San Francisco Department of the Environment

Climate Action Update and IPCC Report Summary

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first part of its sixth assessment report (AR6) which addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change. From a scientific perspective, the most important step we can take to limit the worst impacts from climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, most importantly by eliminating carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (predominately transportation emissions in San Francisco) followed by strong, rapid, sustained reductions in methane (predominately buildings emissions in San Francisco).

The report was a stark reminder that accelerated actions are critical and that climate impacts will continue to get worse until we reduce our GHG pollution to zero. City departments have worked with Mayor Breed to advance updates to climate action goals and the environment code, which the San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently approved. This new legislation sets more ambitious climate change goals, including reaching net zero GHG emissions produced in the city by 2040.

San Francisco will release its Climate Action Plan (CAP) in the fall of 2021. The CAP is a data-driven, community-based plan that charts a pathway to achieve net-zero emissions and address racial and social equity, public health, a just transition and economic recovery, and a resilient future. The CAP lays out a detailed list of strategies and actions focusing on an equity-based approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 61% by 2030 and put us on a path to carbon neutrality by 2040.

The adoption of the CAP would not, by itself, fund any specific projects or policies. Instead, it will set in place a roadmap to achieve equitable climate goals. Millions, if not billions, of dollars will be required to help San Francisco transform to a zero-emission economy to combat climate change. A recent commitment of city funds will be used to assess the costs to implement the CAP, investigate various funding and financing mechanisms, and make specific recommendations for moving forward to ensure we can fund the aggressive action needed to limit catastrophic climate change. This funding will be used to hire a climate associate and secure professional services to allow a deep analysis into implementation costs and potential funding mechanisms by tapping into the world-class expertise of local universities, think tanks, and other important stakeholders.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently held a hearing on the decarbonization of existing buildings. To meet net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, all buildings will need to eliminate fossil fuels and become fully electric. The city is moving forward on a compendium of strategies to reach this goal. The Department of Environment will create two new positions to support data analysis and energy benchmarking and to develop a climate equity hub. The climate equity hub will advance the city’s dual goal of racial equity and decarbonization by developing a one-stop-shop for electrification. This equity-based approach will empower residents to switch out gas appliances, create high-road jobs and ensure economic inclusion for low-income workers, and provide necessary technical resources to the building community. A consultant will be brought in to facilitate the process of developing a sustainable, collaborative cross-sector model for the climate equity hub. Additionally, the city will develop a building decarbonization roadmap and update requirements for municipal buildings this later this year.

The IPCC report leaves no doubt that humans are responsible for global warming. Our collective actions are our only course for change. The IPCC report offers a glimmer of hope, and there are still pathways that would lead us to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, but they will require deep, rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Success will depend on many things, but funding, resources, collaboration, and an equity-based approach will be critical.

 

Summary of IPCC Report

The summary for Policy Makers and Full Report was released August 9, 2021. The information below provides a high-level outline of the summary for Policy Makers.

1. The Current State of the Climate

o The IPCC report leaves no doubt that humans are responsible for global warming and that human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Discussion of extreme weather is a big part of this year’s report, and the role of climate change in intensifying weather events is more definitive. The warming climate is driving more extreme heat events; flooding from heavy precipitation and rising sea levels and increases in intense hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and cumulative events, where the impact of multiple disasters exacerbates each other.

 

2. Possible Climate Futures

o Global surface temperatures will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades. We will continue to see the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events worsen. We have released too much greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and there has been irreversible damage to the ocean, ice sheets, and global sea level.

 

3. Climate Information for Risk Assessment and Regional Adaptation

o Knowledge of the climate response and the range of possible outcomes has become more sophisticated. One big advance in this year’s report is the narrowing of the range of warming projected from the doubling atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. In all, 35 climatic impact drivers grouped into seven types are depicted in the report with reference to regions where change will happen, the likelihood of change, and the magnitude of change. This information will be important to consider in adaptation planning for the full range of possible changes. A synthesis of the regional information will be published in September 2022.

 

4. Limiting Future Climate Change

o From a physical science perspective, the most important step we can take to limit the worst impacts from climate change is to reduce GHG emissions, most importantly by eliminating CO2 emissions followed by strong, rapid, sustained reductions in methane. These steps would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining pollution and improve air quality.

 

Download the Climate Action Update and IPCC Report Summary as a PDF

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