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Study Looks At Cities Leading on Climate Action -- Including San Diego

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San Diego is a leader among the 49 large U.S. cities taking action to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. A study released today by the Brookings Institution examines what these pioneering cities are doing in the absence of direction from the federal government.

Speaker 1: 00:00 What's the state of climate action plans in 100 major us cities, a new report out today, tackles that question and among its findings, 45 cities, including San Diego, LA and San Francisco have good binding plans. If their targets are reached, those cities would reduce the amount of emissions equal to taking 79 million cars off the road. But most cities aren't doing nearly enough joining me to explain as one of the reports authors, David Victor is professor of international relations at the school of global policy and strategy at UC San Diego. David, welcome back to midday edition,

Speaker 2: 00:37 Mark. It's great to be back.

Speaker 1: 00:39 What's the question you were looking into that resulted in this report. What were you trying to find out?

Speaker 2: 00:44 But we've seen a big shift in policy action on climate change to the Heartland away from Washington DC and to the cities into the States. And we just wanted to know whether or not it was having an impact. And that's an important question right now because we've had four years of essentially no federal policy on climate change rollbacks. And so we're seeing more pressure to get things done locally, but then also, ultimately we have to look at what the numbers, what the numbers say. And as you said in your intro, half of the cities are aren't really doing anything. And so that's, that's worrisome. We have to therefore pay a lot closer attention to the cities like San Diego that are doing a lot, uh, because they're going to be the pioneers that are going to help bring along the rest of the country.

Speaker 1: 01:22 And how do the plans and actions taken in San Diego and in the state of California compare with other large USC,

Speaker 2: 01:29 California is doing really well. The, of the cities that have already achieved big reductions, the top six half of them are California and San Francisco. It's LA it's San Diego. In some sense, the San Diego actions are the most interesting because, um, we're grappling directly with the problems that all the other cities are really having a hard time dealing with. What do we do about sprawl, uh, emissions from automobiles? And this is an area where California is going to be very helpful because there's only so much that a city by itself can do. Uh, if it, if it doesn't have access, for example, to cleaner vehicles, to, to support for, for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, things like that. And now California is lining up that support

Speaker 1: 02:08 And San Diego and the other California cities. Are they cooperating and working well with them?

Speaker 2: 02:13 I think they're cooperating and working very well. I think the bigger challenge is it's not so much that people don't know they need to do more. It's that individual cities only have limited leverage in what they can actually achieve, uh, at home. And, and, and that's, that's really where we need to learn more about how to, how to make the existing efforts a lot more effective. California is really lined up the political support across California as bipartisan. If anything, the Trump administration has, has amplified that support because it's really popular to be, uh, in favor of climate action, given what's going on in the white house, that's true for a lot of other areas, the policy and, and having stable policy political support is just vitally important for these long-term missions.

Speaker 1: 02:52 And transportation is the most vexing problem. What solutions are working best is California's push to get rid of gas vehicles. For example, is that as bold a step as it sounds,

Speaker 2: 03:03 It is. I mean, there'll be the nation's leading program. My guess is it's going to be largely successful. Uh, California is working on two fronts. One front is on electric, unlike duty vehicles, cars there. I think we're going to be very successful that the playbook for that was formed by the California resources board in the 1990s. It's very effective playbook. The harder problem is going to be a heavier vehicles, uh, freight and so on are the technological solutions are not yet obvious. Electricity might be one hydrogen, uh, natural gas, or at least a decarbonized natural gas. There are a lot of different options and, and that's, that's where we need to pay closer attention to which technologies are actually going to be the winners.

Speaker 1: 03:40 And the fact that less than half of all the large us cities are taking any steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's frightening. Do you think this report will spur some action on their part? How can we get other cities to participate?

Speaker 2: 03:54 Well, that's our hope is our report wants to celebrate what the pioneers are doing like San Diego, LA San Francisco, many others Greensboro, but then also put a, put a lot more pressure on, on the cities that aren't doing as much when you add up the, all the efforts of the pioneers over the next decade or so, they're going to be cutting them. Us emissions may be 4%, so that's a contribution, but we cannot stop the climate problem without much bigger cuts across the entire nation, ultimately across the whole globe. And so the whole goal here is to get the lessons learned by the pioneers out into the rest of the country, ultimately rests

Speaker 1: 04:28 The world. And tonight Donald Trump and Joe Biden face off in their final debate, voting ends in about 10 days. Climate change is an existential threat to all life on the planet. These candidates could not be further apart, has this critical issue, gotten the attention it deserves in this election year.

Speaker 2: 04:47 It's had a huge amount of attention. It's been a big issue for the democratic party during the primary. Uh, we've had already more attention to this issue in the debates than at any other time in American history. So all of that's good news, but ultimately the differences between the two candidates are huge. I think if we have a second Trump administration, we're going to see even more of the action shift to state and local level because he a Biden administration, we're going to see action on the state and local level, but hopefully more federal support

Speaker 1: 05:13 And, uh, cities and States can't do it alone. It's going to take worldwide leadership from the United States government, right?

Speaker 2: 05:21 I think absolutely. I think that's going to be key if, if Biden wins, uh, they very quickly are going to rejoin the Paris agreement, but in some sense, that's the easy thing to do the rest of the world going to be looking at the United States and saying, well, do we believe you, are you your back end? Are you going to stay in? And that's one of the reasons why these city and state measures are so important is because they're harder to reverse. And so they're part of how the United States as a country, as a whole sends a signal to the rest of the world, that we're serious.

Speaker 1: 05:47 And of course also going on with the debate and the election and everything is the, uh, the Senate, the Republicans in the Senate are pushing through another Supreme court justice here. And a lot has been said about how this Supreme court could hamper regulations that the executive orders from say a Biden administration, uh, could have a great impact on, uh, regarding climate change and climate action. Are you fearful about the, the courts and, uh, what's, uh, setting up there in Washington.

Speaker 2: 06:13 I'm a little bit fearful that the, any action regulatory action by the vitamins trace, it's going to be challenged. It could be that the legal basis for, for example, actions under the clean air act, it was taken under the Obama administration that legal basis has taken away. Bigger. Leverage is going to be coming from outside Washington. And also it'll come from Washington. If you see new legislation pass. So if, if not only the Biden wins, but the Democrats take the house in the Senate and we see the capacity to pass new laws. And there's going to be a lot of new arrangements to, to focus on the climate primal. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 06:45 And finally, uh, getting back to your report, how did you and the other researchers get your data?

Speaker 2: 06:51 Well, it's a data rich environment right now, a lot of information about the individual cities. The team pulled all that together, uh, for all the a hundred leading cities in the United States, the, the report also points to a lot of problems we have with the methods for doing this kind of analysis, because ultimately we're trying to do is understand how the actions taken by mayors affect emissions compared to what would have happened otherwise.

Speaker 1: 07:15 Well, it's an ambitious report and I'd encourage everyone to take a look@itsoitcanbefoundonkpbs.org. We've linked to it. There I've been speaking with David Victor, professor of international relations at the school of global policy and strategy at UC San Diego and an author of this new report on climate action plans in American cities. Thanks, David. Well, thank you very much.

Speaker 3: 07:48 [inaudible].

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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.