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Analysis Highlights Tricky Business of Carbon Accounting

San Francisco’s carbon footprint as political football

Craig Miller / KQED

As business and public entities face more pressure to lower their carbon footprints, an entire industry has sprouted to quantify and verify their progress. The whole enterprise can be tricky business, as San Francisco officials are finding out.

Props to The Bay Citizen for looking beyond the claims and doing its own analysis. As John Upton writes in Citizen:

“…some energy experts and environmentalists have raised questions about the city’s calculations. Although San Francisco has taken significant steps to shrink its carbon footprint, these critics said, the numbers are misleading, and the end result is not nearly as green as the city claims.”

Specifically, TBC looked into the claim that the City and County of San Francisco has cut its carbon emissions by 12% since 1990, driven mostly by the shutdown of two gas-fired power plants in the city. The article features a graph that shows its own tracking of greenhouse gas emissions clocking in well below the City’s estimates.

San Francisco was given high ratings recently in at least one independent study, for its “political leadership and commitment” to climate planning.

San Francisco Plans for Sea Level Rise

Ocean Beach could be in big trouble without some serious planning

Andrew Whalley

By Jon Brooks

As more warnings go out to coastal communities about rising sea levels, local planners are starting to sharpen their pencils. Hence the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR) is facilitating a coordinated effort among multiple agencies to create a “sustainable long-range plan” for San Francisco’s shoreline. Why do we need a plan? Because erosion of the beach and anticipated rising sea levels may necessitate major changes in the infrastructure that serves the area.

In September, economist Philip King of San Francisco State University unveiled a study aimed at putting estimated price tags on potential economic losses from sea level rise, a study in which San Francisco’s Ocean Beach emerged as a major potential loser. Continue reading

California Cities Get High Marks for Energy Efficiency

San Francisco

Los Angeles tops a new ranking (PDF) of the 25 U.S. cities with the most energy efficient buildings, released by the Environmental Protection Agency.  With 293 Energy Star-rated buildings encompassing 76 million square feet of space, Los Angeles saves $93.9 million and reduces emissions equal that from electricity use by 34,800 homes, according to the EPA.

Washington, D.C. was ranked second, and San Francisco third.  Two other California cities made the top 25: Sacramento (16th) and San Diego (17th).  According to EPA data, San Francisco has 173 Energy Star buildings (including Hotel Nikko and One Embarcadero Center) that save an estimated $69.4 million in energy costs and reduce emissions equivalent to 24,700 homes. Sacramento and San Diego have 61 and 58, respectively.

As of the end of last year, 9,000 commercial buildings had been awarded Energy Star designation since 1999, representing a combined savings in utility costs of $1.6 billion and a reduction in GHG emissions equal to that of one million homes, according to the EPA.

Buildings that qualify for Energy Star are those that score in the top 25%, based on the EPA’s National Energy Performance Rating System, which compares energy use among facilities of similar types on a scale of 1-100.

Postcard to Poznan

3088850070_5a89257718_m.jpgThe United States might not have an international reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change, but on Saturday a few hundred San Franciscans came out to Crissy Field to tell the world that times are changing.

Environmental groups declared December 6th the Global Day of Action, selected, as it has been for the last three years, to coincide with the United Nations climate talks. This year’s talks are currently taking place in Poznan, Poland.

Organized by Greenpeace, the crowd in San Francisco held up a 50 x 30 ft “postcard” that read: “Dear World Leaders, We are ready to save the climate! Yes we can!” against the backdrop of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

A helicopter flew overhead at 1 p.m., taking photos of the banner and the crowd. Ben Smith, Greenpeace’s National Organizer for Global Warming, said that the group plans to send the photos to delegates at the talks in Poznan (it’s gotta be cheaper than sending the postcard) as a symbol that despite the last eight years of inaction, Americans are serious about finding solutions for climate change.

“We are at a really significant point in history now, after eight years of the Bush Administration denying global warming and dismantling the UN process for stopping it,” said Smith. “The door has swung wide open, and we have the opportunity to solve the problem.”

Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Palm Beach, and several other cities across the country held similar demonstrations, said Anna Wagner, Greenpeace Global Warming Senior Organizer.

“We are trying to put pressure on our leaders to pass strong science-based solutions to global warming,” said Wagner. “The United States is key to stopping global warming, and we are sending a message to the Obama Administration that this is a number one priority for Americans.”

Many environmentalists are optimistic about Obama’s plans to invest billions in alternative energy and to place mandatory caps on greenhouse gases across the country similar to those already mandated in California. As we have reported here, Obama recently said in his video address to the Governors’ Climate Summit that he will work for “a new era of global cooperation on climate change.”

But some are raising questions about whether Obama’s plans go far enough. A recent article in Time Magazine cites a November 12th International Energy Agency (IAE) report projecting that a $26 trillion investment in power-supply needs will be needed to address a 45 percent increase in the demand for energy between 2006 and 2030, if no new government policies are enacted.

It appears that Obama will promote new policies that may mitigate this scenario but the challenge may be greater than it was a few months ago. With half a million jobs lost last month and regular gasoline at $1.69 a gallon in San Francisco, large scale investment in new low-carbon industries might be a harder sell.

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