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Voice of OC: Local Government and Climate Change

Voice of OC: Local Government and Climate Change

March 16, 2023
By Fred Smoller

OCSD President Fred Smoller recently wrote an op-ed for Voice of OC on the crucial role that local governments must play in combating climate change. Read the full piece below and learn more about what we can do to make a difference.

What level of government should be ultimately responsible for the response to climate change– international, federal, state, or local?


In 1998, the United Nations (UN) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which keeps tabs on rising CO2 levels. Also, since 1994, the UN has hosted yearly international gatherings of world leaders called the Conference of the Parties (COP).

Unfortunately, despite 27 COP conferences, CO2 emissions continue to climb. That’s because the pledges each nation makes to cut back CO2 are not enforceable. As climate activist Greta Thunberg, who skipped the most recent COP (27) in Egypt, said, “The COPs are mainly used as an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing.” 

Don’t hold your breath if you are looking to international agreements for remedies to climate change. 


Nor should we pin our hopes on Washington. Many people praise the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) for being the biggest climate bill in U.S. history. 

But that is only because it is the only major piece of climate change legislation that Congress has enacted since being notified of the existential crisis posed by rising CO2 levels 35 years ago by Dr. James Hansen from NASA. 

Also, the Senate passed this bill by just one vote; Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the bill. 

Today, the Republican leadership in the House is still aligned with the biggest climate change denier of all time, Donald Trump, who said climate change was a “hoax,” pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord, and put climate change deniers in charge of the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Don’t look to the Biden Administration for new climate initiatives either; Other pressing problems, such as the war in Ukraine and the economy, will now top their legislative agenda.  


California’s legislature and regulatory agencies are world leaders on environmental issues. SB 100–“The 100 Percent Clean Energy Act of 2018”–requires that nearly all the electricity sold in the state come from renewable and zero-carbon resources by 2045.

Also, California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars statewide by 2035. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has mandated that 35% of all cars sold in California be zero polluting (i.e. electric or plug-in hybrid) by 2026. This rises to 68% by 2031. 

There is every reason to believe that future climate legislation and regulations will be forthcoming from the state.

Orange County

When it comes to climate change, we simply cannot wait for the international community or the federal government to act. Having aggressive state climate change legislation is necessary, but it isn’t enough: Local governments must step up.  

Local governments are the “first responders” to higher temperatures, increasing droughts, more severe storms, rising oceans, wildfires, and disappearing coastlines. Local government is also ideally suited to lowering climate change emissions due to its influence over land use and transportation decisions. 

Unfortunately, according to a recent Climate Change action report card put out by the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, Orange County has no comprehensive plan for tackling climate change. A countywide climate action plan is expected by year’s end, however. Even then we will be one of the last coastal counties to have one.

Yes, we must meet our environmental challenges. But our goal should be much more ambitious: Orange County should commit itself to become a world leader in sustainability. 

To this end, we are putting on the first Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. In addition to helping the state meet its goal of a 100% clean energy future, we see the Decathlon, which we plan to hold every two years, as a catalyst for making Orange County the Sustainability Capital of the World. 

Fred Smoller, Ph.D. is the President and CEO of the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon. The Orange County Sustainability Decathlon will be held October 5-15 at the O.C. Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa, California. See He is also an associate professor of political science at Chapman University.

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