The Regional Decarbonization Framework


Draft Framework Released

We are pleased to share the first draft of the Regional Decarbonization Framework that was called for by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors in January 2021. This draft will not be final until the Technical Working Group comments are incorporated into it and we have more public review, and further direction is provided by the Board of Supervisors on November 17. The Technical Working Group analysis will run through December. The final document will be presented to the Board for consideration in 2022.

Cover, Table of ContentsIntroduction, and Project Team

1. Study Framework

2. Geospatial Analysis of Renewable Energy Production (see maps here)

3. Accelerating Deep Decarbonization in the Transportation Sector

4. Natural Climate Solutions and Other Land Use Considerations

5. Decarbonization of Buildings

6. Employment Impacts through Decarbonization for the San Diego Region

7. Key Policy Considerations for the San Diego Region

8. Local Policy Opportunity

9. San Diego as a Model

Appendix A. Summary of Statewide Energy System Modeling

Appendix B. Public, Public Agency and Stakeholder Outreach


Watch the video to see the staff presentation on the Draft Regional Decarbonization Framework to the Board of Supervisors on November 17, 2021.

(Go to 45:25 in the video for the RDF presentation)

A Partnership to Move the Region to Zero Carbon Emissions

The global climate is changing and nowhere are the effects felt more acutely than at the local level. The growing economic, social, and environmental impacts associated with a changing climate are causing immediate and long-term damages to our communities, ecosystems, food production, health, safety, jobs, businesses, and our overall quality of life in the San Diego region.

On January 27, 2021, the County of San Diego Board of Supervisors approved the development of a Framework for a regional zero-carbon sustainability plan in partnership with the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy and the University of San Diego (USD) Energy Policy Initiatives Center. The Framework will provide science-based pathways to achieve zero carbon in the region.

In addition, the Framework will foster regional collaboration between public agencies, universities, schools, business, labor, communities, and tribes, as well as leverage resources at the state and federal levels.

The County is proposing a three-pronged regional approach to lower our carbon footprint to zero emissions:

  • Zero emissions of carbon dioxide;
  • Reduction of “super-pollutants” such as black carbon (or “soot”) and ground-level ozone (the main ingredient of “smog”), much of which are directly harmful to human health; and
  • Drawdown of atmospheric pollution through technological and natural means. Nature-based methods for carbon capture and storage include climate-smart practices in forestry and agriculture.

The impacts of climate change in the form of extreme weather events are disproportionately affecting our lowest-income communities and workers. Hence, local policy measures that decarbonize the economy are intended to save lives, benefit underserved and frontline communities, create high-quality green jobs, and ensure economic resilience. The Framework will intentionally address the gaps that exist between the decarbonization goals and existing realities for Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities in terms of air quality, infrastructure, jobs and housing.

A draft of the technical reports for the framework will be available for review in November 2021. The final framework would be adopted by the Board of Supervisors in early 2022.

Watch the Public Workshop Recording

The County held a public workshop on September 13, 2021 to seek input in the development of the Regional Decarbonization Framework. The workshop also included a presentation by Elena Crete, who is the Climate & Energy Program Manager for the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

View the PowerPoint slides here and Zoom chat transcript here

Frequently Asked Questions

Expand All | Collapse All

  • Why do we need this framework?

    The global climate is changing, and we directly feel and see the effects of that change locally, in our communities, daily. This includes a higher frequency and intensity of extreme heat events, droughts, wildfires, storms and sea-level rise. Furthermore, a changing climate is causing immediate and long-term damage to our ecosystem, food production, health, safety, jobs, businesses, and our overall quality of life in the San Diego region. We need a coordinated response in our region to climate change.

  • Why is the County of San Diego leading this effort?

    The County’s Board of Supervisors directed staff to develop a framework for a regional zero carbon sustainability plan in partnership with the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy which includes strategies and initiatives to achieve zero carbon emissions in the region. The Board acknowledged the adverse impacts of climate change across the region and recognized the leadership role that the County should take in climate planning.

  • Who will be preparing this framework?

    The County has retained the School of Global Policy and Strategy at UC San Diego and the Energy Policy Initiatives Center at the University of San Diego School of Law (USD - EPIC). UC San Diego will utilize 6 consultants with technical expertise in energy, transportation and buildings systems to chart the pathways that reduce carbon. To ensure equity is upheld in the Framework and the local government policies that follow, USD - EPIC will compare recommended RDF policies to existing policies and identify gaps that should be addressed so underserved communities are included.

  • What is “decarbonization”?

    Simply put, decarbonization is about reducing the gases in the atmosphere that trap heat. The goal is to achieve a balance of the carbon cycle in nature, so that the planet stops warming. 

    We would be utilizing a three-pronged strategy: reducing emissions of carbon dioxide to zero; reducing “super-pollutants” such as soot and smog; and carbon storage and capture through natural and technological means. Decarbonization also has a number of co-benefits, such as the investments and employment opportunities created in the carbon-free economy. 

  • How will we know we have reached our goal in reducing carbon?

    Our goal is to reduce heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, which is measured by scientists around the globe. USD’s Energy Policy Initiatives Center has computed the regional baseline of these gases in 2016 to be equivalent to 26 million tons of carbon dioxide. We can establish regional benchmarks to track our progress in decreasing this amount over time.

  • Why would other jurisdictions get involved in the decarbonization framework?

    There are several regional sustainability efforts underway, including those by the San Diego Association of Governments. However, this is a unique effort to chart out the pathways in reducing carbon across the region. We anticipate participation by other jurisdictions because this will help us all reach our climate action goals. It will also foster collaboration among various municipalities and position our region to attract state and federal resources.

  • What are the key sectors that will be studied?

    Some of the key sectors considered in this study are energy, transportation and land-use, and buildings and industries.

  • How is this different from the Climate Action Plan (CAP) the County is updating?  

    The CAP mitigates greenhouse gas emissions associated with existing and new development governed by the County’s 2011 General Plan. The Regional Decarbonization Framework is not linked to any specific land-use, transportation or energy plan. It will be a collaborative effort between the public and private sectors.

  • How will businesses be impacted by the framework?

    The framework is a vision document being developed in partnership between the public and private sectors. It will identify the pathways to decarbonize the economy and consider the impacts of such pathways on existing businesses and workers. It will also identify new business opportunities in the less-polluting pathways. The adoption of regulations to implement the framework, by any local government would be within their authority.

  • How can I provide input in the framework?

    We welcome your input and have provided several opportunities throughout the different stages of our work. Public input is organized into two phases. During the initial phase, as our consultants are doing the modeling, we will be conducting a public workshop and receive input through our website and email All input will be factored into the final report presented to the Board of Supervisors in 2022.