San Diego is not waiting for Washington to get its act together on climate change. The southern California city is moving forward with an ambitious plan to run on 100% renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035 – and it’s doing so in a bipartisan manner. Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer endorsed the Climate Action Plan that was unanimously approved by the Democrat-dominated city council in December.
Renewables, including solar and wind, would be increased to achieve the target. San Diego already places second in the nation for solar power with solar installations growing 76.6 percent in two years to 189 megawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity at the end of 2015.
The plan also includes an initiative to increase the urban tree canopy to 35 percent by 2035 – perhaps even more important than the clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets because trees sequester carbon. More climate scientists are recognizing the importance of restoring ecosystems to draw down atmospheric carbon in order to reverse global warming and protect biodiversity. Restoring water cycles, soil, grasslands, wetlands and forests could remove gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere, returning the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels of safety and stability, according to Biodiversity for a Livable Climate.
Other targets include recycling or composting 90 percent of all solid waste and cutting car trips by half by 2035. To reduce private automobile use, the city would make major investments in public transportation and bicycling infrastructure. The city would also make half of its vehicles electric.
“Today, we are faced with an issue that affects us all. Our city’s responsibility is to ensure a clean, sustainable San Diego for generations to come,” Faulconer wrote in his introduction to the Climate Action Plan. “San Diegans from different backgrounds are coming together to proactively address environmental concerns, strengthen our economy and improve our quality of life.”
It might be surprising to some that a Republican mayor is leading the effort to address global warming, considering that the two GOP presidential frontrunners deny climate change, but while the Republican leadership openly dismisses the scientific consensus of man-made global warming, conservative voters are increasingly at odds with their political party. According to a new survey from researchers at Yale and George Mason universities, 47 percent of conservative Republicans believe that global warming is a threat – a 19 percent increase over the past two years. There is even some progress on Capitol Hill as the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus held its first meeting last week.
San Diego shows that bipartisan climate solutions are achievable and that the United States can be even more ambitious than the rest of the world. Unlike the Paris climate agreement, the San Diego climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are legally binding.
In going 100 percent renewable, San Diego joins a growing list of cities around the world committing to powering their economies completely with clean energy. They include Vancouver, San Francisco, Sydney and Copenhagen.