Back in 2015, all United Nations Member States decided to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, providing a series of objectives and guidelines for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. They created 17 Sustainable Development Goals which identified urgent matters to be addressed by all countries. On June 22, 2017, the City Council of the City of San Antonio, in Texas, where I currently reside, passed the Resolution No. 2017-06-22-0031R in support of the Paris Climate Agreement, and even though the Federal Administration decided to redraw from such an agreement in December of 2018, the city decided to keep moving forward and develop a plan.
Approximately two years later, on October 17, 2019, the City Council adopted the CAAP (Climate Action & Adaptation Plan). The plan was open to the general public and we were really excited to get a glimpse at some interesting ideas. Obviously as with most things, Covid 19 has delayed part of the planned actions for 2020, but still the city is off to a really good start.
Now, we thought it would be interesting to analyze which of the 17 SDGs are being tackled by the actions proposed in the CAAP, and it turned out that only eight of them were actually being directly addressed. Others, such as Good Health and Wellbeing or Gender Equality are in the mind of the authorities as a general objective, but not as part of the Climate Action Plan. I’m counting 8 even though I will only talk about 7, because Climate Action is implied within the Climate Action Plan.
No Poverty and Zero Hunger
The objective of these SDGs is to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty and ensure that no one goes hungry in a world where we produce enough food for everyone. In San Antonio, marginalized communities are particularly burdened due to historic and current inequities in housing, health care, education, criminal justice, jobs, and other quality-of-life outcomes that stem from decades of practices and policies that have made them particularly vulnerable to a changing climate. Acknowledging and addressing the burdens faced by these marginalized communities by also learning from them led to the city hosting the Climate Equity Fellow, whose work focused on increasing the City’s level of engagement with marginalized residents. This helped them identify pressing needs such as improving public transportation to promote integration. Food banks have flourished across the city and local companies like H-E-B are known to help out by offering surplus food to local projects.
This SDG looks forward to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities, and it appeared a total of 33 times in the CAAP report. As public education relies on local funding there is great disparity between locations all across town. Part of the problems related to poverty also relate to the need to develop a comprehensive education platform that crosses socio-economic classes to serve all ages, races, and incomes to result in a San Antonio population that is well-informed about climate change related topics. People in Texas tend to be locally focused and reject outside views, which also reflects on the lack of interest they have on education. However, they do care about their communities and addressing the need to promote a local green economy to ensure a thriving future, will ensure a win-win relationship for all.
Clean water and sanitation
Texas is a hot and dry state, with temperatures reaching over 40ºC (104ºF) every summer, and ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is one of San Antonio’s most pressing concerns, but it is not the only one. Plastic pollution due to the usage of water bottles is also a main concern. SAWS, the local public water systems of San Antonio states that it is committed to preserving and protecting the drinking water quality of the community but locals are suspicious of its quality and tend to avoid it. According to their reports, water quality in the city is
under no violation of federal standards and is perfectly drinkable but the problem lies with the pipelines, so the city has decided to start working to improve the system. In 2000 the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program was created and a serious amount has been committed to the protection of 156,475 acres of land (and with good reason as it is the most important water source for the city). Although the protected land reduces potential threats to water quality and quantity, the city has also made efforts to recycle water, as it is done for the most known feature of the city, the San Antonio RiverWalk, which eliminates the need to use already compromised sources to help preserve it. This is massive work and will require constant work on the part of the city officials.
Affordable and clean energy & climate action
Ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all is one of the main objectives of the City towards 2050, as the goal is to achieve full carbon neutrality in 30 years. This goal, though grand, is attainable, as they have already made advances in energy efficiency and have begun shifting from fossil fuels toward carbon-free sources leading to:
-A 10% reduction in total GHG emissions from 2014 to 2016, despite population and economic growth
-Recognition in 2018 as the #7 city in the nation and first in Texas for locally installed solar photovoltaic capacity
-Adoption of the most advanced International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for buildings, setting the city apart as one of the most energy- efficient in the nation
– A savings of 771 megawatts (MW) of energy since 2009 through CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP),9 eliminating the need for a new fossil fuel power plant
There now exist 3 large Energy Efficiency projects focused on attaining these objectives: The Energy Efficiency Fund, the Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP), designed to reduce the community’s demand for electricity, and the social project known as Under 1 Roof, which provides funding for energy efficient roofs. By far, this problem is the one being better addressed at the present.
Sustainable cities and communities
One of the most inspiring projects being already enabled by the city to transform it into a more sustainable one is the Howard W. Peak Greenway. In 20 years, 65 miles of green trails across town have been completed, 24 miles are currently being designed, 14 miles are currently under construction, and an additional 12 miles are being planned with a vision of creating a “ring” surrounding the city. This ring will offer people not only additional connectivity, but also recreational and general wellness opportunities by allowing for short outdoor encounters, reducing the reliance on fossil fuel powered vehicles, and extending and connecting green passages for local flora and fauna.
Partnerships for the Goals
To manage to get all of the work done, the City of San Antonio has developed partnerships with both the private and public sector to strengthen the means to implement this sustainable development. For example, to implement renewable energies they have partnered with CPS, the local energy company, which is now offering several options for solar panels. Another example is their partnership with VIA, the local public transportation company, to offer better public transportation options in a city that was built fully dependent on cars for transportation. When I first moved here I was amazed to never see people on the streets, but then I realized it was virtually impossible to get anywhere without a car. It’s hard to believe but there aren’t even side ways for people to walk on, so reading about new plans to improve this gives hope, because it can go further into the future than politics and personal interests and can actually create resilient pathways for the future… which needn’t be trying! Efforts
such as these can ensure that our cities thrive beyond expectations.
Is your city doing anything to address the SDG’s? It would be great if you could share with us!
Writing by Irazú Aranda