Report: San Francisco Bay Area Greenhouse Gas Emission Trends for 2014 – 2019

By Jock Gilchrist, Ken Wells, and Ann Hancock

The San Francisco Bay area is home to almost 8 million Californians. The region consists of rural, urban, industrial, and suburban areas that represent a wide cross-section of California. The Climate Center conducted a report to determine greenhouse gas trends in the region in order to help policymakers determine challenges and opportunities for reducing emissions in line with the science. The report is the most up-to-date effort to evaluate the Bay Area’s climate progress and covers the nine Bay Area Counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, Sonoma, Solano, San Mateo, and Santa Clara.

Report Findings

The report confirms the need to address emissions through the suite of bold policies outlined in The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California campaign.

Emissions in the Bay Area dropped by 14% between 2014 and 2019. This rate, however, is not fast enough to be consistent with Paris Agreement targets. The largest emissions drop in the Bay Area was between 2018 and 2019, when emissions decreased by 7.2%. But according to recent research, California must reduce its emissions by 7.7% every year between 2020 and 2030 to stay on track with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

The electricity sector showed the most significant progress, reducing its emissions by 52% in the report’s timeframe. This decarbonization is largely driven by the impacts of Community Choice agencies that have sprung up throughout the Bay Area. 

The other sectors held roughly steady. Transportation emissions shrunk by 9% but were almost balanced out by increases in natural gas emissions of 1.2% and solid waste by 4%. Natural gas now has a larger footprint than electricity in the Bay Area – but both are still dwarfed by transportation. Growth in the solid waste emissions footprint is due in large part to increased disposal of debris from wildfires.

Complicating the region and state’s climate goals are the increasing prevalence of large wildfires. According to the state’s Air Resources Board, the 2020 wildfire season produced an additional 110 million metric tons of CO2 – which is over a quarter of the state’s total emissions footprint.

Instead of doing a comprehensive emissions inventory, The Climate Center used publicly available data and a replicable model to assess GHG trends that cover 70% to 90% of the region’s emissions.