Leading the Nation in Climate Action

It has been two years since the adoption of the City of San Diego’s landmark Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the early results are showing that the City is leading the nation when it comes to climate action. One of the key components of the CAP was the City’s commitment to measure the results of implementation strategies on an annual basis. The 2017 Annual Report shows that for the second straight year, the City has reduced its carbon footprint and rem   ains ahead of its greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets. 

Unanimously adopted in December 2015, the City of San Diego’s CAP serves as a blueprint to achieve GHG emissions reduction targets by including five bold strategies which call for ambitious leadership and innovative partnerships. According to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, “it is not always going to be easy” but he is confident that San Diego is doing the right thing.  The City’s commitment to sustainability is beginning to show – not only have GHG’s been reduced by 19.3 percent since the 2010 baseline established in the CAP, but the Annual Report also shows that climate action is supporting local job creation.  In 2016, San Diego’s clean technology jobs continued to grow at 2.6 times the national average, led by the Clean and Renewable Energy sector.  Since 2010 there has been 10.9 percent growth in sustainability-related jobs and while San Diego’s Gross Domestic Product has increased by 30.5 percent, the City’s GHG emissions have decreased, demonstrating the ability to grow a cleaner economy.

The 2017 Annual Report draws attention to the fact that San Diegans continue to receive acclaim for making sustainability a priority in their homes and businesses. The City is now ranked number one in the nation in solar rooftop installations and climate and carbon management. Further, the report illustrates that in comparison to the 2010 baseline, there has been an 18 percent reduction in residential energy use, a 13 percent reduction in daily per capita water use, and a 5 percent reduction in municipal energy use.

One of the highlights of the CAP’s early actions is to update the City’s community plans to implement the General Plan’s “City of Villages” smart growth strategy. This strategy directs growth into compact, mixed-use, walkable centers linked by transit. Since 55% of San Diego’s GHG emissions come from transportation, the focus is on increasing the use of mass transit, biking, and walking in identified Transit Priority Areas; which are areas located within one-half mile of a major transit stop. The CAP calls for 50% of commuter trips to be taken by transit, walking, and bicycling by the year 2035.  The community plan updates focus on increasing residential land use intensity around transit stations and developing design standards that facilitate walking, bicycling, and transit.

Over the past few years the City has already completed several community plan updates (North Park, Golden Hill, Southeastern San Diego, Encanto, Grantville, and Uptown) which have resulted in adding capacity for over 32,000 additional residential units within walking distance to existing transit stations. Further, these plans in conjunction with the Housing SD Plan, which streamlines the development entitlement process, are aimed to reduce the time and cost for developers to receive approval of projects within these Transit Priority Areas. With the emergence of San Diego’s green-based and knowledge-based economy it is critical to ensure there is a steady supply of housing coming online to meet the needs of these workers.   By reducing regulatory barriers, these community plan updates will help facilitate an increase to the City’s housing stock, improving housing affordability.

In addition to updating the City’s community plans, another effort underway to reduce reliance upon the automobile and promote bicycling, walking, and transit use, is implementation of the City’s Bicycle Master Plan and Pedestrian Master Plan. In the last year, the City has added or improved over 56 miles of bicycle lanes and added 12,000 linear feet of new sidewalks. San Diego is also embracing new technologies and markets such as autonomous vehicles and ride hailing to reduce emissions from the transportation sector. However, active transportation and transit remain important to ensure equitable and efficient movement around the city.

By enacting bold initiatives, committing to results, and leveraging partnerships across diverse sectors, the City of San Diego is fast becoming a recognized leader in addressing climate change, promoting sustainable communities, and cultivating a green economy. While the Annual Report demonstrates significant progress, there is still much work to be done to continue reducing the City’s carbon footprint. Monitoring GHG emissions through annual inventories is an evolving field and San Diego is at the forefront of developing or improving methodologies to track and share progress.  The City provides an annual report and technical appendix in order to provide transparency and access to information as monitoring evolves.  The 2017 Climate Action Plan Annual Report and its appendix can be found at www.sandiego.gov/sustainability.


About the author: Brian Schoenfisch is the City of San Diego’s Program Manager who oversaw the adoption of the Climate Action Plan.