26 Oct 2011
San Francisco’s leadership in carbon emission reduction

The City of San Francisco has achieved remarkable gains in climate change mitigation, reducing carbon emissions by 12%. The new Mayor of San Francisco, Mayor Edwin M. Lee recently announced on October 19 that San Francisco greenhouse gas emissions are nearly 12 percent below 1990 levels and have exceeded emission reduction goals set by both the United Nations and the State even as the population has grown.

“I thank former Mayor Gavin Newsom for beginning our City’s innovative and aggressive climate change policies that have boosted our local economy and advanced our City’s environmental goals to reduce green house gas emissions,” said Mayor Lee. “San Francisco is leading the way toward a future of green jobs and a growing green economy built on renewable energy for a cleaner and healthier environment.”

The Business Council on Climate Change (BC3) is one of the very important initiatives established by Mayor Newsom to address climate change, the first of the Global Compact Cities Programme Innovating projects.

“San Francisco is leading by example towards California’s green future by drastically reducing carbon emissions greater than any other U.S. city and surpassing international standards through tough climate change policies,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. “Cities are proving to be the primary agents of action to address the world’s climate change problem. We need other cities to follow San Francisco’s lead if we are going to reduce worldwide carbon emissions and halt climate change.”

San Francisco’s cross sectoral collaboration has been very important in rallying forces to combat climate change. “San Francisco’s early success reducing greenhouse gas emissions is an important example of what can be done when a city mobilizes municipal government, businesses, and residents to tackle climate change,” said Natural Resources Defense Council Deputy Director for Sustainable Communities Amanda Eaken. “The results in San Francisco send a hopeful signal to national policymakers and other cities and states that cutting emissions is possible while still maintaining an attractive environment for business.”

“Savvy cities get that protecting the environment is a business opportunity. San Francisco is capturing that opportunity and leading the way on climate change solutions,” said Environmental Defense Fund Vice President David H. Festa.

A 2010 data analysis shows that San Francisco’s citywide carbon footprint totaled 5.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2010. This compares with 6.2 million metric tons in 1990. The analysis, conducted by the San Francisco Department of the Environment (SFE), covered the three primary sources of carbon emissions: buildings, transportation and waste.

“Our citywide carbon reductions – the equivalent of taking 128,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the burning of 1.5 million barrels of oil every year – are the result of the hard work and collaboration of many City departments, private sector partnerships and San Francisco residents,” said SFE Director Melanie Nutter. “This shows us how far we have come and will be critical in developing plans to continue on our clean and green path.”

With this announcement, San Francisco surpasses international and statewide emissions targets established as part of the Kyoto Protocol calling for emission reductions of 7 percent by 2012, and California’s landmark climate law AB 32 calling for statewide emissions to return to 1990 levels by 2020.

San Francisco is making steady progress reducing its carbon footprint even as population and electricity use increases. The City’s population has grown from 724,000 in 1990 to 805,000 in 2010, and electricity use has increased 13 percent over the same period.

San Francisco’s success in cutting greenhouse gas emissions demonstrates significant progress in meeting its targets of reducing carbon emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the end of 2012, and by 80 percent by 2050. No other city has shown the extent of emission reductions reported in San Francisco’s new analysis.

The largest contributing factor to the carbon reductions was the closure of the City’s two remaining inefficient natural gas power plants at Hunter’s Point in 2006 and Potrero last year.

“Getting rid of dirty power – like we did by shutting down the Hunters Point and Potrero power plants, which were major sources of environmental pollution in the low-income southeast section of San Francisco for decades – and replacing it with clean power benefits the entire city,” said Bayview-Hunters Point community activist Espanola Jackson.

At the same time, San Francisco’s electricity mix is growing increasingly cleaner. Electricity for the City’s municipal operations comes primarily from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s carbon-free Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric system in the Sierras, and approximately seven megawatts of solar projects on municipal facilities around the City.

Other contributing factors to San Francisco’s emissions reduction achievements include local investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, and progress in waste diversion through recycling and composting. SFE’s analysis showed that the City’s mandatory waste recycling and composting law resulted in the diversion of 1.5 million tons of waste in 2009 that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. The City now leads the nation among major U.S. cities with a 78 percent diversion/recycling rate, a one percent improvement over last year.

Mayor Lee will develop a policy framework for our City to aggressively reach longer term carbon reduction goals, including ensuring that 100 percent of San Francisco’s electricity needs come from renewable sources; maximizing commercial and residential energy efficiency, particularly measures that reduce natural gas use; improving transit, biking, walking and electric vehicle infrastructure to encourage more widespread use of clean transportation modes; and using higher blends of biodiesel in MUNI and other City fleets.

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