David Yu

5 Jun 2017
San Francisco’s leadership on collaborative climate action

The US might be out of the Paris Agreement but San Francisco, a city leader on climate action, is standing firm.

President Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement, on June 1, even coming as no surprise still sent shock waves throughout the world but his withdrawal of the US from it did not weaken over 200+ US City Mayor’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement to curb carbon emissions.

In the US, San Francisco’s Mayor Edwin Lee reaffirmed his city commitment and push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and of working together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.

“In the absence of federal leadership, San Francisco will continue to take aggressive measures on climate change. Our City is proof that strong action on climate change is good for the planet and good for business”.

“Since 1990, we have reduced our citywide emissions by 28 percent even while our population has grown by 19 percent and our local economy by 78 percent,” said Mayor Lee in a written statement.

Helping San Francisco lead the nation among major US cities with a 78 per cent diversion/recycling rate and drastically reducing carbon emissions is The Business Council on Climate Change (BC3), – a partnership of business and local governments dedicated to forging collaborative, local solutions to climate change.

BC3 was born just over a decade ago through an innovative pilot project in San Francisco, the first US city to commit to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC).

In 2005, the San Francisco business community and the City of San Francisco trialed the Melbourne model of the UNGC – Cities Programme by coming together as a multi-sector task force to tackle climate change with the aim of reducing the city’s emissions.

This resulted in the establishment in 2007 of BC3 a non-profit organisation whose focus has grown to engaging San Francisco’s large corporate sector in establishing the city as a global model for local climate solutions.

This engagement has taken the form of spreading best practices across the San Francisco business community and facilitating collaborative projects that address challenges that no single business or economic sector can tackle alone.

Challenges like meeting San Francisco City government’s pledge that at least 50 percent of San Francisco’s citywide electricity will be renewable by 2020, and 100 percent renewable no later than 2030.

BC3 flagship projects include action towards reaching zero waste, sustainable mobility, increasing carbon sequestration potential in the Bay Area rangelands and helping accelerate renewable energy investments for mid-sized companies by developing an aggregated Virtual Power Purchase Agreement.

For instance, BC3’s 2016 Bay Area SunShares program brought together 40 local governments and large corporations to offer discounts and free education on residential solar and electric vehicles to their residents and employees. The 2016 program resulted in 783 kW of new residential solar across the Bay Area, and sales of 25 electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and Solar installations totalling nearly 5 MWs.

BC3’s success is in a large part explained by its public/private collaboration strategy, its proven ability to engage the private sector to partner with government in tackling the critical global challenges facing San Francisco and their shared commitment to San Francisco’s Climate Action Strategy.

Having closely aligned its work with California’s long-term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 (over 1990 baselines), in the near term, BC3 is focused on accelerating progress toward the “0-50-100-Roots” goals laid out in San Francisco’s Climate Action Strategy:

  • Send 0 waste to landfill
  • Achieve a 50 percent “sustainable” trip rate in San Francisco (this includes trips taken by walking, biking, public transport, or other non-private auto means), while electrifying remaining private auto trips
  • Achieve 100% renewable energy
  • Plant trees, improve soils, expand urban green spaces, and create native habitat

A strategy that has driven the 13th most populated city in the US to milestones like  becoming the first American city requiring rooftop solar in new buildings or smashing through its renewable energy record with its largest grid getting 67.2 percent of its energy from renewables (2017).

San Francisco is not the only American city committing to bold targets, like transitioning to 100 percent clean energy by 2030, at least 25 other US cities have committed to it, but its innovative solutions and collaborative model of engagement on climate are certainly setting the bar high as a model for other cities to follow.

City innovation has been the foundation of the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme since its establishment in 2003 and we are proud that San Francisco, one of our innovating cities, has continued to show leadership on collaborative climate action and is a successful model for multi-sector task forces of public, private and civil society coming together on climate change initiatives that deliver tangible impacts city-wide.

Further reading

City of San Francisco –  Innovating City 2017 Communication on Engagement Report

City Partnership ProspectusSmart City Solutions Case Study: The San Francisco Business Council For Climate Change


Written by Catia Nunes

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