Year-Round Climate Action in San Francisco
Our approach to reaching net-zero emissions by 2040
The climate crisis is daunting, but we can’t let the scale of the challenge prevent us from taking action to create a city and a world that’s healthier and more resilient. With global climate change rapidly accelerating and already affecting us today, we must address this challenge by working together. That’s why our city’s environmental priorities are woven into everything we do.
San Francisco’s Ambitious Goals
As of 2019, San Francisco has already reduced carbon emissions by 41% below 1990 levels. Last summer, to build on our progress, we set newer and more ambitious goals to reduce emissions to 61% below 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040. To keep pace with what the science shows us is necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change and to achieve our goals we are focused on six major areas: housing, transportation and land use, energy, buildings, zero waste, and healthy ecosystems.
The Road to Reductions: Our Climate Action Plan
Last December, I released San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan, laying out the strategies and actions needed to turn our ambitious goals into reality. As shown below, the two big-ticket items in terms of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation and building operations, which is why half of the top climate solutions in our plan are focused on transportation and land use.
This Plan, and all the work that’s coming out of it, would not be possible without the work of so many City departments. There is a lot of work going on throughout the City to keep San Francisco one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in the world, and I’m proud to be mayor of a city where climate action is an embedded value in the work of so many City staff.
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco, with private cars and trucks producing the majority of those emissions. Successfully shifting trips to transit, walking, and biking can be done by redesigning streets to make our Muni buses and light rail travel more efficient and reimagining streets as places for people of all ages and abilities. Our Muni fleet is the greenest in North America, and we are adding new electric buses to improve the sustainability of our vehicles.
Two of our recent efforts are perfect examples of this work in action: the Van Ness Improvement Project and Car-Free JFK.
Van Ness Improvement Project. As of yesterday, April 1, San Francisco’s first Bus Rapid Transit project is officially up and running! The project will make traveling by transit along Van Ness Avenue faster and more convenient while reducing traffic congestion along the corridor.
Making JFK Permanently Car-Free. I recently introduced legislation to make sure JFK remains a place for people over cars, which will help us meet our Vision Zero, air pollution, and sustainable transportation goals.
Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Fuel
As we work to get people out of cars and onto sustainable modes of transit, we know we’ll still have vehicles that remain on the road, and we want those to be zero-emission.
In 2019, San Francisco published an EV Roadmap which outlines San Francisco’s goal to make transportation 100% emissions-free by 2040 and the steps needed to get there.
Additionally, the City has been pushing forward policies to help us transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels. These include:
- Reducing red-tape and barriers that inhibit publicly accessible EV charging stations.
- Providing financial incentives to add electric vehicle chargers in new buildings through EV Charge SF.
- Supporting sustainable aviation fuel at SFO.
- Expanding the City’s fleet of battery-electric buses.
Housing policy is climate policy, and when we create more housing we address both the affordability crisis and the climate crisis at the same time. When we don’t build housing, we push working people into longer and longer commutes, which creates pollution and gridlock across the entire Bay Area. When we do build housing near transit and in walkable neighborhoods, we create opportunities for people to walk, bike, and commute short distances by train and bus.
There are steps we can take right now to address this. For example, currently I have legislation pending at the Board of Supervisors called Cars to Casas that makes it easier and faster to convert gas stations, parking lots, and other lots zoned for car-centric uses into housing. This is a key step we can take to bring more housing to neighborhoods across our City and to fight climate change.
In 2020, I set a goal of building at least 5,000 new homes per year for the next ten years. But we aren’t ever going to reach that goal if we don’t break down the obstructionism that blocks housing at every turn. I’ve tried inside City Hall, and we’ve made some incremental progress, but we’ve been blocked on the big ideas, like my Housing Charter Amendment. So we are going to the voters. Because over and over again, I’ve heard from our residents–they want to cut the bureaucracy and build more housing so we can be a city that is more accessible for those who are forced to commute long distances.
Buildings are responsible for 41% of San Francisco’s emissions. That’s why as of 2021, all new constructed buildings in San Francisco must have all-electric infrastructure that doesn’t use fossil-fuels like natural gas. This ensures that we’re not creating new, unnecessary gas infrastructure as building operations are responsible for 41% of San Francisco’s emissions. At the same time, we’re advancing efforts to require that large commercial buildings make the switch to 100% renewable electricity, with all large commercial buildings of 500,000 square feet or more having to be on 100% renewable electricity by the end of this year.
We know this work isn’t easy. That’s why we’re working to create a one-stop-shop for contractors and building owners to access all the resources, financial support, and technical information they need to transition existing buildings away from fossil fuels sources like natural gas and onto cleaner, all-electric alternatives. I know that many people have connections to their gas-powered appliances like stoves and ovens, but if we want to be a city that truly leads, we need everyone to do their part.
A cornerstone of San Francisco’s climate efforts is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC)’s power programs– CleanPowerSF and Hetch Hetchy Power, which provide clean, affordable, and reliable electricity for thousands of San Francisco residents and businesses. These programs help us tackle the climate crisis head on. Instead of relying on fossil fuels, the SFPUC generates clean hydro-electric power through the Hetch Hetchy Power System and sources wind, solar, and geothermal power to serve over 70 percent of the electricity demand in San Francisco.
This clean energy adds up. Since the program launched in 2016, CleanPowerSF has helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use by 94% from 1990 levels. Today, 83% of San Francisco’s electricity is from greenhouse gas free sources, and we are well on our way to achieving 100% renewable electricity by 2025.
