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San Diego County considers paving the way for a net carbon neutral future

San Diego County supervisors will get a glimpse of a more climate-friendly future Wednesday when they are briefed on a regional plan designed to de-carbonize the county.

The idea driving the effort is to reach a net carbon neutral goal, essentially only releasing as much carbon into the air, that can be balanced by the county’s ability to absorb the climate warming material.

“This is re-imagining how our energy system and our transportation system and how we think about changing land use at a pretty fundamental level and doing it very, very, quickly,” said Gordon McCord, an assistant teaching professor of economics at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego.

McCord has been guiding a multidisciplinary effort to map out the effort to reduce the number of greenhouse gasses that get into the air. That involves urban planners and academicians both locally and around the country.

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Cars drive on the Interstate-5 freeway in Barrio Logan, Sept. 29, 2016.
Richard Klein
Cars drive on the Interstate-5 freeway in Barrio Logan, Sept. 29, 2016.

Researchers hope to reach the goal without disrupting the local economy and costing the region jobs.

“It’s hard,” Gordon said. “And so, it’s understandable for a local government to be thinking at scale, to be thinking as a system to be able to connect all these dots that it doesn’t happen naturally.”

County officials have talked about reaching a carbon-neutral status by 2035. This plan matches the state goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

The draft document points toward electrification as a key strategy. That means electric cars, homes and businesses.

It also calls for the regional energy grid to be transitioned to all renewables.

County officials hope the plan is the first step in allowing local officials to be leaders in developing a comprehensive climate-friendly development plan.

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The draft document, developed over the course of the year, relies on science-based data to define the county’s current carbon footprint. It also includes an assessment of what individual municipalities have pledged to do at the local level.

That allows local officials to identify gaps in meeting county goals and it emphasizes that the solutions rest with many municipalities.

“Let us not think too much about just what is our authority and what we have to do but take collective responsibility for all the emissions in the region,” said Murtaza Baxamusa, program manager for Regional Sustainability and Climate Action at County of San Diego.

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The decarbonization plan allows residents, businesses and governments to plan together and the hope is other local governments will be able to use the model established here for similar plans around the country.

“For our region, we would have a comprehensive and strategic plan for where the effort needs to be made in terms of both policy actions to be taken as well as administratively what we can do as municipalities,” Baxamusa said.

The draft framework still needs public input. The document should be finalized early next year.