San Francisco Commits to Climate Protection Plan

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 28, 2004 (ENS) - San Francisco is moving to slash greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming, without waiting for the federal government to lead the way, Mayor Gavin Newsome said on Monday.

Joined by global climate change experts, community leaders and local agency officials at San Francisco’s Heron’s Head Park, which could someday be submerged by rising seas, along with other Bay Area wetlands, coastlines and properties, Mayor Newsom released his Climate Action Plan.

The plan details actions that local government agencies, residents and businesses can take to reduce San Francisco’s annual emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) by more than 2.5 million tons by 2012.

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome (Photo courtesy Office of the Mayor)
“Global climate change is a real and looming threat to our economy, our public health and our environment,” said Newsom. “But when the current administration in Washington refuses to cooperate with the rest of the world to reduce greenhouse gases, it is even more important that San Francisco and other cities across this country demonstrate real environmental leadership and take specific, local steps to cut emissions and protect our future.”

The Climate Action Plan, a joint project of the San Francisco Department of the Environment and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), puts San Francisco on a course to exceed the greenhouse gas emissions limits under the Kyoto climate protocol ratified by more than 121 nations.

The protocol was signed by the United States under the Clinton administration, but President George W. Bush declined to send it to the Senate for ratification, saying the U.S. economy would be harmed by the limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

"We have a responsibility to act," the city administration says in the Climate Action Plan. San Francisco currently emits 9.7 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year. To meet the new plan’s target, San Franciscans must reduce annual emissions to 7.2 million tons by 2012, a rollback of 2.5 million tons.

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San Francisco is a coastal city, vulnerable to sea level rise. (Photo by Julia Brownlee courtesy NOAA)
A coastal city, San Francisco faces potential threats from global climate change that include a reduced snowpack in the mountains that would reduce the water supply, a rise in air pollution levels that would increase the risk of asthma, and the threat of increased West Nile virus and tropical diseases moving north.

Flooded roads, threats to the sewage system and airport infrastructure, threatened Bay wetlands and marine life, fishing and tourism industry impacts, plus high insurance and mitigation costs are some of the problems the city could face if the climate warms and sea levels rise as a result of melting polar ice.

The United States has the highest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases in the world – 22 tons of CO2 per person per year. With only five percent of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for 24 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.

California, despite its strong environmental regulations, is the second largest greenhouse-gas polluting state in the nation, and emits two percent of all global human-generated emissions. Its largest contribution of CO2 is from vehicle emissions.

A central pillar of the plan is the introduction of “greener” alternative fuel and hybrid transportation fleets, the mayor said, just three days after the California Air Resources Board approved a requirement that all cars sold in California emit a lower level of greenhouse gases by 2009.

The plan calls for transit improvements, increased transit ridership, investment in alternative energies, recycling and energy conservation.

The city will establish an interdepartmental working group to monitor implementation, track progress and quantify CO2 emissions and reductions.

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Traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge (Photo by Julia Brownlee courtesy NOAA)
“When it comes to global warming, the Climate Action Plan is San Francisco’s opportunity to think globally by acting locally,” said Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“By partnering with other city departments, local business and residents, we can cut emissions and lighten the load on California’s electric grid through renewable energy and energy efficiency programs,” she said.

San Francisco is already moving to incorporate solar power into its energy mix. Earlier this year, the SFPUC completed the largest city owned solar power system in the nation atop Moscone Convention Center.

The Commission is partnering with the Department of the Environment to install solar power systems on municipal properties, businesses and residences across the city.

San Francisco promotes energy efficiency through the Department of Environment’s Peak Energy Program, which aims to reduce electricity demand in San Francisco by 16 megawatts, and through the recently adopted Green Building Ordinance requiring environmentally friendly building design standards in city construction projects.

Come of the transportation steps identified in the Climate Action Plan also are already underway. The city has more than 700 clean air vehicles in its transportation fleet, and more than half of the city’s transportation fleet is comprised of zero-emission vehicles.

Earlier this month, the Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved the acquisition of a fleet of 56 diesel-electric hybrid buses for the Municipal Railway (Muni) with an option for 56 more. In addition, 40 smaller hybrid buses may also be purchased.

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New electric trolley bus in San Francisco (Photo courtesy MUNI)
Muni will be the first California transit agency to buy buses with the latest hybrid bus technology, taking advantage of the new California Air Resource Board regulations that Muni worked to have implemented. The acquisition will allow the removal of the oldest diesel buses from Muni's fleet.

MTA Executive Director Michael Burns said, "Muni is poised to be the first major multi-modal transit agency in the world to be emissions free by 2020, and hybrid buses are an important step toward that goal."

Muni's Zero Emissions 2020 Plan, presented to the MTA board earlier this year, calls for Muni to establish an all-electric drive fleet that includes hybrid buses, battery buses, and fuel-cell buses by 2020.

The city already sponsors programs to promote low-emission taxicabs and natural-gas, long-haul garbage trucks.

“Responding to future threats with immediate action takes vision and discipline,” said Jared Blumenfeld, director of the Department of Environment. “We need to take action now, even though the impacts of climate change may take decades to fully unfold."

"Regardless of the reluctance of national leaders to address this issue," said Blumenfeld, "San Francisco will join in a forceful campaign to roll back greenhouse gas emissions and ensure a healthy future for us all.”

San Francisco is among 600 cities around the world taking action through the Cities for Climate Protection campaign of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.