Climate Change

How Are We Doing?

The San Diego region's climate, like all others, is changing, threatening our quality of life and economic prosperity. 

By the end of the 21st century, the temperature is predicted to increase in San Diego County by more than 5˚F to as much as 10˚F. The magnitude of the increase will depend on how much greenhouse gas emissions are emitted in the future. In California, polluting emissions have generally decreased during the 2000-2016 period due to state mandates focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition to more extreme weather, our region will experience more frequent coastal flooding, increased risk of wildfires, potential declines in native plant and animal populations, and threats to human health, particularly among our most vulnerable communities.

To reduce polluting emissions and local vulnerabilities to climate change, an unprecedented number of local governments and public agencies in the region are working together with nonprofits, businesses, communities and philanthropic institutions to ensure the ongoing vitality of the economy and environment for future generations.


Human Contributions: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Accelerating GHG emissions from human activities contribute to climate change impacts.

Source: Energy Policy Initiatives Center at University of San Diego School of Law; City of San Diego 2018 Climate Action Plan Annual Report, 2018

The largest contributors to GHG emissions in the state, and in most cities in California, such as the City of San Diego, or smaller cities in the region are on-road transportation and building energy use. Other GHG emissions arise from solid waste disposal, wastewater processing and from energy to convey, treat and distribute water to drinking levels. These contribute less than 10% of total emissions. 

How Our Climate Is Changing

Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns in the region are driving other changes, such as water resources, sea level rise and coastal flooding, wildfires, threats to wildlife and public health. These changes are expected to become more unpredictable and often more pronounced by mid-century.

Temperature and Precipitation icon We expect to experience hotter and more humid heat waves and less frequent but more intense rainfall.
Health icon More extended heat waves and less nighttime cooling will put our health at risk.
Wildfires icon Wildfire seasons may be longer and more extreme, with warming temperatures, drier soils and vegetation and less frequent rains.
Water Resources icon Warming, compounded by less frequent precipitation, will worsen droughts and threaten our imported and local water sources.
Nature's Benefits icon Our beautiful coastlines and beaches and our region's unique plants and animals, along with the benefits they provide San Diegans, will be threatened. 
Coastal Flooding icon Extreme high tides and winter storms magnified by sea level rise will result in more frequent and widespread coastal flooding.

Coastal Flooding

Sea level rise will exacerbate the effects of coastal flooding, which we already experience during high tides and storm surges, and lead to further beach erosion as well as runoff and drainage from intense storms.

Data Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sea Level Trend 9410170 San Diego, California

The long term trend is a 4.3 inch increase since 1960, not including seasonal fluctuations due to coastal ocean temperatures, salinities, winds, atmospheric pressures, and ocean currents. Significant El Niño events are marked. As the sea level rises, any El Niño event leads to more significant coastal effects on shore including from coastal flooding.


Why is it Important?

High quality of life means a clean environment, a thriving economy, and an equitable place for all to enjoy.

  • Public opinion surveys have found that an overwhelming majority – 84% – of San Diego County residents expect climate change impacts to affect them, their families and future generations.
  • 77% of San Diego County voters believe that the region can have a clean environment and a strong economy at the same time without having to choose one over the other.
  • The regional economy and the quality of life of the region's workforce are intimately connected to the mild climate. The businesses that make up the region's three major industries - tourism, innovation, and the military - as well as the local businesses that make up the other half of the $200+ billion regional economy, should anticipate changes to the climate despite best local and global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • By 2050, Climate Education Partners estimated 65,000 production hours lost in heat-exposed industries and $4.8 - 9.4 million in additional employee medical costs per year due to extreme heat.
  • Climate change and extreme weather will result in an increase in childhood asthma, vector-borne and other infectious diseases, and heat-induced illnesses and heart failure. The most vulnerable populations include children, seniors, chronically ill, immunocompromised individuals, as well as people with lower incomes.

Regional Response: 

Mitigation

The mitigation of human contributions to climate change is leading to the transition to a low carbon economy driven largely by California policy. Many of the dashboard indicators are direct outcomes of this transition: the push towards more renewable energy, incentivizing zero-emission electric vehicles, improving transportation choices, attention to vehicle miles traveled, conservation of energy are all activities where change can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation

Mitigation is only one side of the responses to climate change. Robust adaptation responses are needed to deal with the impacts we experience today due to the excessive GHGs already present and their future impacts. 10% of the global population or 600 million people live in coastal areas less than 10 meters above sea level. In San Diego County, about 4,000 people live in areas less than 1 meter above current sea level. Adaptation planning has started to address sea level rise through measures such as increased wetlands, seawalls and sand replenishment. For other impacts, adaptation planning is still in the initial stages compared with mitigation planning. See Regional Leadership page for more information on San Diego's regional adaptation planning efforts.

Communication

What was learned at Climate Education Partners (CEP) is that people are more likely to act on challenging issues like climate change when they feel they are part of a community that is taking action. In addition, CEP found that when communicating about climate change there is great strength in amplifying potential solutions and celebrating leaders that are taking action. Through this project funded by the National Science Foundation, CEP created a robust set of social psychology-based communications tools and resources showcased in "Your Community Toolbox for Leading in a Changing Climate", a step-by-step guide for others interested in CEP's methodology and approach in communicating science to leaders and communities.


What Are We Measuring?

To estimate the human contributions on climate, we measure the greenhouse gas emissions from cities in the San Diego region by economic sector. We also track coastal flooding events and long-term sea level trends in San Diego Bay. Communication resources and information on local climate impacts were produced by Climate Education Partners, a group of more than 40 multidisciplinary experts from local universities, governments, public sector agencies, nonprofits and private sector organizations throughout the San Diego region.

(The Climate Education Partners project was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under award number DUE-1239797. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.) Discover More: www.sandiego.edu/climate