SF to declare ‘climate emergency,’ bolster plans to reduce carbon emissions

San Francisco is expected to officially declare a “climate emergency,” following the lead of other Bay Area cities like Berkeley, Hayward, Richmond and Oakland as it strives to reduce carbon emissions by turning to more aggressive tactics.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman on Tuesday introduced a resolution to officially declare the environmental emergency and call upon city departments to deliver “immediate and accelerated action to address the climate crisis.”

The proposal has already picked up the more than six votes needed to pass.

The resolution directs the Department of the Environment to issue within 100 days a report detailing the steps San Francisco could take to reduce carbon emissions, followed by a Board of Supervisors hearing on the report. The hearing would “consider high priority actions that The City can take to achieve deep emission reductions at emergency speed.”

“We are declaring emergency because simply put there is no time to waste,” Mandelman said when announcing the proposal before the Board of Supervisors meeting. “San Francisco like the rest of California is already suffering impacts of climate change in the form of droughts, air pollution, extreme heat and low land flooding.”

The resolution, which is backed by a number of environmental groups like Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Greeenaction and Bay Area 350, comes as the Department of the Environment has already engaged in the work to update The City’s Climate Action Strategy for 2020 and after Mayor London Breed committed The City to new climate goals last year.

San Francisco’s Climate Action Strategy was last updated in 2013. “The updated 2020 Climate Action Strategy will define a pathway to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 and articulate the wider social, environmental, and economic benefits thereof,” said The City’s ten-year draft capital plan that will be introduced to the board for approval on March 5. The City also plans to issue this year a “Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Consequences Assessment.”

Breed committed The City to new climate goals like requiring all buildings constructed starting in 2030 to be net-zero carbon emitters and for The City to become carbon neutral by 2050.

To get there, The City will need to get more people out of their cars and drive electric vehicles, eliminate the use of natural gas in new construction and fuel switch existing buildings to electric, achieve energy efficiencies and have all electricity come from renewable energy sources.

The resolution also calls for funding in the upcoming budget to “address the climate emergency.” Breed must submit a budget proposal to the board for review on June 1.

“We need a response proportional to the crisis we face,” said Supervisor Gordon Mar, who co-sponsored the resolution along with board president Norman Yee and Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Vallie Brown and Matt Haney.

Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, who supports the resolution, told the San Francisco Examiner that “we have a wonderful track record and we are going to need to accelerate. If we just stay where we are, we are not going to meet our 2050 goals.”

San Francisco has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from the 1990 levels while growing the economy by 111 percent and experiencing a 20 percent population growth, according to city officials.

In 1990, San Francisco’s carbon emissions were 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which was reduced by 30 percent in 2016. As of 2017, San Francisco’s total emissions were 5.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, of which 45 percent was from the transportation sector and 33 percent from the use of natural gas.

Seventy-one percent of the greenhouse gas in the transportation sector comes from automobiles and trucks.

The City is currently striving toward achieving 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, city officials said.

Raphael said that the department’s report in 100 days will act as a “menu” listing what The City could do to achieve the 100 percent reduction along with some of the challenges.

For example, to require buildings to only go electric and not use natural gas for boilers would need a state law change. It may model reductions in transportation emissions by looking at not only what happens by having people take more trips by walking or public transit instead of driving but also if more private automobiles become electric.

“We have an audacious goal. It’s a goal that scientists are telling us we must meet: Net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We need to completely get rid of our reliance on fossil fuels,” Raphael said.

In 2017, San Francisco emissions totaled 5.3 million metric tons, a decrease from 1990.(Courtesy Art)
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