Article Features Ken LomanCharles Summerell

Planning for Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions

Ken Loman is a policy consultant for the California Climate Action Network, a program of the Institute for Local Government (ILG), and can be reached at Charles Summerell is a program analyst for ILG and can be reached at Special thanks to the following individuals who contributed to this article: Betsy Strauss, special counsel to the League; Beth Gabor, public information officer, Yolo County; Jill Boone, sustainability consultant to the City of San Mateo; and Nancy McKeever, PLACE3S program manager, California Energy Commission. For more information about ILG’s climate change program, visit

An increasing body of scientific research links greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with rising land and ocean temperatures, changes in storm and rainfall patterns, seasonal temperature variations, rising sea levels and other evidence of climate change.

In response, cities and counties, with the help of regional and state agencies, are pioneering new strategies to incorporate reduction of GHG emissions in their planning processes using two key steps:

  1. Preparing a GHG inventory for both the agency’s operations and the community as a whole; and
  2. Preparing a plan of actions the community will take to reduce GHG emissions.

Local Agencies Take the Initiative

Some local agencies have made such prepara tions out of concern about climate change im- pacts. For example, in 2002, Sonoma became the first county in the nation where all cities and the county committed to reduce their GHG emissions. They formed a nonprofit organiza tion, the Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign (SCCPC), which prepared a comprehensive GHG emission inventory for the entire county that was funded by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The inventory categorized emissions into four sectors: electricity and gas; vehicular trans portation; agriculture; and solid waste. After analyzing the inventory results, the SCCPC recommended that Sonoma develop a plan to achieve a 20 percent reduction from 1990 emis sion levels by 2010, and 25 percent by 2015.

Litigation Pressures

Other local agencies have found themselves under legal pressure to prepare an inventory and plan. For example, in 2007, the state attorney general sued the County of San Bernardino, arguing that the environmental impact report in the county’s General Plan update did not adequately analyze air quality and climate change impacts, and that the county should have adopted mitigation measures to minimize the update’s impact on air quality and climate change.

The case settled in August 2007. Among other things, the county agreed to add the goal of reducing GHG emissions attributable to discretionary land use decisions and the county’s internal operations to the General Plan, and to prepare a GHG emissions reduction plan that includes an analysis of:

  • GHG emissions sources in the county;
  • An estimate of 1990 GHG emissions levels;
  • A projection of GHG emissions levels in 2020 resulting from discretionary land use decisions and internal county operations; and
  • An emissions reduction target.

The county agreed to prepare a General Plan amendment, the inventory of emissions sources, the GHG reduction plan and an environmental review of those documents within 30 months of the settlement agreement’s approval.

Inventory Resources

An inventory of GHG emissions produced in the community enables local agencies to understand which activities generate GHG emissions, identify and prioritize emissions reduction measures, and monitor progress in reducing emissions levels. For examples of community GHG inventories, visit

San Mateo ’s Experience

In 2007, the City of San Mateo prepared a GHG inventory for city operations and facilities and certain sectors of the community. The information needed for the inventory included:

Electricity and Gas Use. San Mateo tracked electricity and natural gas usage with data provided by the local utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, which also provided information used to convert these numbers into GHG emissions.

Solid Waste Disposal and Landfills. The city’s solid waste disposal contractor provided disposal and recycling data for city operations and facilities. The city used the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) ( .html), offered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to convert the data to carbon dioxide emissions. Inputs include such variables as tonnages of waste and recycling, distances to the landfill and whether or not the landfill collects or processes methane.

The city obtained communitywide waste disposal data from the California Integrated Waste Management Board website (

Vehicles and Transportation. The city surveyed its fleet and employees about their commute patterns and analyzed their fuel use. To convert gallons of gasoline and diesel to pounds of GHG, San Mateo used these factors, provided by Sustainable Silicon Valley:

  • Diesel gallons to pounds of carbon dioxide – 21.05;
  • Gasoline gallons to pounds of carbon dioxide – 19.43; and
  • Biodiesel B20 (20 percent biodiesel blended with 80 percent petroleum diesel) and gallons to pounds of carbon dioxide - 17.89.

To analyze communitywide transportation impact, the city estimated vehicle miles traveled in the city for the year. This number was multiplied by an estimate of emissions per mile based on information provided by the air district, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) and the state Air Resources Board

San Mateo ’s inventory includes a discus sion of existing city practices to reduce emissions and next steps to reduce GHG emissions from city operations. In December 2007, a community stakeholder committee finalized recommendations on how the city can reduce communitywide GHG emissions. These recommendations now form the city’s Sustainable Initiatives Plan (

Yolo County ’s Experience

Yolo County ’s inventory effort was structured by the county’s decisions in July 2007 to join the California Climate Action Registry (CCAR) and use 2006 as its base year for evaluating reductions in GHG emissions from county operations.

Fuel, electricity and natural gas purchases accounted for nearly 99 percent of the county’s total GHG generation. In Au gust 2007, Yolo County submitted to the CCAR a Total Emissions Summary Report, which detailed all emissions information for facilities, fleet and stationary sources that are part of the county’s operations.

The CCAR requires the report to be audited by an approved independent consultant. The county’s calculations passed the audit and the CCAR reviewed the calculations for final certification in January 2008.

