San Diego’s Bold New Climate Action Plan

Last week, the San Diego City Council unanimously passed a bold, new climate action plan. The plan contains a bundle of policies and goals collectively creating a roadmap for the city to achieve State greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, reducing half of its emissions in the next 20 years. One of the plan's most notable goals is to achieve 100% renewable electricity citywide by 2035. San Diego is now the largest city in the U.S. to set such an ambitious goal.

Even if you aren't an energy policy wonk, this plan is exciting. It strikes a balance of actions that many stakeholders can support. In fact, many did. By the time the plan reached the City Council it had a broad coalition of support from business to labor and environmental advocates. A number of SDLA alumni were instrumental in moving this policy forward.

The environmental goals in the plan are key, but equal emphasis is placed on local job creation, economic benefits, and social equity. The vision is to demonstrate that environmental protection and economic growth can be synergistic. And that those things can also successfully include maximizing benefits to underserved communities. The plan calls for using a new tool from the California Environmental Protection Agency to help the city evaluate transportation projects. The tool, called CalEnviroScreen, designates communities affected by multiple sources of pollution. This is the first climate action plan in the state to reference this tool.

The plan also calls for 50% of commuters to bike, walk, or take transit to work by 2035 rather than drive alone in their cars. While this goal is specific to transit priority areas, which are areas within a half-mile of a frequent transit stop, it is still ambitious for a car-centric town. Other goals in the plan call for zero waste, increasing energy and water efficiency in buildings, and the preparation of a climate resiliency plan, which will identify potential risks from a changing climate and various strategies to address them. Risks include increased heat waves, coastal flooding, and drought.

In the vein of what gets measured gets managed, the city will also create an annual monitoring report that tracks these various efforts and ensures they stay on course. Notable here is that tracking will include jobs and a social equity component. Cities that are leaders in addressing disadvantaged communities as part of sustainability (e.g., Portland) are still trying to figure out what that really looks like in practice. San Diego hopes to be at the table in these discussions.

The timing of San Diego's plan was significant. The climate talks in Paris were happening at the same time, and a historic international agreement to address climate change was struck just three days in advance of San Diego's City Council vote to adopt the climate action plan.

San Diego's new plan raises the bar for how climate action planning is done -- it lays out big goals that some have suggested are too aggressive. But San Diego is a city known for its innovative economy, talented workforce, and a cherished quality of life. If any city is motivated and equipped to reach these goals, it's us.



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Alex Southard
Small Business Engagement Specialist, City of San Diego Economic Development Department

Alex Southard serves as the Small Business Engagement Specialist in the Economic Development Department at the City of San Diego. Driven by...