Publication Detail

Incorporating Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Equity into Local Climate Action



Alumni Theses and Dissertations, National Center for Sustainable Transportation, Energy and Efficiency Institute

Suggested Citation:
Lozano, Mark and Alissa Kendall (2022)

Incorporating Life Cycle Assessment and Environmental Equity into Local Climate Action

. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Dissertation UCD-ITS-RR-22-127

California passed the Global Warming Solutions Act in 2006, establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals and requiring local governments and state agencies to take initiative to meet those goal, as well as establishing a state cap-and-trade program. As a result, many local governments began publishing climate action plans (CAPs) to establish jurisdiction-specific goals, whether city-wide, county-wide, or regional, as well as outline the actions they plan to implement to achieve GHG emissions reduction targets. California also passed the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act in 2015, which mandated allocation of cap-and-trade-generated funds towards sustainable projects benefiting and located in disadvantaged communities (DACs). DACs are defined as communities facing above-average social, financial, health, and environmental burden. This bill was passed to promote equity across the state

The main goal of this dissertation was to explore ways to change and improve efforts by local jurisdictions to mitigate climate change. While it focused on the roles of life cycle assessment (LCA) and equity in climate action planning, it also examines the ways that climate action plans consider the impact of community choice aggregators (CCAs) on GHG emissions reduction. Ultimately, this research consisted of four parts: 1. Using life cycle assessment and life cycle cost assessment to prioritize emissions reduction strategies considered in CAPs, with a focus on the transportation sector; 2. Critically reviewing CAPs across California to gauge the extent to which they include emissions, economic, and equity data, and identifying correlations with demographic data, and providing recommendations on how to better include equity in CAPs; 3. Inspired by findings during the CAP critical review, critiquing the assumptions made and calculations undertaken to attribute emissions reduction potential to the transition from an incumbent utility to a community choice aggregator (CCA), and subsequently offering recommendations; and 4. Implementing a survey to better understand how jurisdictions currently approach climate action planning and implementation, with a focus on the roles of life cycle assessment (LCA) and equity, to identify barriers to sustainable action as well as opportunities for change.

In the first chapter, six emissions reduction strategies are analyzed for two jurisdictions, Los Angeles County and Yolo County. Six life cycle assessment and life cycle cost assessments were performed to estimate the life cycle emissions and life cycle cost of each strategy over a 25-year analysis period. Two strategies, intercity bike lanes and full depth recycling options for pavement rehabilitation, were found to produce net positive emissions over their life cycle. The results for the remaining two Yolo County strategies (installation of solar canopies and converting stop-start intersections to roundabouts) and two Los Angeles County strategies (electrifying the Foothill Transit bus fleet and converting the LA County vehicle fleet to alternative fuels) were plotted on a marginal abatement cost curve, which presents the emissions reduction potential and the cost per unit of emissions reduction for each strategy. This case study shows how applying LCA methods to emissions reduction strategies can help compare the environmental impact and life cycle cost of considered strategies, as well as identify strategies that produce net positive emissions over their life cycle.

In the second chapter, a review is conducted of 37 CAPs published by jurisdictions in California which directly affect over half of the state’s population. This review uses a developed framework to quantify the extent to which the CAPs include emissions data, cost data, and equity considerations. These values are then coupled with demographic data to see if there are any correlations between the robustness of information included in CAPs, and the demographics of the jurisdictions where they are produced. While results are also presented for each of the three dependent variables, the overall robustness of CAPs is positively correlated with the year of CAP publication (more recent CAPs are more robust) and education level of the jurisdiction (a higher proportion of the population with at least a Bachelor’s degree is correlated with a most robust CAP), while it is negatively correlated with poverty rate (wealthier jurisdictions have more robust CAPs) as well as the proportion of white non-Hispanic population (no clear explanation, and thus requires further exploration). Finally, literature is reviewed to compile guiding questions that could promote the discussion of, and planning around, equity themes.

In the third chapter, the research examines the emissions reduction potential that CAPs attribute to CCAs. Some jurisdictions transition from a utility to a CCA, where the CCA exercises additional control over the sources from which they purchase their electricity, leading to many of them (at least in California) offering electricity that is sourced from lower carbon generators than the incumbent utility. Many CAPs will simply attribute emissions reduction potential to a CCA’s higher renewable energy content of purchased electricity related to the incumbent utility. Alarmingly, some will assume that when CCAs offer 100% renewable electricity, the jurisdiction produces no carbon emissions through their electricity use, though the reality is not as simple. A review is conducted of the extent to which jurisdictions assign emissions reduction potential to CAPs, the assumptions and methodologies used are summarized, a critique is offered of the potential pitfalls of those assumptions and methodologies, and recommendations are offered regarding how to consider the impact of CCAs. Ultimately, some CAPs refuse to directly attribute emissions reduction potential to their CCAs which is the best course of action. However, jurisdictions that may want to quantify the impact are advised to (1) consider the hourly sources of energy consumption, (2) consider the underlying changes to the larger California grid mix over time, and (3) account for customers that remain with the incumbent utility.

The final chapter implements a survey to assess how jurisdictions currently approach climate action planning and implementation. It was sent to representatives from jurisdictions who play a primary role in the climate action planning or implementation process. The survey found that emissions reduction potential is the most important factor during both planning and implementation, local priorities are more strongly considered during planning than during implementation, and cost is a more strongly considered during implementation than planning. Additionally, it offered insight to the respondents’ perspectives on LCA (largely concluding it is a valuable methodology but with some finding it prohibitively resource intensive), equity (funding is key for promoting equitable actions), and equity consideration across an action’s lifecycle (difficult to quantify and beyond the control of the jurisdiction). It also offers other key insights to local climate efforts, such as how funding and political will most strongly influence which projects are implemented, and how some jurisdictions are so under-resourced that they depend on free and volunteer work to implement actions and update their CAPs.