-carbon technology, like heat pumps for home heating, to changing local fuel mixes to reduce the carbon emissions contained.