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Paris Climate Agreement Matters To Santa Barbara #actonclimate

Climate Accord Sets Stage for Clean Energy Economy

Along with millions of people who care about our climate, over the past couple of weeks we have encouraged delegates of the COP21 climate proceedings in Paris to take strong, decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What came out of Paris is a historic moment in the fight against climate change: an agreement that will help fulfill our obligation to provide our children and grandchildren with a safe future. For the first time, the world’s countries have agreed to act on climate change and be held accountable for those actions.

Not only does the Paris Agreement put the world on the right path when it comes to protecting our environment, it also protects public health and sets the stage for the development of new renewable energy technologies that will kick America’s clean energy economy into overdrive.

That said, this historic agreement — while a vault forward in the right direction — by no means marks the end of the climate crisis. While 196 countries have submitted plans to reduce emissions, many analysts calculate that even if all pledges are met, the world is still headed toward 2.7 to 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming. This is well above the 2-degree maximum that most scientists say will prevent the worst impacts of climate change — with highly respected climate scientists such as James Hansen strongly urging a threshold of no more than 1.5°C. These may seem like abstract numbers. Yet with just one degree of warming over the past few years, consider the level of historic drought, flooding, super-storms, property damage, and global displacement of refugees that we have experienced around the globe.

But make no mistake: The Paris Agreement is a tremendous win, sending a clear signal that citizens and governments worldwide are ready to take the protection of our climate seriously and move to a clean energy economy.

And it comes on the heels of major progress at the federal level; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized the Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon pollution from power plants, marking the single greatest step the U.S. has ever taken to combat climate change. And California — the eighth largest economy in the world — recently passed landmark legislation that will increase our renewable energy mix to 50 percent and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Even countries like China are looking to California, sending multiple delegations to learn from our state’s efforts on cap and trade and lowering vehicle emissions.

But what does the Paris agreement mean for us in Santa Barbara?

First, it means opportunity. More than anything the agreement makes clear the world is moving to a clean energy economy. And that signal will be heard loud and clear by the markets that impact our energy uses here in Santa Barbara. The wind and solar industries are some of the country’s fast-growing job creators and stand to benefit greatly from this agreement. For Santa Barbara County — which has seen the amount of rooftop solar double in the last three years — an accelerated transition to clean energy is good news. And this growth is expected to continue. The Cuyama Solar Project — the first utility-scale solar farm in Santa Barbara County — will avoid the emissions of 30,000 metric tons of CO2annually and create 200 construction jobs.

Second, it means clarity on what is left to be done. The sweeping and historic agreement was negotiated thousands of miles away — yet provides us a concrete focus here at home. As the saying goes “all climate change is local.” In other words, much of the actual work to build more efficient buildings, design more bike-friendly neighborhoods, and support more climate-friendly agriculture will take place at the regional level. Our task is not just to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to explore how to sequester existing emissions and prepare our coastal and inland communities for climate-related disruptions, some of which are already occurring.

The Community Environmental Council — the organization that brought the tri-county region recycling, electric vehicle charging stations, group purchasing for solar panels, and plastic bag bans — is 100 percent committed to charting a course for a sustainable community.

In the month leading up to the Paris proceedings, we met with elected officials and national thought leaders, including investigative journalist Mark Shapiro and Rear Admiral Len Hering (retired, U.S. Navy) — all of whom had an incredible sense of urgency around the need for clear, immediate local action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We met with ranchers, soil scientists, and climate scientists about the incredible potential to sequester carbon on Santa Barbara County’s rangelands. We convened community leaders to tour cutting-edge energy facilities — including a global leader in LED lighting located in Goleta and a state-of-the art facility located in Riverside designed to convert organic waste into bio-methane as an alternative to natural gas.

We came away from these gatherings with hope, not just for how climate efforts are supporting our regional economy but also for human ingenuity. The scientific picture is daunting, and there is no doubt that we have major challenges ahead. Let’s tap that ingenuity, let Paris fill our sails, and vault forward to a clean energy future.

Sigrid Wright is CEO and executive director of the Community Environmental Council and Laura Burton Capps sits as president of its Board of Directors. This article originally appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent.

Sigrid Wright

Executive Director at Community Environmental Council
Sigrid Wright has 25 years of experience in non-profit environmental management, currently as CEO/Executive Director. For energy/climate related issues, she is co-author of The Santa Barbara County Regional Energy Blueprint, editor of more than a dozen CEC policy documents, and program facilitator for the South County Energy Efficiency Partnership (SCEEP). For food system issues, she is on the executive team and advisory board of the countywide Food Action Plan. For more than 15 years she led the annual Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival production team.

Sigrid holds a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Oregon and an M.A. in Communications Design from the Yale Gordon College of Liberal Arts at the University of Baltimore. Prior to coming to CEC, she worked for several organizations in Washington, D.C., including the Alliance to Save Energy and the National Wildlife Federation. She is an alum of the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Katherine Harvey Fellows program and the Courage to Lead program for non-profit leaders, and sits on the board of Leading From Within. She is also a commissioner for the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women. She received the 2015 Women of Achievement Award from the Association of Women in Communications, Santa Barbara.
Sigrid Wright

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This Post Has One Comment
  1. Good news, all of this.

    I was wondering, though, if you had any information on how the Paris climate agreement aligns with California’s own greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction efforts. My understanding is that the state is currently on track to reduce its GHG-emissions output to 431 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) by the year 2020, a level equal to that of the year 1990 and quite possibly being on track to reduce CO2e by a level 80 percent below that by 2050. What I also understand is that state GHG output is currently at a level of 444 MMTCO2e. If I am not mistaken, atmospheric carbon dioxide accounts for somewhere around 80 percent of total emitted California GHGs.

    The given or obvious here is that the world must reduce atmospheric CO2 emissions to a specified concentration by a specified date in order to prevent runaway climate catastrophe relative to what world concentration in the air of atmospheric CO2 is today. It is also my understanding that the earliest that provisions of the Paris climate agreement go into effect is 2020. That California is already ahead of the game is great!

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