Opinion: Berkeley needs 100% zero-emission transportation this decade

Berkeley must pressure the state to accelerate our transition to an electric future as fast as possible.

Berkeley prides itself on being at the forefront of environmental action. We were among the first cities to declare a climate emergency. We’ve put this goal into action with some of the country’s leading building codes, a plan for a zero-emissions municipal vehicle fleet, a tax on transport network company trips (Uber and Lyft), and prioritizing complete streets that are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.

But as city, nation and a world, we are dangerously behind science-based emission reduction targets. According to the best available science, wealthy nations, cities and states must achieve near net-zero emissions by 2030 or earlier—decades before less wealthy nations lacking basic human necessities—in order to delay and possibly prevent extremely catastrophic warming. In other words, we’ve used up way more than our share of the global emissions budget.

Transportation has to take center stage as the sector is the single biggest source of greenhouse emissions in Berkeley and California. California’s current target for phasing out the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2035 is radically out of step with science and related geopolitical realities and risks the welfare of all current and future generations of Californians.

That’s why I have introduced a resolution, to be considered at the city council meeting on Tuesday, March 9,  calling on our state leaders, Senator Nancy Skinner and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, to enact legislation with the help of the federal government for a California-wide 100% zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) standard for new sales no later than 2025. But we know that merely replacing every existing fossil fuel vehicle on the road today with an electric version won’t be sufficient. The embodied emissions and related environmental destruction from manufacturing so many vehicles would not be consistent with global climate and ecological imperatives. Therefore, we are also calling on state leaders to achieve a 100% zero-emission public transportation and mobility system by 2030.

My resolution is similar to one that unanimously passed in the city of Richmond two weeks ago – all part of a statewide effort by ZEV2030.org to encourage the state to accelerate our transition to an electric future as fast as possible.

There is no doubt it can be done. Nations like Norway have committed to phasing out the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles no later than 2025, and major players in the industry are accelerating their transition. GM, for example, will offer 30 EV models globally in its fleet by 2025, and Volvo has already transitioned exclusively to EV and hybrid cars, with a promise to be an exclusively electric car brand by 2030.

The city of Berkeley has already committed to a policy of phasing out the entirety of its municipal fossil fuel fleet by 2030 at the latest. The Council also recently referred to city staff to draft an ordinance to phase out the sale of fossil fuel passenger vehicles as early as 2025-2027. If ultimately adopted as proposed, Berkeley’s ordinance would be implemented nearly a decade ahead of Governor Newsom’s 2020 executive order, which phases out the sale of gasoline-powered cars across California by 2035. Even under a best-case scenario, transitioning existing vehicles will take years, and it is hard to comprehend a scenario where California can continue to sell new fossil vehicles past mid-decade and still meet its 2030 obligations.

By embracing this transition to a clean future, we are at the vanguard of a movement that can revolutionize the transportation sector in California, reduce pollution, and provide new jobs. We don’t have time to wait. The twin threats of wildfire risk and sea level rise imperil our city from the hills to the Bay.

The time is now, and I’m optimistic that Berkeley will once again lead the way.

Kate Harrison is the City Council representative for District 4.