Climate Action Plans Should Quantify Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Costs to Achieve Meaningful, Cost-Effective Emissions Reductions

Local governments increasingly prepare Climate Action Plans to lay out specific strategies for achieving local and state greenhouse gas reduction goals. Strategies to reduce transportation emissions are often a key component of these plans, as the transportation sector is responsible for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions in California and 28% in the US. However, many Climate Action Plans do not quantify the emissions reductions or costs of proposed strategies, and even fewer consider the life cycle impacts of the strategies. Life cycle-based assessments consider emissions and costs that occur at the outset of a strategy’s implementation (e.g., purchase, installation, and construction), during operation and maintenance, and at end-of-life. Quantifying the life cycle cost effectiveness and emissions reductions of different strategies can, along with other community priorities, inform the design and implementation of Climate Action Plans that achieve climate goals at a reasonable cost. A marginal abatement cost curve is a useful way to present this information, offering a visualization of the rank order cost-effectiveness and total possible emissions reductions of alternative strategies in a Climate Action Plan.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis developed a decision support framework for local governments to assess life cycle greenhouse gas reductions and costs of Climate Action Plan strategies. The researchers demonstrated their approach by developing marginal abatement cost curves for two California counties, Yolo and Unincorporated Los Angeles, based on strategies from their respective Climate Action Plans. This policy brief summarizes findings from that research.