Project San Diego

The City of San Diego has ambitious carbon reduction and climate policies, laid out in their Climate Action Plan, with further scientific details found in the Appendix. The plan calls for..."eliminating half of all greenhouse gas emissions in the City and aims for all electricity used in the city to be from renewable sources by 2035." Several tables from the Appendix provide a good starting point for understanding the carbon emissions within the City. The first shows the total emissions (MT refers to metric tons; a metric ton is 1000 kilograms or 2200 pounds):

As is true generally in California, Transportation is the dominant source, producing more than half of greenhouse gas emissions (with emissions of carbon dioxide being most of these GHGs).

That table however gives an incomplete picture, since per capita emissions and the carbon intensity of the economy are equally important to understand. Therefore, they also provide the following results:
  • The carbon intensity was 79 metric tons per million dollars of GDP
  • The per capita emissions in 2017 were 7.3 metric tons per person per year
Notice that per capita emissions are several tons per person per year lower than the state average, due in large part to the incredible weather we enjoy in San Diego.

Some further numbers from the report provide detail needed to understand how the carbon emissions are divided between sectors and activities. These are summarized here:
  • Electricity consumption was 7,738,639 megawatt-hours
  • 29% of this was consumed by the residential sector
  • 45% of this was consumed by the commercial sector
  • 24% of this was consumed by the industrial sector
  • The remainder was consumed by agriculture, pumping and street lights
The electricity consumption in homes/apartments is therefore approximately 1.6 megawatt-hours per person per year (7,738,639 x 0.29 / 1,399,924 or 1600 kilowatt-hours per person per year. If this is converted to heat units of BTUs, the total for the residential sector is 8,936,871 million BTUs. By contrast, consumption of natural gas in homes/apartments is 11,910,251 million BTUs, slightly higher than for electricity. At the moment, the carbon emissions per BTU is lower for natural gas than for grid electricity, and so the carbon emissions from natural gas use are about the same as those for electricity. As the grid further decarbonizes (see the Project California page on this issue), however, the carbon intensity of electricity will fall below that of natural gas. When that happens, it will be best to switch heating from natural gas to electricity throughout the city. 

CCRM Support

CCRM does not carry out projects directly, but rather supports other organizations - government, business, NGOs, community groups - to improve their efforts. That support is guided by several activities or tools that help us and our partners identify the most effective, and cost effective, solutions to carbon reduction at city level. Follow the links to these pages for details. All of the tools are free.

As to policies, the City has an ambition to meet the reduction target of 80% by 2050, which is common to most cities participating in climate policy. To implement this reduction, and to reduce the local impacts of climate change, their Climate Action Plan establishes five main areas of activity:
  1. Energy and water efficient buildings
  2. Clean and renewable energy
  3. Bicycling, walking, transit and land use
  4. Zero waste (gas and waste management)
  5. Climate resiliency
At CCRM we are committed to assisting the City in at least the first two strategies as part of our Decarbonisation projects. The fifth area is tied to our Adaptation projects. We have developed a number of support tools to help San Diego plan for the most effective strategies, and to assist CCRM in identifying the projects and policies with which we will engage to make most effective use of our time and resources. To learn more about our efforts, follow the links in the text box above.

Also, to better understand how our methods were applied in one specific case of Cambridge Retrofit, we provide here a YouTube video describing the early days of that project:

YouTube Video

What about the consumer?

Now for a brief note concerning who is responsible for global emissions. So far, international climate policy has been based on 'territorial emissions'. Those are emissions that occur in your home or city or country as a result of your consumption of energy and goods. But the landscape of policy is changing as the more developed nations 'outsource' their manufacturing to poorer nations. This makes it appear the developed nations are reducing their emissions from the industrial and agricultural sectors, and that the developing nations are rapidly increasing their emissions (both statements are true, but...). Policies focused on territorial emissions are what we call production-based policies. To be fair, they should be paired with consumption-based policies that assign the emissions from creating something to the point of consumption, not solely to the point of production. When that happens, the apparent emissions in developed nations such as the US increase by another 25% or more.

Such policies have the aim of changing consumer behavior by either decreasing consumption of goods, or changing the decisions of consumers towards lower carbon goods (or both). San Diego should therefore consider how to influence or nudge the decisions of its residents towards lower carbon options. The point is not to deny human needs, but rather to help consumers understand that reasonable needs can be met with much lower carbon options than we currently select. To learn more about this issue, travel to the Letters from America page of the CCRM and select the Consumer Change paper based on research we and others conducted as part of the Carbon CAP project of the European Union, which examined dozens of potential consumer-based policy tools and assessed their likely effectiveness. 

The Carbon CAP study considered several dozen potential consumer-based policy tools as a way to bring about these changes. We considered how much carbon is embodied in the goods we consume in different categories; what the 'pick up rate' (percentage of consumers who adopt the desired behavior) is likely to be based on past experience with consumer policies; and the legal, social, economic and political challenges faced when implementing each instrument. We then sorted the instruments into a 'traffic light' pattern of red (the instrument is very difficult to implement and/or ineffective at producing behavioral change), green (the instrument is simple to implement and and effective at producing behavioral change) and yellow (between red and green). You can see the results in the table below, taken from one of our project reports.


If you have any project, innovation, social enterprise or policy tool that can help the City of San Diego make significant strides in any of areas 1, 2 or 5, or would like to learn more about how you can engage with Project San Diego, please Contact Us at CCRM.