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California ARB adopts 3-year research plan; net negative CO2; racial equity

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted its Triennial Strategic Research Plan. The plan serves as a roadmap for research planning for fiscal years 2021-2024, and ensures that CARB’s research portfolio addresses policy and program needs.

The Triennial Plan guides CARB’s annual selection of research contracts, which are fulfilled through in-house work, external contracts and collaborative research projects. It acts as a resource for those interested in CARB’s research priorities for the 2021-2024 fiscal years, informing sister agencies, universities and communities of the agency’s priorities.

The new plan aims to increase efforts to engage additional regional universities, foster cross-university and community partnerships, and fully integrate racial equity into CARB’s research activities and projects.

The following goals guide the plan:

  • Providing healthful air for all Californians;

  • Achieving carbon neutrality (net zero CO2 emissions) and thereafter ‘net negative’ by balancing CO2 emissions with removal or elimination of CO2, then removing or sequestering more CO2 than is emitted; and

  • Reducing emissions in communities heavily burdened by pollution and environmental stressors.

The core of the plan is made up of research initiatives, which consist of broad topics (Health, Environmental Justice, Economics, Air Quality, Mobile Sources, Climate and Sustainable Communities) defining CARB’s most pressing research priorities. The Plan also describes ongoing work, which builds on past research and informs future research.

An important new chapter in the Triennial Plan outlines CARB’s commitment to begin the process to operationalize racial equity and social justice into its research. CARB’s Research Division will develop a Racial Equity Framework to supplement the Triennial Research Plan; a community engagement process set to begin early this summer will help inform how CARB will ultimately carry out this commitment.

When our research is better focused to benefit the most vulnerable among us it will lead to policies and programs that better protect all Californians from the harmful effects of air pollution and climate change.

—CARB Research Division Chief Elizabeth Scheehle

Transportation trends. CARB’s Research Program supports the implementation of the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375)—a key component for California’s meeting its 2050 climate goal. SB 375 requires that California’s metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) develop regional Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS) containing land use, housing, and transportation strategies that, when implemented, meet the regional per-capita passenger vehicle GHG emission reduction targets set by CARB for 2020 and 2035.

The regional targets, indexed to years 2020 and 2035, range from -4% in 2035 for the Shasta RTA to -19% in 2035 for MTC/ABAG, SACOG, SANDAG, and SCAG.

The goal of an SCS is to foster healthier and more equitable communities that reduce VMT. The plans are intended to align regional land use and transportation planning to focus housing and job growth in existing urbanized areas, expand transit and active transportation networks and infrastructure, and conserve natural resources and farmland.

Senate Bill (SB) 150 requires CARB to prepare a report to the Legislature starting in 2018, and every four years thereafter, to evaluate progress in meeting the goals of SB 375. Based on current estimates in the first SB 150 report released in 2018, metro areas in the state are falling short of the GHG reduction goals stipulated by SB 375. Although transportation planning efforts across the state have identified strategies intended to reduce VMT and thereby GHGs, real-world implementation of these strategies is not yielding the anticipated reductions, CARB said.

CARB’s Research Program on sustainable transportation and communities is multi-faceted and builds upon the 2018 SB 150 report and more recent information. Research includes the use of big data and emerging transportation technologies and travel patterns. A series of studies using big data and policy analysis will assess real-world reductions from on-the-ground changes as well as the influence of policies on those changes to determine barriers and best practices.

Transportation patterns are evolving quickly. New mobility services such as ridehailing, automated vehicles, and other micro-transit options have been emerging for almost a decade, with rapid growth in urban areas. CARB is developing the Clean Miles Standard regulation to set GHG-per-passenger-mile standards for ride-sharing services.

Future research will prioritize identifying strategies for managing rapid transportation changes. An unanticipated driver of change to transportation has been the COVID-19 pandemic. During the initial stay-at-home order for COVID-19, VMT changed significantly and led to an increase in telecommuting, a decrease in commute-related VMT, and a decrease in transit ridership and service; however those VMT changes did not last, nor were they consistent across communities, socioeconomic groups, sectors, or occupations. The long-term impacts of these changes are unclear.

Research projects are ongoing to examine not only the impact of emerging transportation technologies but also how the pandemic has impacted mobility and access, and spurred changes in travel behavior.


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