Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Justice

San Diego Reaches 2020 Climate Goals Two Years Early

Cover image for podcast episode

The city's annual Climate Action Plan report shows the city is ahead of schedule in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But while the overall picture appears good, some areas have seen little to no progress.

Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego was ahead of schedule in meeting its climate action plan goals and those goals may get even more ambitious. A climate report released by the city this week found that the goal of reducing carbon emissions 25% by 2020 has already been reached and next year San Diego expects to release an updated climate action plan, which could expand on the city's effort to reduce emissions, but there are still problem areas in the report including the city's waste reduction numbers and uncertain progress in combating the biggest emissions source traffic. Joining me is KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thank you. Maureen. How did we reach the 25% reduction goal ahead of schedule? It was largely because of state laws and regulations and maybe some federal laws and regulations as well that have carried San Diego this far. One important one in California is the renewable portfolio standard, which required utility companies to gradually increase the percentage of renewable energy that they provide to their customers.

Speaker 1: 01:02 Another one was water conservation mandates from Jerry Brown during the worst years of the drought that allowed, uh, San Diego to avoid pumping in a lot of extra water from outside sources. That pumping, of course, costs energy and that causes emissions. Um, and California's fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. Those have led to more electric vehicles and hybrids on the road. It is still unclear exactly how much a San Diego's local actions have impacted the emissions inventory that we're seeing year by year. And many of the actions the city has taken are really long range goals, um, that take a while to really take root. But I do want to give a point of context about this 25% reduction goal. So the climate action plan actually only required a 15% reduction by 2020 and that was to reflect state targets. And that goal was actually met before the climate action plan was even signed into law in 2015.

Speaker 1: 01:55 Again, largely because of state actions. However, in the climate plan, the city predicted that a 25% reduction by 2020 was possible because of all of the actions that were included in the plan. And so that figure was not legally binding, but it was something that the city was reaching for. And that's the one that we hit two years early. So Andrew, remind us what the climate action plan actually requires the city to do by 2035. That's the year that the city will have to cut in half its carbon footprint and um, it uses 2010 emissions as a baseline. Um, it does that through a number of actions, reducing car usage, uh, transitioning to a 100% clean energy supply for the city. And one big leap forward that the city took this year was it established San Diego community power, which is the new community choice energy agency. It's a partnership between San Diego and four other cities in the County where local elected officials will soon be deciding where to source the city's electricity supply.

Speaker 1: 02:55 However, it won't start serving customers until around 2021. So again, another local action that might take a little while to bear fruit in these climate action plan monitoring reports. What are some of the other bright spots in this climate action plan report? The city is really proud of its climate equity index. This is something it established this year and it says it's the first of its kind in the nation. I'm a bit of background. So equity is a portion of this San Diego climate action plan, um, that basically seeks to acknowledge that climate change is going to hurt the poor and the disadvantaged more than it will hurt the wealthy or the middle class. And so this index examines access to opportunity in cities and communities with the least access to opportunities, um, should be the first ones to receive investments in sustainability. So for example, um, let's say a neighborhood has a fewer trees than the citywide average and you know, having trees in your neighborhood creates a cooling effect.

Speaker 1: 03:57 Um, so that can help mitigate the impacts of climate change that we'll see, like heat waves. And so the city is aiming to use this equity index to make decisions about where we should plant trees in the city. We've been talking about the good parts of this climate action plan report, but there hasn't been that much progress on some of the more difficult areas like transportation. What does the report say about our efforts there? It says that transportation is still 55% of our local emissions. That was exactly where it was at when it was created in 2015. Um, the climate plan. Um, and the biggest problem I think with our transportation measuring is just that we simply don't have very good data on it. Um, the data that we do have in this monitoring report is based on modeling. So it's not quite as precise as maybe some of the other areas that were measured.

Speaker 1: 04:48 Uh, measuring emissions. And this report doesn't actually have any new transportation data. They used that modeling to sort of estimate where we were. We are where we were at in 2018 compared to the previous years and looking at trend lines and things like that. So the best available data that we have and that you know, that modeling is really the best that we have at this point is still telling us that vehicle travel is going up. And you know, the bottom line is, is transportation is really hard to measure and it's also really hard to change. These are people's behaviors, their daily decisions that they make based on a number of different factors and you can't just completely re-engineer a city in a few years so that people don't have to depend so much on their cars. You spoke to Cody Hoeven who oversees the implementation of the climate plan for the city.

Speaker 1: 05:35 What did she say about the city's progress in decreasing emissions from transportation? Well, the city has taken a number of actions in recent years related to transportation and land use. Um, climate planning. Um, one was eliminating a minimum parking requirements for multifamily development in areas that are near public transit. Another has just been the, a number, the, the many, many different plans that the city has approved. Um, community updates, community plan updates that is um, that try to concentrate our future growth near public transit and also near jobs. So we're reducing the, the distances that people are traveling in their cars and those plans, as Cody told me, uh, take a while,

Speaker 2: 06:14 you won't see the impacts of those policy changes for several years because you now have to build things under that new policy directive. So it'll take some time. But I think we're going to see huge benefits from those policies that we've been moving forward lately.

Speaker 1: 06:28 Now, another really challenging area for the city is how much waste we're sending to the landfill. We were doing really well until the bottom fell out of the recycling industry. Tell us about that. Yeah. The city says that the biggest change that's happened in recent years is China limiting the type of recyclables that they will accept. And so the, the, the city had largely been relying on exporting a lot of those materials to China. And since it can no longer do that, and cities across the country can no longer do that, the price of those materials has really tanked. And so San Diego is no longer making any money from its recycling operations, whereas it did before. In fact, taxpayers are now subsidizing the recycling that used to be a moneymaker for taxpayers. Um, the city is also trying to expand Miramar landfill to allow waste to pile up a 25 feet higher than previously planned.

Speaker 1: 07:21 So we do appear to be backsliding on zero waste. So there are pluses and minuses in this report. Are there are plans though to update the climate action plan entirely next year? Could the goals get even higher? That is one possibility. I think, you know, it's probably too early to predict exactly what the city is going to be doing with its updated climate plan. But we have a lot of advocates in San Diego that are pushing for San, for the city to establish a goal of carbon neutrality. Virtually every scientific study that has been published since the climate plan was approved in 2015 has told us that climate change is going to be far more severe and the need to reduce emissions is far more urgent than we ever realized. And the entire world has to really mobilize now to avert the worst impacts of climate change. And so, you know, I think we can expect that a lot of the advocates will be pushing for San Diego to raise the bar a bit. I've been speaking with KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thank you. Thank you, Maureen. [inaudible].

KPBS Midday Edition Segments podcast branding

KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.