[T]he Ahwahnee Principles for Climate Change is one of the finest, simplest, most straightforward pieces that I’ve seen over the years; congratulations.
— Tom Rosewall, Watsonville, CA
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Climate change is not just another environmental issue. Concentrations of human induced greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere have already reached unprecedented levels and are causing well documented adverse changes to our planet’s physical and biological systems. We must act decisively to reverse this trend, to lessen the potentially devastating environmental, economic and social impacts that could result. At the same time, we must predict and prepare for, and adapt to, the unavoidable climatic changes that will likely occur due to the high concentration of greenhouse gas pollutants that are already in the atmosphere.
Want to adopt the Ahwahnee Climate Change Principles? A model resolution
- Climate Action Plans for mitigating GHG emissions should be put in place by local governments; these will include inventories, targets for reduction, implementing strategies, timelines and a system for reporting annual progress. Plans should be incorporated into general plans either as a separate element that has influence over a broad range of activities or by incorporation into each of the traditional general plan elements.
- Emissions related to personal auto use are often the largest single source of greenhouse gas pollution, therefore, addressing this source should be central to a Climate Action Plan and a priority for early implementation. Infill development should be recognized as the primary location of new construction, however all new development, wherever it may occur, should be guided by the Ahwahnee Principles for Resource Efficient Communities. Development built according to these principles will display a compact mixed-use pattern that supports walking, biking and transit, and protects open space and agricultural land. Development plans should be coordinated with a regional plan, where one exists. This kind of development can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and CO2 emissions by 20% to 40% per capita (Growing Cooler, Urban Land Institute, 2008).
- The Electricity and Commercial/ Residential sector is likely the second largest source of community GHG emissions and an important target for reduction. Thus, energy conservation programs, energy efficiency and the use of a diverse array of clean alternative energy sources should also be central to the community Climate Action Plan and a priority for timely adoption. Applied to new and existing development, green building ordinances, energy conservation retrofit measures, energy efficiency standards for new buildings, and incentives/disincentives to reduce average square footage of new houses are among the measures that can be adopted (www.energy.ca.gov/energy_aware_guide).
- Climate Action Plans should also include strong water efficiency standards, increased water conservation and water recycling strategies guided by the Ahwahnee Water Principles.
- A Climate Action Plan should include measures that will help the community to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change. This will involve planning for rising sea levels, shrinking water supplies, rising temperatures, food shortages and other challenges predicted to occur in the region.
- Local governments should lead by example in reducing their own carbon footprint by enacting and implementing policies to reduce GHG emissions from their municipal operations while preparing for unavoidable climate change impacts.
- Climate Action Plans should be developed through an open process that includes diverse members of the community and public health professionals. The process should include public outreach strategies and assure that the positive and negative impacts of reducing emissions are borne equally by all.
- Each region should develop and adopt, with its cities and counties, a blueprint for growth that achieves regional GHG emissions reduction targets. Blueprints should form the basis for city-centered growth, infill development, open space protection, transit-oriented development and multijurisdictional corridor development. They should reflect differences among their communities.
- Regional Transportation Plans and major regional transportation projects should be consistent with the regional blueprint.
- Projects consistent with the blueprint that support infill development and reduce single occupant vehicle trips should be given priority in funding and a streamlined implementation process.
- Efforts should be made by regions to vocally support such projects and defend them against opposition.
- Regional Housing Needs Assessments that recognize the differences between regions and between communities should be coordinated with and reflect Climate Action Plans and other mechanisms for GHG emission reductions. Regional transportation, land use, and GHG reduction plans must recognize differences between regions and between communities.
- All General Plans and Climate Action Plans should be made consistent with the principles contained in Regional Blueprint Plans and Regional Transportation Plans.
- General Plans and environmental review processes should be integrated with city and county Climate Action Plans to include climate change mitigation and adaptation measures and adoption procedures.
- Zoning codes should be modified to be consistent with the General Plan to ensure implementation of the integrated General Plan/Climate Action Plan. Performance and form-based codes should be used to achieve the specified outcome.
- City and county policies should be made consistent with the goals of the community Climate Action Plan (such as flexible work schedules, car-sharing and bike-sharing programs, etc.)
- Monitoring and measurement of progress made in meeting both goals and targets set forth in the Climate Action Plan should be conducted regularly with results reported to the community.
- When appropriate, communities should form joint powers authorities to jointly implement their climate action plans through developing sustainability corridors between two or more jurisdictions.
- Cities and counties should coordinate with nearby jurisdictions and the regional government to share computer tools and other resources, and avoid duplicative efforts.
Authors: Larry Allen, San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District; Geoff Anderson, Smart Growth America; Gary Cook, ICLEI; Councilmember Jennifer Hosterman, City of Pleasanton; Dr. Richard J.Jackson, MD, MPH; Mayor Jake Mackenzie,City of Rohnert Park; Jim Murley, Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems, Florida Atlantic University; Councilmember Pam O’Connor, City of Santa Monica; Geof Syphers, Codding Enterprises; Dr. Robert Wilkinson, Water Policy Program, UC Santa Barbara; Steve Winkelman, Transportation Program Center for Clean Air Policy.
Editors: Gregg Albright, California State Department of Transportation; Councilmember Jon Harrison, City of Redlands; Judy Corbett and Kate Wright, Local Government Commission.