California's new climate solution

Make Californians drive less, We have known this always. California can make technology work to its impossible and hitherto unknown potential. It aggressively and continuously pushes the frontier of technology to set new and cleaner benchmark for the rest of the world. But this proud top runner in the technology race has found it so extraordinarily hard to stop its people from racing in cars and choking the streets. Undoing the regulatory drive towards zero emissions and climate secure future. It was therefore heartening to hear from the top regulatory brass of California that they have now a law to steer away from sprawled urban development, and adopt land-use planning aligned with the needs of public transport. This is the first ever law in the US to control global-warming by curbing urban sprawl.

This hogged attention during the discussion in California's official side event in Poznan on December 8. Anthony Eggert, Policy Advisor in California Air Resources Board informed that this is a unique experiment to rebuild the community amidst car culture of California. This will encourage local governments and builders to focus on growth in urban areas or close to public transportation hubs in an effort to reduce Californians' use of cars and lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

Explains Eggert that this initiative is driven by state's landmark 2006 global warming law which seeks to cut California's greenhouse gas emissions by 30%. This regional reduction target will push the local authorities and the building industry to rethink urban renewal in California.

Clearly, fuel-efficient cars and industry action will not be enough to take on the challenge of deep cuts in greenhouse gases. Simply put this new law, SB 375, requires that jobs, recreation and housing are planned in a way that Californians can live and work closer together, and drive less. It will help to create alternative mobility options and improve the community. The state spends billions on transportation, and under the new law, projects that meet climate goals would get priority. This will also allow enormous fuel savings. This is a new agenda for transformation of the community. After all, the number of miles Americans drive has risen at more than double the rate of population growth in recent decades.

The engaging discussions that followed brought to light that California will witness significant population growth in the coming years and will have to provide for as much as 50 million people. This will escalate demand for housing and commercial space. This new growth and investment in new built up area is an opportunity for the state to integrate the principles of the new policy and to have better designed communities.

It may still be an uphill task to get Californians desert their cars for the sake of climate but the progressive regulations that California is known for may just be able to nudge them to do even that. -- From Poznan, December 8, 2008