Bold Action on Climate Change

Just before Halloween, some big news came out and then quickly slipped back beneath the radar. It’s easy to see why: a story of government collaboration and progress could hardly be expected to grab much attention in a news cycle still caught up in the federal shutdown and unsteady rollout of the Affordable Care Act.So, in case you missed the Pacific Coast Collaborative’s October 28 resolution, here’s a quick recap: the governors of Washington, Oregon and California joined British Columbia’s premier in signing the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, a bold new commitment to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while transforming the regional economy into an international leader in green jobs.

PCC SigningFrom right, California Governor Jerry Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and the British Columbia Minister of Environment Mary Polak signed a climate change agreement. Photo: Sarah Rice, Special To The Chronicle

Under the Action Plan, the states and province will lead by example, accounting for the true cost of greenhouse gas emissions, and—critically—coordinating carbon-pricing structures to support a regional, low-carbon economy. They’ll also start transitioning the West Coast toward clean modes of transportation and expand the use of zero-emissions vehicles.

These decisions on their own are cause for celebration, but as those of us working in the green building and energy industries know, the built environment is where the real action is. Buildings currently account for over 45% of American greenhouse gas emissions, and on a city-to-city basis, the impact is often much higher, with buildings generating 74% of New York City’s emissions, 53% in San Francisco, and over 80% in cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, that don’t have an industrial base. If we want to get serious about combatting climate change, there’s no better place to start than our own habitat.

Here at NBI, we were particularly gratified to see the Action Plan include a commitment to “transform the market for energy efficiency and lead the way to ‘net-zero’ buildings,” because states are uniquely positioned to enact the codes, policies and incentives needed to make net-zero energy projects the new normal.

Any project—new building, renovation or district-scale retrofit—that embraces the net-zero goal demonstrates leadership and feasibility of these ultra-low energy buildings. While incremental improvements do save, we should never take our eye off the potential for zero-net energy to catalyze innovation and disrupt the “business-as-usual” approach to energy efficiency.

By providing state and local governments with the encouragement and technical support they need, we can help enable the widespread deployment of net zero policies, programs and projects. That was the focus of our recent Getting to Zero National Forum with the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and the reason NBI is invested in promoting ZNE practices. We applaud the Pacific Coast Collaborative’s commitment.

At a time when our national leadership can’t agree on anything, it’s refreshing to see the states cut through the politics and take real action.

Find out more about NBI’s work related to zero-net energy buildings.