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"As an agricultural community responsible for providing food for the state, nation and world, we rely on sound and progressive practices to protect our citizens, land and natural resources. California steadily leads in innovation and technology, and we must continue to blaze trails toward long-lasting sustainability and health."

- California Department of Food and Agriculture

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California Air Resources Board Adopts Ambitious Target for Greenhouse Gas Reduction That Will Help Save Farmland

earthOn September 23, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted targets for greenhouse gas reduction that must be met through changes in land use planning and development that will help save farmland. To meet the targets, local communities must reduce auto travel, a major source of greenhouse gases, by making it possible for people to walk, bicycle or take convenient public transportation between their homes, schools, shopping and places of work. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by harmoniously mixing these uses and consuming less land per person than traditional “urban sprawl.”

The targets set under the state’s climate change law, SB 375, are expressed in terms of the percentage reduction of greenhouse gases expected by the years 2020 and 2035. (See chart) These reductions will contribute to California’s overall goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Regional councils of government can receive funding from the state’s Strategic Growth Council to design Sustainable Communities Strategies to meet the targets. Regions that succeed in doing so may receive incentives in the form of easier access to federal funding and streamlined environmental review for development projects.

CARB Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets
(As percentage of current emission levels)


2020 Target

2035 Target




San Diego



Southern California



San Joaquin Valley*



Other Regions#

Improve on current plans

* Targets are subject to revision in 2012 with better data.
# Monterey Bay, Butte, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Shasta and Tahoe Basin. No specific targets set because of lack of data.

AFT supported ambitious targets because they would help save farmland as well as help mitigate climate change. As part of a consortium of nonprofit organizations called Climate Plan, we submitted a letter to CARB justifying the targets.

The targets are not uncontroversial. For example, officials on the Air Pollution Control District in the San Joaquin Valley, the state’s leading agricultural region, asked that CARB set their targets at 2% for 2020 and 5% for 2035, well below those acceptable to other regions. Their concern was that communities in the Valley will be unable to meet higher targets, in part because there is significant commuting between the Valley and both the Bay Area and Southern California, where housing is more expensive. An analysis of current land use plans indicates that development as usual in the San Joaquin Valley will result in a 4% increase in greenhouse gases by 2020 and a 13% increase by 2035. CARB ultimately set more ambitious targets for the San Joaquin Valley, but called them placeholders that will be revisited in a couple years as more information becomes available.

California Director Edward Thompson, Jr., applauded the CARB decision, noting that “The kind of more efficient development that these targets should encourage will have all kinds of benefits beyond helping avoid a climate catastrophe. A growth plan that achieves the CARB targets could save around 400,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland and cut the cost of new infrastructure by billions of dollars, saving cities and taxpayers in the region millions of dollars.” He acknowledged that Valley officials have legitimate concerns about whether the targets can be met. But, he asked, “Isn’t it better to try to meet targets we know will make a difference, and maybe fall a little short; than to set a target that we know can be met, but that may not result in any benefit to the Valley’s residents?”

AFT is committed to helping communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and other agricultural regions of the state, design Sustainable Communities Strategies that will help California reduce greenhouse gases and save their irreplaceable farmland

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American Farmland Trust