TRPA and its partners in the bi-state Lake Tahoe Region have long been recognized as leaders in sustainability. A significant new environmental threat, one that many believe will affect sustainability of the entire planet, has emerged: climate change. The Lake Tahoe Basin is already experiencing the direct impacts of climate change. These include rapid change to the ecological composition of our natural environment, more severe and frequent hazard events, retreating snowpack, and socio-economic shifts (such as fluctuation of trends in visitation). Climate change directly impacts the ability of TRPA and regional partners to achieve and maintain thresholds and will cause major disruptions to the region’s economic, social, and ecological systems.
An alpine ecosystem as fragile as Tahoe’s can suffer even from small changes. The impacts of warming air and water temperatures could be devastating: More severe droughts and storms. Changing weather with more rain and less snowfall. Tree mortality, longer wildfire seasons, and more intense fires. Warming lake waters increasingly susceptible to algae growth, invasive species, and reduced water clarity.
Every TRPA initiative includes strategies to strengthen the resilience of Tahoe’s environment, communities, and economy to the emerging stresses of climate change and to improve the region’s sustainability. California and Nevada have aggressive targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and TRPA and the region’s partners must work to help meet those targets. Working together to implement the national award-winning 2014 Lake Tahoe Sustainability Plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen the region’s communities and economy. As a major drive-up destination for millions of Northern California and Northern Nevada residents, TRPA and dozens of partners, including inter-regional partners in neighboring metropolitan areas, must implement major improvements for the transportation system, which is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in both states. TRPA’s Climate Initiative is harmonizing the goals of both states and local governments in the Tahoe Basin while maintaining the Region’s reputation as a global leader in sustainability.
Below is a partial list of the relevant international, federal, state, regional, and local mandates for climate action and related goals.
- Paris Accord
TRPA Bi-State Compact
- Article 1.a.5 – Increasing urbanization is threatening the ecological values of the region and threatening the public opportunities for use of the public lands
- Climate change is a result of carbon emissions from industrialization and increased urbanization built on fossil fuels. These urban emissions threaten all aspects of Tahoe’s environment and the ability for people to access Tahoe.
- Threshold Standards. Climate Change is already impacting TRPAs ability to achieve and maintain threshold standards.
- A land-use Regional Plan, Regional Transportation Plan, Conservation Plan, and Public Services and Facilities Plan are all required by the compact. These goals of these plans are impacted by climate change and the implementation of climate action can take place through their regional mechanism.
- Sustainability Action Plan: A 15 percent reduction from the Lake Tahoe Region baseline (average of the 2005 and 2010 GHG emissions inventories) by 2020, a 49 percent reduction by 2035, and an 83 percent reduction by 2050.
- SB 32 Greenhouse Gas emission reduction target for 2030. Establishes a statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. (Pavley 2016)
- SB 375 The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008. Set transportation related emission reduction targets. Tahoe is responsible for an 8% reduction by 2020 and an additional 5% by 2035.
- Executive Order B-55-18. Established a new statewide goal to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible, and no later than 2045, and achieve and maintain net negative emissions thereafter. (Brown 2018)
- Executive Order B-16-12. orders State agencies to facilitate the rapid commercialization of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The Executive Order sets a target for the number of 1.5 million ZEVs in California by 2025.
- Executive Order B-48-18. directs state government to meet a series of milestones toward a long-term target of 1.5 million ZEVs on California’s roadways by 2025 and 5 million by 2030. (Brown 2018)
- SB 100 California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program. Established a goal of that renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources supply 100% of retail sales of electricity to California end-use customers and 100% of electricity procured to serve all state agencies by December 31, 2045. The bill also established interim targets of 50% renewable resources by December 31, 2026, and a 60% target by December 31, 2030 (De León 2018).
- AB 1482 Safeguarding California
- SB 247 coordinated state, regional, local adaptation
- AB 2800 climate-safe infrastructure
- California Executive Order B-30-15 planning and investment
- Executive Order N-19-19
- Full list of California climate change legislation, regulations, and executive orders: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/research/clee/research/climate/climate-policy-dashboard/
- SB 254 Establishes goal on net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- SB 358 Revised Renewable Portfolio Standard
- Executive Order 2019-22. Set greenhouse gas emissions reduction target of 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (Sisolak 2019)
- City of South Lake Tahoe: 100% renewable energy by 2032, 80% reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Overall, science and advances in climate modeling have allowed a more zoomed in view of climate impacts on the Tahoe Basin. The science the 2014 Action Plan we built on still holds true, however recent science is pointing to an accelerated pace and scale of climate impacts.
- United Nations Fifth Climate Change Assessment (2013). Comprehensive study of climate change and associated impacts at a global scale.
- Climate Change Research Plan for California (2015). Presents priorities for the next 3-5 years (from late 2014-2020) California-specific climate change research and most critical climate-related research gaps.
