What is the Sustainability and Climate Action Plan?
Palo Alto's Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S/CAP) is an ambitious plan to reduce the city and community’s greenhouse gas emissions to meet climate protection goals and also consider broader issues of sustainability, such as land use and biological resources. The S/CAP charts a path to a more sustainable future, find ways to improve our quality of life, grow prosperity and create a thriving and resilient community - all while dramatically reducing our carbon footprint and other environmental impacts. Palo Alto is already a world leader in climate protection strategies; the S/CAP will build on that leadership, and our successes exceeding the goals of our 2007 Climate Protection Plan, to create the next step -- both for our city and for the many who watch us.
Why did we develop a Sustainability & Climate Action Plan?
Climate change is causing sea level rise, climbing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns, which affect our ability to meet the needs of growing local and global populations. Major cities in our region, and many leading cities around the world, have made commitments to meet the challenge of climate change with local solutions to this global issue. In fact, cities around the world are leading the response to this challenge, often with more creativity and agility than national governments. Palo Alto is uniquely positioned to identify and create cutting-edge solutions to our shared challenge.
The State of California requires us to "develop Climate Action Plans, or other comprehensive approach[es] to reduce GHG emissions." The City Council recognized that Palo Alto's previous Climate Action Plan needed revision in light of changing conditions and the City’s ongoing sustainability actions; the S/CAP is an important strategic element in the update of Palo Alto’s Comprehensive Plan, now underway.
What sustainability goals has the City set?
The City of Palo Alto has set an aggressive goal of reducing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 (80x30). This far exceeds the state of California's world-leading reduction goals of 80 percent by 2050 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 – something Palo Alto has already almost accomplished by reducing GHG emissions 38 percent.
Where do the sustainability goals come from?
Science: The overwhelming majority of independent climate scientists have determined that going above a 2° C rise would trigger a series of catastrophic changes to life on Earth that could not be undone. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has determined that "we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts" from climate change, and need “substantial” emissions reductions (of 40-70% or more) by midcentury for “a likely chance to keep temperature change below 2° C relative to pre-industrial levels.”
California: The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32) requires the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, and set an aspirational goal to reduce emissions 80% by 2050. In 2016, these targets were extended to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Cities around the world have become the leaders on climate initiative; more than 39 cities have already declared the goal of 80 x 50.
Where does the City of Palo Alto stand?
Palo Alto has already reduced emissions by 38% since 1990; we've done this through the introduction of carbon neutral electricity in 2013, as well as other efficiency measures in both city operations and community resource use. It’s far more than what most communities have done - but we have big challenges ahead:
More than 60% of our remaining emissions come from transportation - people driving their cars into, out of, and around Palo Alto. How could we transform transportation, making it more convenient not to drive, and electrify the driving we do?
More than 25% of our GHG emissions come from natural gas - to heat buildings and water, to cook food, and to fuel some vehicles. How could we reduce natural gas emissions through efficiency or electrification?
How is the City of Palo Alto determining what’s feasible?
We have used a systematic, disciplined "innovation and analysis" process in designing this plan. We have:
Surveyed the world to identify best practices
Cast a wide net to identify and generate a large universe of potential options
Filtered these options first for technical feasibility, then for financial, political, and behavioral feasibility
Developed a series of “roadmaps” and implementation plans for meeting each of the potential goals
Brought these roadmaps and plans to the community and City Council to support a grounded conversation to determine the plan and path we will choose.