County leaders are pushing San Diego to eliminate carbon emissions in less than two decades, but a new study shows the region is nowhere near that, even if everything they’ve already committed to is on track. foreseen.
When the new Democratic majority in the County Board of Supervisors took office last January, it began to pursue an agenda on climate change far beyond what any local government had ever considered. They said that San Diego should eliminate greenhouse gases from its society in less than 15 years.
That’s a decade faster than the state promised under former Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order of achieve carbon neutrality by 2045.
But a report released earlier this year sheds light on just how gargantuan that task can be. Even though all cities in the region are pulling out all the stops in their current plans to combat global warming, the region would be just over halfway through the county’s new plan to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2035, which means that for any man-made planet-warming gases the county puts into the atmosphere, it balances it out by doing something that absorbs an equivalent amount of emissions.
“The main takeaway is that getting to net zero is going to be very difficult,” said Scott Anders, director of the University of San Diego’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center, which led the study for the county.
The study was done as part of the county’s attempt to step up its climate change policy after supervisors Nora Vargas and Terra Lawson-Remer offered last January to hire scientists to analyze what would be needed. to achieve a “zero carbon future.”
The result was a 600+ page analysis titled Regional Decarbonization Framework, published in October.
It is supposed to help the region choose policies that eliminate greenhouse gases as much as possible from land use, buildings, transport and the energy sector. To do this, the researchers said, would require switching all cars and trucks to electric versions of themselves and reducing the need to travel in the first place; protect carbon-storing habitats and switch all electricity demand to 100% renewable electricity.
But in a presentation to the county council this month, the Energy Policy Initiatives Center described how the existing 16 climate action plans that individual cities have already adopted are not enough to meet the new, more ambitious goal. In fact, even though the cities have done everything they said they would do in their plans, and the region represents all the greening of the economy that state and federal laws and ordinances will produce, San Diego doesn’t will still have eliminated only about half of its emissions. by 2035.
Part of the reason the cities’ climate plans aren’t delivering the reductions the county is now considering is that none of the cities promised to eliminate all of their emissions in the first place. Most were made when California aimed to cut its emissions by 40% in 1990. The state achieved this goal in 2016according to the California Air Resources Board.
“It’s not an indictment of climate action plans because cities are doing what they said they would do in their lane,” Anders said. “What we’re saying is ‘if you look at emissions reductions as a whole, we’re really not on track to achieve deep decarbonization.'”
Another reason is that local governments have little power to dictate how San Diego burns energy.
“I have no way of forcing any of these people to stop driving, buy electric vehicles or put solar on their homes,” said Graham Mitchell, city manager of El Cajon. “The town of El Cajon could be 100% sustainable, but it would be a drop in the ocean because there needs to be vast societal changes.”
Local governments don’t have much direct control over the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the use of fossil fuels. It springs from tailpipes and power plants used to generate much of San Diego’s electricity. Cars and trucks are responsible for 47% of the region’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other category of emissions, the center found. Cities can make land-use decisions that make driving less attractive or shorten typical journeys. But they alone cannot force residents to make different decisions about which cars they own or how much they drive.
The center’s study, however, presents significant room for improvement in local policies.
Last year, the City of San Diego became the first local city to declare a goal of net zero emissions by 2035, in a proposed update to its 2015 climate action plan, which the city council n has not yet adopted. According to the centre’s study, the current plan, if fully realized, would only eliminate 15% of the emissions generated within its borders.
More than half of the cities assessed by the center are already updating their climate plans and that’s when local leaders have the most power to come up with bold policies to cut emissions. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, for example, in last year’s proposed climate plan update, suggested squeezing out natural gas from existing buildings in the city, instead of simply requiring the use of natural gas. electrification of new buildings, which the city of Encinitas has done with its plan.
San Diego’s proposed plan, however, shows how difficult a “net zero” strategy will be for the region. If San Diego achieves everything its draft plan calls for, the city still needs to find a way to reduce about 2 million metric tons of emissions to reach “net zero.”
Alyssa Muto, director of the city’s sustainability and mobility department, said the new plan would make significant progress toward the region’s goals.
“As other cities … update their (plans), this delta will get closer and closer to zero.”