- Truckee Basin Study, Bureau of Reclamation (2015). Report analyzing impacts of climate change on water supply for the Truckee River Basin.
- California Fourth Climate Change Assessment (2018). Included downscaled analysis of impacts of climate change on regions of California, including the Sierra Nevada.
- Tahoe Basin Vulnerability Assessment (2020). Completed by the California Tahoe Conservancy, downscaled science from the 4th Assessment to analyze specific climate change impacts to the Tahoe Basin.
Measuring Tahoe's Greenhouse Gas Emission
The TRPA, in continuing progress toward addressing the threats of climate change, regularly measures the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Greenhouse gas emissions trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the climate to warm. According to research by UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, global climate change has increased the lake’s average water temperature more than 1 degree Fahrenheit over the last century. Warmer lake temperatures encourage the growth of clarity-harming algae and improve habitat for aquatic invasive species that threaten the entire ecosystem.
Greenhouse Gas Inventory (2015 and 2018)
The inventory shows that overall, progress is being made toward GHG emission reduction goals. From 2005 to 2018, the Tahoe Region’s emissions have declined significantly by 38.7 percent. Total emissions were reduced from 1,297,446 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to 795,793 metric tons. Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (mtCO2e) is a common measure to compare various greenhouse gasses in terms of their equivalent warming potential to carbon dioxide.
On average between the years of 2015 and 2018, the energy sector produced more than half the emissions in the basin (59 percent), followed by transportation (37 percent). In combination, these two sectors generate more than 95 percent of total emissions in the basin and therefore have the most potential for reduction.
For the first time, the updated inventory modeled carbon sequestration potential in Tahoe’s forests and meadows and compared those to annual emissions. The updated inventory found that the natural landscape sequestered or stored between 300,000 and 1,000,000 mtCO2e in 2018. This is compared to about 800,000 mtCO2e in emissions for 2018. Carbon sequestration by forests and meadows is a natural climate solution, and the Tahoe region is fortunate to have an abundance of undeveloped landscapes that contribute to this cycle.
2014 Sustainability Action Plan
In 2013, a greenhouse gas inventory and future projections were completed for the Tahoe Region. This inventory found that generation of electricity, transportation, and fuel combustion for heating and cooking are the top three emissions sources in the Region and constitute 90% of all emissions. The completion of this inventory led to the creation of the Lake Tahoe Sustainable Communities Program, a multi-sector collaborative funded by the Strategic Growth Council, and the national award-winning Sustainability Action Plan in 2014.
The Action Plan outlined a comprehensive regional approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change (mitigation and adaptation). The Action Plan received Sacramento Section, California Chapter and National awards from the American Planning Association in 2014 and 2015. To date, basin partners have implemented nearly 76% of actions identified in the Action Plan. Other components of the Sustainability Program included an Economic Development Strategy and supported implementation of the Regional Plan through creation of the initial version of the Area Plan Framework.
2014 Sustainability Action Plan Document Series:
1 Sustainability Vision and Framework
2 Action Plan Background
3 Final Sustainability Action Plan
4 Lake Tahoe Sustainability Indicators Reporting Plan
5 Area Plans Framework
6 Area Plans Background
7 Development Commodities Transfer Policies Analysis
8 Development Commodities Tracking and Exchange System
9 Economic Development Strategy
10 LTSC Strategic Plan
11 Annual Sustainability Report
12 Lake Tahoe Sustainable Communities Program Summary
The work upon which the publication is based was funded in whole or in part through a grant awarded by the California Strategic Growth Council.
Climate Planning Since 2014:
In addition to the successful implementation of many of the components of the Lake Tahoe Sustainability Program, other notable inputs and changes in relevant climate change policy and information since 2014 include:
- Water for the Seasons (ongoing). Study by Desert Research Institute to understand impacts of climate change on water operations in the Truckee River Basin.
- Tahoe-Truckee Plug-in Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan (2017). Plan for deployment and incentivization of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.
- Placer County Sustainability Action Plan (2019). A comprehensive plan that outlines various programs and policies that will be undertaken to meet California’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and reduce the county’s vulnerability to climate.
- City of South Lake Tahoe Climate Action Plan (Ongoing). The City recently launched development of a Climate Action Plan to identify projects to achieve their 100% Renewable Pledge and statewide climate mandates.
- Tahoe Climate Adaptation Action Portfolio (2020). Ongoing Conservancy initiative to highlight adaptation actions currently taking place in the Tahoe Basin.
- Tahoe Basin Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory Update (2020). Update to the 2013 regional GHG inventory to include new baseline data and future emission scenarios.
Partnerships are critical to implementing climate mitigation, adaptation, and resiliency actions. As the 2014 Sustainability Action Plan is updated to incorporate the newest science and best planning practices, TRPA will be engaging a variety of partners and stakehodlers.