Last weekend, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark accord in Paris to lower planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, local leaders in San Diego committed to making a city-size dent in the problem.
With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power. In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic.
Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding. Under the ordinance, it has committed to completing its transition and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.
The steps to get there may include transferring some control of power management to the city from the local utility. Officials said they would also shift half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98 percent of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants.
The mayor, Kevin L. Faulconer, said San Diego’s ocean, sunshine and other environmental attributes were “in our fabric, our DNA, who we are.”
The City Council is controlled by Democrats, but Mr. Faulconer is a Republican. He sold the plan to a conservative business base in part by saying that transforming the electric grid would drive the economy and create jobs.
“It’s not a partisan issue at all,” he said. “It’s about putting a marker down. It’s the right thing to do.”
Many details have yet to be determined, including how the new power sources will be delivered and managed. But the mayor said the key first step was to commit to a goal — to “make sure we set it and hold to it.”
The San Diego ordinance has been years in the making. But Nicole Capretz, an author of an earlier draft and now an environmental advocate, characterized it as a concrete step in the direction set by world leaders in Paris.
“We’re responding to that call,” Ms. Capretz said. “It’s up to cities to blaze new trails. We’re just laying out the pathway for how to get these massive reductions worldwide.”
Under the Paris accord, nations offered general, nonbinding plans to reduce their carbon emissions.
Officials in the United States envision reaching the nation’s goals mainly through higher fuel-economy standards for cars and a move to cleaner sources of electrical power, something states could help oversee.
This is where the actions of a city like San Diego fit in. As the city moves to renewable energy, the State of California can begin to build its bank of carbon reductions and contribute to global goals.
Evan Gillespie, director of the Sierra Club’s clean energy campaign in California, estimated that San Diego’s plan would lead to an annual reduction of seven million metric tons of greenhouse gases, a contribution to California’s broader effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Those targets are California’s own — passed by a state government that is seen as one of the most ambitious on climate change, and that is as influential as many countries given its size — and not set by the federal government.
Ms. Capretz, who wrote a version of the plan for Mr. Faulconer’s predecessor, said that much of the earlier version remained in the measure adopted Tuesday.
Echoing the mayor, she said she expected that much of the renewable energy would come from solar power. “We’re sunny in San Diego, so we’re counting on a lot of homegrown solar on rooftops and parking lots,” she said.
Mr. Gillespie said San Diego had laid down a challenge to other cities. “We need others to see this and say, ‘Game on,’ ” he added. “We need places like Los Angeles, like San Francisco and New York, to step up.” More