The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency last week as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address sea level rise.

In 2016, California passed Senate Bill 32, which requires the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels in the next 10 years. 

Sundance Banks, the group leader of the local Citizens Climate Lobby chapter, said the county, which in 2015 reported having reduced emissions more than 20 percent below 2005 levels, is on the frontlines of addressing climate change.

“We’re lucky in San Mateo County to have true leadership on climate issues from the Board of Supervisors and our other government leaders,” Banks said. “I think (their) planting this flag in the ground and saying, ‘We’re declaring this a climate emergency’ is a way of saying climate change is happening now.”

Office of Sustainability Program Manager Kim Springer confirmed the county is on track to meet the state’s goals. 

In addition to monitoring countywide emissions, data is available through 2015 for each city as part of the Regional Climate Action Planning Suite Program. 

“We are definitely actively tracking and trying to drive change,” Springer said. 

One way the county has been moving toward this goal is by providing electricity customers with renewable and greenhouse gas-free energy. The county had a role in creating Peninsula Clean Energy in 2016. Springer said 90 percent of electricity customers are buying from the clean energy concern and expects 100 percent buy-in over the next few years. 

County data indicates transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Although vehicle registration for gasoline-powered cars and trucks has remained fairly consistent since 2014, electric vehicle registration had more than doubled by 2018. 

The use of hybrid cars and the number of people using commuter shuttles and Caltrain have also increased.

Springer said the county is working on changing over its government fleet to hybrids. Peninsula Clean Energy is also providing incentives for electric and hybrid cars from Oct. 1 through the end of the year. 

In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the county turned its attention to sea level rise in 2015 with its “Sea Change SMC” initiative. 

“San Mateo County is ahead of the curve having been one of the first counties to develop a sea level rise vulnerability assessment, and is now working to consider all impacts,” Coastal Conservancy’s Central Coast Program Manager Trish Chapman said in an email.

Chapman said local governments can be powerful in preparing people for climate change.

“Planning now, getting the community involved and moving quickly to get projects going are some of the most impactful things governments can be doing now,” she said.

Following this report, the Office of Sustainability is now working on an assessment for the area south of Half Moon Bay to the county line. The goal is to complete the report by May 2020 with a cost-benefit analysis of possible solutions. 

Climate Central sea level rise scientist Maya Buchanan explained that sea levels could increase by a foot on the Coastside by 2050 and by 3 feet at the end of the century. Coastal erosion could also worsen as cliffs are more often exposed.

“Some people think about sea level rise as this faraway and distant threat, particularly because some of the levels don’t sound so striking,” she said. “But it’s rising each year and that increases flood risk every year. We can see the impacts of that even in near-term decades.”

Although climate change is a global issue, there are regional factors to consider. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lists upstream flood control, erosion, ocean currents and variations in land height as reasons why regional sea levels may vary.  

The agency also notes that natural events, such as earthquakes, or human actions such as pumping, fracking or mining can affect sea level rise. 

“Sea level rise is so interesting and it varies from place to place because there are global, regional and local contributing factors,” Buchanan said. 

The resolution will require the Office of Sustainability to bring annual reports to the Board of Supervisors to show how it is progressing toward meeting the state’s goals.

“We have 10 to 12 years to really make a change,” Springer said. “A lot has to happen by 2030. We’re feeling on a day-to-day basis a lot of pressure and responsibility.”

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