The county plans to develop a regional plan that establishes short-, mid- and long-term GHG reduction targets, with recommended goals to stop increasing emissions by 2010 and to achieve a 10 per cent reduction every five years thereafter through 2050.

Technical Assistance Resources

Two organizations offer technical assistance to local governments preparing GHG emissions inventories:

The California Climate Action Registry ( is a nonprofit, public-private partnership. It provides software to help local agencies prepare an emissions inventory related to agency operations. The Climate Action Registry Reporting Online Tool (CARROT) helps registry members calculate their annual GHG emissions and/or report these emissions to the registry. Membership fees are calculated on a sliding scale based on the agency’s budget and cover use of the web-based CARROT, training sessions and other member benefits.

ICLEI ( helps its members assess their baseline emission inventories and emission forecasts. In some cases, ICLEI will coach a member agency on how and from whom to collect data for an inventory. Alternatively, ICLEI can do the inventory for an agency. ICLEI membership requires an annual fee.

Resources for Preparing a GHG Reduction Plan

Once an agency has identified and quantified its GHG emissions, it can take steps to reduce them. Although local agencies use a number of individual policies and practices to do this, many agencies have found it useful to combine these efforts into an overall GHG reduction plan. Examples of community climate action plans can be found at

Plan Manuals and Templates

Perhaps the most comprehensive resource to assist in plan preparation is the Climate Protection Manual for Cities prepared by Natural Capitalism Solutions and ICLEI. The manual provides a general process for developing a plan as well as specific topics to include in the plan with examples and case studies in each area. It’s available free online at has created a companion set of document templates for a plan (; scroll to the middle of the page). Although the templates are focused on Alameda County, they provide useful guidance on what might be included in an agency’s plan. (These templates were created in partnership with ICLEI and refer to services it provides member communities, which may not be available to non-member communities.)

Land Use Planning

The California Energy Commission, working in partnership with local and regional agencies, has developed a web- based comprehensive planning tool called Internet-accessed Planning for Community Energy, Environmental and Economic Sustainability (I-PLACE 3 S) to support integrated transportation, land use, economic and environmental analysis ( This tool measures the expected levels of GHG emissions associated with different planning scenarios, in addition to other evaluation criteria.

I- PLACE 3 S can be scaled from neighborhood and small city levels up to regional metropolitan planning organizations. There is a sliding-scale fee for using I- PLACE 3 S that includes online access to the software, web security and technical support.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) used I-PLACE 3 S for its regional Blueprint Planning Project ( The blueprint process developed a regional growth plan designed to better meet the area’s long-term transportation needs. By emphasizing improved land use planning to increase mobility options, the plan projects a 15 percent per capita reduction in GHG emissions and a 25 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled by 2050 (among other goals). For a recorded demonstration of the I- PLACE 3 S software, visit

Most regions are already engaged in blueprint-style planning projects and may have I- PLACE 3 S information for a given agency. Check with your local regional transportation planning agency or council of governments (visit for a list) to determine what information may be available.

Other proprietary planning tools are also available to evaluate planning scenarios for their effect on GHG emissions and other criteria. Information about specific costs and capabilities is available by contact ing vendors directly. Many can be found through Internet searches using terms such as land use planning tools, community planning tools, sustainability measurement tools or measuring sustainability.

Urban Forest Evaluation

The Urban Forest Effects (UFORE) model developed by the U.S. Forest Service ( quantifies the effect of trees on air pollution, GHGs and global warming, and building energy use. Like the land use planning tools described here, UFORE evaluates how including urban trees in different planning scenarios can reduce a community’s overall GHG emissions. A broader set of tools for assessing and managing community forests is available at

The Institute for Local Government is collecting case studies of communities us ing the resources described here, which are available at  

ILG Best Practices Framework

As part of its California Climate Action Network (, the Institute for Local Government (ILG) has prepared a framework of best practices to guide local agencies’ consideration of items to include in their plans. The frame work ( identifies 10 sectors of activities:

  1. Conserving energy and using it more efficiently;
  2. Reducing waste and recycling;
  3. Conserving water and improving the efficiency of water and wastewater treatment systems;
  4. Concentrating land uses to take advantage of walking, bicycling and transit;
  5. Improving transportation efficiency;
  6. Designing green buildings;
  7. Buying products and services with GHG emission reduction in mind;
  8. Using nature to store carbon;
  9. Using alternative and low-carbon fuels; and
  10. Encouraging individuals, businesses and the community to reduce GHG emissions.

Additionally, the California Climate Action Network recognizes agencies and communities that demonstrate measurable reductions in GHG emissions. For more information about ILG’s recogni tion program, visit


The process of inventorying GHG emissions and developing plans to reduce such emissions is an evolving area. Technologi cal innovations mean that local agencies may have options today to reduce emissions that were not available even a year ago.

The good news is that many organizations — governmental, nonprofit and private sector — are working hard to provide local agencies with information and options in this area. Furthermore, cities and counties are pioneering new strategies and have much information to share with one another about effective strategies and potential improvements. One of the California Climate Action Network’s goals is to help connect local officials with those resources and each other. Learn more by visiting  

This article appears in the March 2008 issue of Western City
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