Thanks to CleanPowerSF, you don’t have to wait until 2025 to start receiving 100% renewable electricity today. Thousands of San Francisco businesses and residents have already made the switch to 100% renewable SuperGreen service. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee every month, you can too. It’s one action we can all take to make a difference today.
- To upgrade to CleanPowerSF SuperGreen service, visit: www.cleanpowersf.org/supergreen
- To learn more about making your space more energy efficient and powered by renewable energy, please visit here.
- If you are a Hetch Hetchy Power customer, please visit here.
As we think about our actions on climate, we need to make sure we’re using resources wisely. That means remembering to bring your reusable bags when you go shopping, using your own coffee thermos at your local café, and composting your food scraps when cooking.
Waste and landfill products are sources of methane gas, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. That’s why San Francisco has advanced several programs to reduce waste. Nearly 40% of food produced in the United States goes to waste. This uneaten food represents losses of billions of dollars, pollutes the environment, and contributes to the climate emergency.
- Reusables instead of Plastics: With the ReThink Disposable program, SF Environment provides technical assistance to support businesses to reduce waste and cut costs.
- Citywide composting: For the past 25 years, San Francisco’s composting program has played a mighty role in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The food scraps that residents and businesses deposit into the City’s green compost bins are diverted from the landfill, where they would otherwise produce harmful methane gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Instead of harming the climate, composted food scraps become nutrient-rich fertilizer that benefits local farmers and vineyards.
- KitchenZeroSF: Since the launch of Kitchen Zero SF in 2019, the program has helped recover more than 418,000 pounds of food and get 348,000 meals distributed to community members in need. More info about this program is here.
Access to open spaces and parks are essential for the health and wellbeing of our residents–and our planet. Not only do they create places for people to connect with nature and with one another, but the plants and trees provide a natural solution to climate change by storing carbon. To get to net-zero emission by 2040, we need to grow our urban forest and protect our city’s biodiversity, and through the work of our StreetTreeSF program, we are doing just that.
In partnership with the State’s Clean California grant program, we’re making progress on creating a new Street Tree Nursery. This will help us to meet our goal to plant 30,000 trees by 2040, with a focus on neighborhoods that currently do not have much coverage. As we face hotter temperatures, the shade these trees will provide and their cooling effects will help our communities adapt to the changing climate.
San Francisco is fortunate to already have a great network of parks, with all residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park. But that hasn’t slowed down the Recreation and Parks Departments’ efforts to improve play and green spaces and create new ones. Last summer, we broke ground on India Basin Shoreline Park. Once complete, India Basin will be an extraordinary shoreline park that reflects the neighborhood’s history, arts and culture, while restoring natural habitats and wetlands and increasing the City’s resiliency to sea-level rise.
The City also completed construction on a new Nature Exploration Area at Heron’s Head Park, giving our city’s children a safe, spacious area to cultivate their imaginations, connect with friends, and learn about the natural world. With more open space projects coming along our former industrial waterfront, we are making investments in greener spaces in neighborhoods that have borne the brunt of our polluting past.
It takes all of us
Addressing the climate crisis requires a collaborative effort from everyone in our city. Yes, there are broad, systemic changes needed to address the full scope of the crisis–like getting off of fossil fuels and holding producers of oil, gas, plastic, and harmful toxins accountable. However, each of us can do things with our families and with our communities to participate in this transition to a healthier future like switching to 100% renewable electricity, converting gas appliances for all-electric, taking transit, biking, and walking instead of driving, and conserving water.
- To find out more about how you can live healthier, save money, and support the environment, please visit here.
- You can also join the San Francisco community for a variety of events, activities, and workshops during Climate Action Month here.
Managing Water Wisely
Despite rains and snow this winter, we are still in a drought. To help extend our water supplies, the SFPUC declared a Water Shortage Emergency in November 2021, calling for a 10% reduction in water use across our regional system. We’re asking everyone to continue to use water wisely to help us make it through this drought. For water conservation tips and to get free water conservation resources, please visit here.
Even when we’re not in a drought, San Francisco is advancing innovative programs to reuse water. For example, the SFPUC identified an opportunity to reuse water at breweries in the City. Last October, we celebrated the City’s largest commercial water reuse project at Anchor Brewing in Potrero Hill.
We’re also upgrading our stormwater systems and adding more green infrastructure throughout the City to ensure that our combined sewer and stormwater system does not become overwhelmed during storms.
Building our Resilience
Extreme heat, poor air quality, rising sea levels, floods, and drought are impacting all San Franciscans, especially our most vulnerable. It is critical that the City eliminate and sequester emissions while also safeguarding for current and future hazards.
We have several efforts underway to make San Francisco more resilient to climate change, including ClimateSF, a group of City departments working collaboratively on various programs. In addition to the Climate Action Plan, the ClimateSF team is working on the Waterfront Resilience Program, Ocean Beach Climate Change Adaptation Project, Islais Creek, and the Heat and Air Quality Resilience Project, among others.
As we seek to reduce our emissions and reach net-zero, we must advance climate action goals that will also build a more just, equitable society. We know that the most significant consequences of climate change will be felt by those communities that have historically been left behind — Black, Latino, Asian Pacific Islander communities, Indigenous communities, people with disabilities, low-income families, and other vulnerable populations. To advance climate justice, our Climate Action Plan makes four core commitments:
- Build greater racial and social equity
- Protect public health
- Increase community resilience
- Foster a more just economy
We must continue to work together to protect our communities, save our planet, and achieve a healthier, more just and sustainable future. There’s a lot of work ahead to create a future built on justice, equal opportunity, and environmental protection, and I’m confident that we can get there together.
To read the full Climate Action Plan, please visit here.