S.F. Maps Ambitious Path to Zero Emissions by 2050

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Luminalt solar installer Pam Quan moves a solar panel during an installation on the roof of a San Francisco home on May 9, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Francisco officials laid out a sweeping plan this week for the city to reach zero net emissions by 2050.

The Department of the Environment on Monday presented its broad-ranging report to members of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee, offering recommendations for deep greenhouse gas reductions in the city's transportation and building sectors, which together make up more than 90% of the total emissions.

The report serves as a road map for achieving the net-zero goals proposed by Mayor London Breed in September and announced at the Global Climate Action Summit.

Central to the plan is the city's mandate to supply energy exclusively from renewable energy sources within 30 years (currently, less than 70% comes from renewable sources).

"If San Francisco maintains and deepens its commitment to supplying 100% renewable electricity; prioritizes low-carbon forms of mobility such as transit, walking and biking; reduces our consumption of energy; and transitions away from fossil fuels, the city could realize a 68% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2050," the report states.

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The biggest emissions reduction challenge is in the transportation sector, the report notes, which is responsible for nearly half of all citywide emissions. As such, it recommends a much greater reliance on walking, biking and public transit, with the goal of 80% of all trips made without a car by 2030, and the electrification of all private cars and trucks by 2040.

To reduce emissions from buildings, which account for 44% of the city's total emissions — split almost evenly between commercial and residential properties — the plan calls for replacing natural gas systems with high-efficiency electric space and water heaters.

The report points to the progress San Francisco has already made in this area, noting the major increase in the number of energy-efficient buildings, including most city-owned properties. Despite the spike in development in the city, and the proliferation of energy-sucking electronic devices, it notes, emissions from buildings have actually declined by about half their 1990 levels.

“There aren’t too many surprises [in the report]," said Charles Sheehan, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment. "We’ve got to fuel switch in the transportation sector and fuel switch in the building sector."

The report also calls for a 15% reduction in total waste by 2030, as well as halving the amount of trash sent to landfills or incinerated by doubling down on recycling and composting.

But even if all those goals are met, the report notes, there are some emissions the city simply can't eliminate. To that end, it recommends capturing and storing carbon to fully reach net-zero emissions. That entails sequestering carbon by increasing the number of trees in the city, restoring ecosystems and applying more compost.

"We’re going to work to get as close as zero as we possibly can, but that is very challenging work," said Sheehan. "The carbon sequestration strategy — pulling carbon out of air — that’s how you get to net-zero goals."