San Jose leaders declare a climate emergency

As climate change continues to exacerbate weather conditions and increase the scope of natural disasters worldwide, San Jose leaders are saying enough is enough, calling for the city to step in as one of the growing number of cities to declare a climate emergency.

The bipartisan effort to combat against a warming planet was led by Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Sergio Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco and Dev Davis, who urged the rest of the City Council on Wednesday at the Rules and Open Government Committee meeting to adopt the climate emergency declaration and double down on efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions while creating a more sustainable city.

The decision follows a unanimous vote last month by the Santa Clara County Supervisors to declare a climate emergency.

“The growing affliction of wildfires, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters sharpens our focus on our new reality: We live in a climate emergency and must accelerate our efforts to combat it,” Liccardo said. “In the absence of federal leadership, San Jose will continue to carry the standard for U.S. cities in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability.”

The ambitious proposal calls for a wide range of environmentally friendly reforms the city plans to achieve, including attaining “all-electric, zero-net-carbon” new municipal facilities, prohibiting natural gas in new construction projects citywide by Jan. 2023, and partnering with San Jose Clean Energy to provide 100 percent carbon-free energy to residents within the next two years.

“Despite the current federal administration’s efforts to roll back environmental progress, San Jose remains unwavering in our commitment to protect our environment and create sustainability for future generations,” added Peralez.

San Jose is also working on reducing emissions from its “two most significant sources” — buildings and transportation projects. According to city data, transportation accounts for 63 percent of San Jose’s greenhouse emissions.

Since 2018, the city has made sweeping efforts to combat climate change by enacting its Climate Smart San José plan, deemed by city officials as “one of the first Paris Agreement-aligned climate action plans in the U.S.”

The climate smart plan launched a community choice energy program, which allows residents to choose a renewable, carbon-free energy source to power their homes and businesses. Under the new proposal, city leaders aim to expand the Climate Smart San Jose plan by including a “zero-waste” initiative, which will assess the cities zero waste strategies and determine how many emissions are coming from solid waste.

“Climate Smart San José is an ambitious plan to drastically reduce air pollution; we have set doable goals that are attainable if every resident takes immediate action,” said Kerrie Romanow, the city’s environmental services director. “Together, we can enjoy a healthy lifestyle and help the planet by biking, walking, conserve water and energy. When we all do our part, we can make a difference.”

The lawmakers also plan on engaging a diverse set of community groups and leaders such as “youth, faith, labor, business, environmental, economic, racial and social justice organizations” as well as neighboring cities that have also signed onto the Paris Agreement to lead the effort in reducing greenhouse emissions. One of their biggest concerns is addressing how communities of color and vulnerable demographics such as children, the elderly, physically disabled and low-wage workers will be affected by climate change. As a result, the city leaders are also calling for an extensive engagement process to create environmental policies that benefit these communities.

“Climate change is a global emergency that needs to be addressed immediately and aggressively,” Jimenez said. “San Jose is positioned to lead in efforts toward equitable solutions that benefit all of our communities.”

Under the proposed plan, Liccardo, Peralez, Jimenez, Carrasco and Davis also want to explore support for a future federal tax on carbon-based fuels such as HR 763 — the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act — as long as the potential legislation “does not preempt existing environmental policies and authority” or “disrupt the economy.”

“Ensuring that our city is doing everything within its power to lower emissions and provide 100 percent carbon-free energy to our community is critical to meet our city goals and take this global warming challenge head-on,” said Carrasco. “While our federal government is abdicating its responsibility to humanity, local government must step up.”

If adopted by the full City Council, San Jose will join nearly 1,000 local governments across 18 countries that have also called for a climate emergency.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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