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S.F. embraces aggressive new climate change goals as drought, heat and wildfires engulf California

San Francisco set new, more ambitious climate change goals Tuesday, including getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions produced in the city by 2040, as wildfires, drought and heat waves worsened by climate change plague California and floods in Europe grab headlines.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an update to the environment code that pledges the city will cut its greenhouse gas emissions to at least 61% below 1990 levels by 2030. The city wants to reduce emissions generated outside city borders for products consumed in San Francisco – such as the carbon footprint of SFO air travel – by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.

“These new, bold targets put us on track to reduce our emissions more quickly – with the urgency that climate change demands and with social and racial equity at the forefront of our work,” Mayor London Breed, who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement Tuesday.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in a statement that the goals commit the city to “achieving a zero-carbon future as soon as possible” as “the climate crisis is upon us.”

But some say change is still not fast enough to address a climate emergency that the Board declared two years ago, leading Supervisor Dean Preston to propose Monday to slightly increase the city’s goals and reduce the timeline to get to net zero. Advocates who called into the meeting pointed to the smoke that shrouded San Francisco in eerie orange last year and drought and blazes this year foreshadowing another harrowing wildfire season as evidence of a climate crisis and the need for more radical action.

Cyndy Comerford, the Department of the Environment’s climate policy manager, told supervisors during committee Monday that the targets are “an aggressive, accelerated timeline, but achievable.” She agreed with the urgency of the situation, but pushing even more ambitious goals posed some legal and logistical challenges and would require financial investment, political will and public support. The Department of the Environment said increasing goals as proposed by Preston was infeasible, but agreed to move up the city’s timeline to get to net zero emissions by five years.

Curbing climate change is complicated and costly. For example, a recent city report estimated that banning natural gas appliances in San Francisco and converting them to electric could cost up to $6 billion. The environment code approved Tuesday doesn’t dictate exactly how the city will reach its goals and will require more legislative policies down the line.

The approved code painted a vision of a San Francisco with cleaner air, fewer vehicles on the road and more reliable transit systems, bike lanes, pedestrian-friendly roads and efficient homes. It also envisioned more businesses powered by clean electricity and robust green spaces. The goals to get there focus on six areas:

• Reduce solid waste generation by at least 15% below 2015 levels and reduce the amount of waste incinerated or dumped in a landfill by at least 50% below 2015 levels by 2030

• Make at least 80% of all trips low-carbon and at least 25% of all private cars electric by 2030 – and increase electric cars to 100% by 2040

• Supply 100% renewable electricity by 2025 and 100% renewable energy by 2040

• Build 5,000 new housing units per year, including at least 30% affordable units

• Require zero onsite fossil fuel emissions from all buildings by 2021 and zero onsite fossil fuel emissions from all large existing commercial buildings by 2035

• Capture carbon through trees, natural infrastructure and compost to get to net zero emissions

San Francisco’s previous goals aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2025, a target the city already reached in 2019.

“While this is really exciting news, it’s not time for us to be complacent,” Comerford said. “It’s time to be pushing for policies and investments that we need.”

Supervisors in committee Monday pushed for more ambitious goals and a greater emphasis on supporting a changing workforce and building affordable housing, not just all housing near transit. Supervisor Aaron Peskin pointed out the environmental impact of San Francisco workers commuting by car from the Central Valley because they can’t afford to live in the city.

Half a dozen advocates criticized in public comment Monday that the city isn’t doing enough in response to the climate crisis. One caller labeled the goals “pathetic and unacceptable for a city with the wealth and expertise of San Francisco.”

A letter from the San Francisco Climate Emergency Coalition to Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors urged a reduction of at least 90% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

“We are in the climate emergency now, and even among privileged San Franciscans, our ability to meet our basic life needs is becoming more precarious with every extra ton of greenhouse gas that goes into the atmosphere,” the letter read. “Now the City needs to prioritize this action as if our lives depended on it. Because they do.”


Mallory Moench is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter:@mallorymoench

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