San Diego is the first city in the United States to develop a climate action plan that is legally-binding, so the planning team was tasked with creating an entirely new plan of action. Doing so required communication among both city departments and political parties. The Mayor of San Diego is a Republican, while the City Council is majority Democratic. Passing the plan, therefore, meant that the proposed initiatives and reduction targets had to gain approval from a range of parties with historically-differing perspectives on the issue of climate change. On top of this, the goal of making the plan legally-binding further complicated the approval process.
After the plan was championed by San Diego’s republican mayor and unanimously approved by a Democratic-majority City Council, the city of San Diego adopted a set of ambitious targets, notably committing to reaching 100% renewable electricity citywide by 2035. In the interest of accountability and enforcement, the plan is led and monitored by the City’s Economic Development Department which works to integrate goals relating to sustainability, job creation, economic growth, community development, open data accessibility and technology. The primary goal of the plan is to achieve massive reduction in CO2, 50% by 2035 and 15% by 2020 using a 2010 baseline. As of right now, they are already reporting at 17% below 2010 levels. The secondary component of the plan emphasizes climate resiliency and aims to reduce San Diego’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change by increasing tree canopy cover by 15% by 2020 and 35% by 2035. Expanded tree cover and green space acts to reduce heat island effect in the city as well as to absorb storm water and decrease flood risks. The plan specifically addresses the future challenges of heatwaves, prolonged drought, sea level rise and magnified storm and flooding events that San Diego faces as a result of climate change.
The San Diego Climate Action Plan is an ambitious initiative which proves the potential for bipartisan leadership in climate change work. The plan sets a powerful example for other cities pursuing climate action, regardless of leadership and political parties. By incorporating a legal mechanism, San Diego’s climate action plan stands out in that it provides a new level of assurance that the city will deliver on its established objectives. The document itself has been written in such a way that allows for change and adaption in the face of future challenges and will operate as part of an ongoing project to build a greener, more resilient San Diego.