The San Diego Foundation Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement has released a report assessing the progress of local action on climate change in the San Diego region by comparing local government action to widely accepted milestones of climate action planning.
The report highlights how the San Diego region has taken a leadership role in dealing with the challenge of climate change. It has done this so by forging an unprecedented collaboration of philanthropy, business, and all local governments in the region, to protect the region’s spectacular natural resources and enviable quality of life.
Specifics of the report include a review of federal, state, and local policy and funding initiatives; California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and the actions of regional leaders in public and private agencies in addressing climate change.
The San Diego region’s progress is especially significant given the past year of extreme weather events across the country. In fact,
- 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the continental U.S.
- The 10 warmest years on record have happened in the last 15 years.
- 34,008 new daily high records were set at weather stations across the country in 2012, and a total of 11 disasters exceeded a threshold of $1 billion in damages.
- In San Diego County, the last decade has been the worst for wildfires in a century, with two of the most extensive wildfires burning more than 800,000 acres.
- The San Diego region is expected to face a large array of future impacts from climate change including a three-fold increase in heat waves by 2050 and a 50-50 chance a major source of water—Lake Mead—will essentially dry up by 2021
“Left unchecked, climate change will lead to worsened air quality and increased health risks, particularly to people with asthma or other chronic lung or heart disease,” notes Jane Warner, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Lung Association in California. “Now that each city in the San Diego region has an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions sources, communities can and should use that as a guide to reduce these harmful pollutants.”
How well is the San Diego region prepared?
According to Bob Kelly, President and CEO of The San Diego Foundation, the assessment illustrates many reasons for optimism when considering how far the region has come since 2006, when just two local governments had plans in place to address climate change. Today, all 19 local governments (18 cities and the County of San Diego) have performed greenhouse gas emissions inventories and more than half are working on, or have adopted, a Climate Action Plan to reduce those emissions and prepare for local impacts.
“The San Diego region is world-renowned for its great outdoors and quality of life,” said Kelly. “Since our region is changing and growing, with the population projected to grow by 50 percent within four decades, we need to come together now to assure our pristine region remains viable for future generations. We should be thankful for the government leadership of the cities, Port and County who took action to ensure we all have a bright future. Too often we hear about lack of action, but in this case we have very positive actions with local governments working together and partnering today with philanthropic organizations,” he continued.
Dr. Emily Young, The San Diego Foundation’s senior director of Environment Analysis and Strategy, noted that in many respects, the region’s leadership is borne out of necessity as the U.S. Southwest is likely to face some of the first and worst impacts from climate change nationwide. “Furthermore,” said Young, “three recent public opinion surveys demonstrate widespread public concern in our region about the impacts of climate change, as well as support for strong local action on this issue.”
Young noted that, in addition to efforts to measure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, several cities have taken steps to prepare for the impact of climate change, including Chula Vista, Coronado, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego.
This “adaptation” planning includes developing a climate preparedness plan and crafting regional strategies to prepare for sea-level-rise projections. There are several regional public agencies addressing climate change as well, including the Port of San Diego, San Diego County Water Authority, San Diego Association of Governments, the San Diego Airport Authority, and the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve.
This broad collaboration to address climate change has recently been formalized through the creation of the Climate Collaborative, a group of public agencies that have come together to work with private organizations by sharing expertise and leveraging resources to facilitate implementation of plans, policies and programs to help our region mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Kelly noted, “This collaboration is underway in recognition that we will not reach individual agency or regional goals to address climate change if we do not work together and invest today in a strong economy and healthy environment. The San Diego Foundation, through the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement, is committed to continue working with government, business and nonprofits through collaboration and philanthropic investments in research and technical assistance to help communities address climate change.”
Jim Waring, Executive Chairman of CleanTECH San Diego – a regional non-profit member organization serving to stimulate innovation and clean technology adoption – noted the economic benefits of local government and public agencies’ actions highlighted in the report. “By addressing climate action through strategy and policies, local governments are creating significant opportunities for San Diego County’s growing cleantech sector, as well as supporting our region’s continued economic vitality and leadership.”