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February 4, 2009 > Reducing carbon emissions

Reducing carbon emissions

By Simon Wong

Union City Council reaffirmed its commitment to fighting climate change Jan. 13 when it adopted a resolution to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to recent statistics, the community is responsible for emitting 384,174 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is expected to increase nearly 40 percent, to 528,587 metric tons, by 2020 unless action is taken. The Council's goal is to reduce emissions to 75 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

In May 2006, the City adopted a resolution supporting Alameda County's Climate Protection Project. The latter is a regional, coordinated attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and was launched by Local Governments for Sustainability, an international organization whose members are committed to advancing sustainable development and climate protection. Union City is one of over five hundred US cities that belong, along with all the cities in Alameda County and the county itself.

Alameda County's Climate Protection Project requires local jurisdictions to set targets and achieve them through local climate action plans. Tools at their disposal include more transit-oriented development, better land use, improved waste management and more efficient energy uses to reduce emissions that cause global warming.

Although climate change is a global phenomenon, local government can provide leadership and example so that the collective efforts of local actions can have a positive effect.

The project seeks to augment the international Cities for Climate Protection campaign and involves five milestones. First, conduct a baseline emissions inventory and forecast of greenhouse gas emissions. Second, adopt an emissions reduction target. Third, develop a Climate Action Plan to reduce emissions. Fourth, implement policies and measures. Fifth, monitor and verify results.

2005 was selected as Union City's base year due to availability of data. In 2008, baseline figures for all members were revised to account for a new assessment of transportation emissions on highways. The result shows transportation causes 45.6 percent of the city's emissions. Commercial/industrial (29.5 percent), residential (18.3 percent) and waste (6.5 percent) sectors account for the remainder.

City government activities generate about 1percent of total carbon dioxide emissions. Reductions are likely to have limited overall impact, but any steps taken by the City to reduce emissions by 25 percent will have great symbolic value.

Emissions inventories will be conducted every three years to compile historical records and identify trends. Baseline measurements should be regarded as a tool, not an exact measurement, and this should be borne in mind for future decision making.

Union City's target means reducing emissions to 307,310 metric tons by 2020.

California Assembly Bill 32 (Global Warming Act 2006) introduced a state-wide limit for greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve this, it is necessary to reduce emissions 25-30 percent below the level the state is expected to reach in the next decade.

Cities for Climate Protection recommends emissions targets of 20-25 percent below the base year level, achievable over 10-20 years. The voluntary program allows members to refine and strive for greater goals as action plans are developed and what is feasible becomes clearer. This demonstrates cities' commitment to contributing to state targets.

The City Manager's Office and Planning Division will develop a blueprint for climate protection. It will contain the policies, measures and strategy for achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It is not known when the action plan will be done because of budget cuts and a moratorium on staff recruitment. Most jurisdictions employ a consultant to manage the process; others have hired staff. At the moment, these are not realistic options for Union City. However, grant funding will be pursued to procure consultancy services.

A community outreach meeting is being considered for late spring to engage residents and businesses. The forum will introduce the issues of climate change and climate action planning. Polls show that while public awareness and concern about climate change and global warming is high, a majority of Californians also feel that local governments are not doing enough to address the problem.

Establishing a Climate Action Plan Technical Advisory Committee is another way to engage the community. A similar committee was formed to provide direction on land issues within the Intermodal Station District. The Technical Advisory Committee would provide input and review drafts of the action plan. It would likely include representatives from the City Council, Planning Commission, New Haven Unified School District, Chamber of Commerce and the general public.

Replacing four Union City Paratransit diesel vans and one gasoline sedan with six compressed natural gas Type II Paratransit Vehicles from BusWest will contribute immediately to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. An extra vehicle is required to meet growing demand for paratransit services and can be used for the fixed-route service as needed.

Each vehicle is assembled with a petroleum engine. Converting the fuel delivery system to natural gas costs $25,960, for a total cost of $99,320 per vehicle or $595,920 for all six. Fortunately for the City's General Fund, the purchases are funded entirely with a Federal Transit Administration grant matched by local Transportation Development Act capital grants.

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