San Diego County

Carbon Net-Zero ‘Achieveable' in San Diego County, But Not Without Collaboration


San Diego County supervisors were told Wednesday that plans to reduce the region's carbon emissions to zero by 2035 are achievable, but will require collaboration between local governments and multiple agencies.

After hearing from the public on Wednesday, board Chairman Nathan Fletcher reminded people that the San Diego Regional Decarbonization Framework is a first draft and the county has "many, many months ahead" before passing any formal plan.

In January, supervisors asked for the report when they voted to "pursue leading an effort to move the entire region -- not just the unincorporated county within its jurisdiction -- toward net zero-carbon emissions," according to a county statement.

The effort requires the county to work closely with the region's 18 cities and agencies, such as the San Diego Association of Governments.

UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy is the lead group behind the initial report, which proposes strategies intended to reduce regional carbon emissions to net-zero levels no later than 2045, matching the carbon neutrality goal California set in 2018.

It concludes that local governments have become the de-facto leaders in the race to reduce greenhouse gases "in the absence of meaningful international action," and says they're "on the front lines of both climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts."

Gordon McCord, an associate dean with the School of Global Policy and Strategy, told the board Wednesday that "the spirit of the work is not to identify the one correct path," but to offer various options on how to roll out a plan.

Solutions could include locating renewable energy projects in Imperial County or Mexico, infill solar and more trees in urban areas, and wetland protection, he said.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said whatever plan the county finally approves, "there's not a magic bullet, there's not a perfect solution. Whatever we do, there's going to be tradeoffs," she added.

Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas said she was pleased that climate justice is a factor in the plan, but said the county must also consider how to help people working in the traditional energy field transition to greener jobs.

Supervisor Jim Desmond praised the presentation, and said he agrees that the county must reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We may have different ideas about how to get there," Desmond said, adding the county must balance any plan with other vital interests, including the agricultural economy and meeting housing needs.

Supervisor Joel Anderson raised concerns on safeguards to protect power sources in case of severe weather and other solutions, including wave technology and emphasizing local agriculture. Anderson said that while growing up in Detroit, Michigan, he saw how auto industry job losses impacted families, and said they still hamper economic recovery in that Midwestern city.

"I don't think any worker should be left behind," he said. "I want the best solutions, I don't want to be narrow-minded in our approach."

During an hour-plus public hearing, environmental and labor groups also weighed in on how the county should advance the decarbonization plan. Labor representatives took issue with how many workers would move from more polluting industries to cleaner ones, while environmental advocates urged the supervisors to take immediate action.

Kelvin Barrios of Laborers Local 89 said the report offered no solutions to job loss, and that higher energy prices would hurt working families. Barrios said climate change is real, but jobs are at stake as well.

"This report, we feel, is kicking the can down the road," he added. " We want to be involved in the (process), and believe we can come up with a better solution."

Rick Bates with Unite Here Local 30 suggested the county should establish a formal office to make sure that a just job transition happens.

He added it will still take careful coordination with labor leaders "to make sure that no worker is left behind in this process," Bates said. "If anyone can lead us to zero carbon, it's this Board of Supervisors."

Karinna Gonzalez, a policy advisor with Hammond Climate Solutions, said she hoped the draft report will serve as a model for other jurisdictions.

"We need strategies that will help us make meaningful strides," Gonzales said, adding residents are looking to county leadership to help ensure a livable future.

Masada Disenhouse, executive director of San Diego350, said the county needs to implement plan now, even if residents and businesses are temporarily impacted.

"The framework has the potential to transform our response to the climate crisis," she added.

The report found the county is in the right position to help lead the efforts for several reasons.

First, it has direct influence over greenhouse gas reduction in several areas, such as through its land use development authority in unincorporated areas.

It also has indirect influence with elected officials countywide and has a role in developing and acquiring electricity as a member of San Diego Community Power.

It is also a voting member of several agencies and boards with authority over transit, water and air quality. That includes SANDAG, the San Diego Air Pollution Control District, the Metropolitan Transit District and North County Transit District and the San Diego Regional Airport Authority.

The three largest sources of emissions in San Diego are light-duty vehicles at 37%, electricity at 23% and natural gas in buildings at 8%, according to the report.

The report proposes several key targets in the effort to reduce emissions, including:

-- transitioning away from natural gas-powered electricity plants, creating more solar and wind electricity plants and potentially upgrading transmission lines;

-- decreasing the miles people travel and increasing the use of mass transit; and

-- using electricity rather than natural gas to heat water and spaces, and electric heat pumps instead of furnaces and air conditioners.

Additionally, the report said "the simplest, most effective, least expensive solution is to continue to protect and preserve natural and working lands."

The report was first released late last month and is expected to be finalized in February. Secondary studies assessing the impact decarbonization would have on jobs and reviewing climate action policies and social equity across the region will complete the full report next August.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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