This week, President Barack Obama's new task force on climate preparedness and resilience moves from Washington, DC, to Los Angeles City Hall for its second meeting on Thursday. The move is apt. National and international efforts to curb climate change have stalled out. But cities are on the move. They have to adapt to climate change that is coming locally no matter what happens on a global scale. And their message to national governments, especially in the United States, seems to be "get out of the way," and, oh, yeah, "send money, please."
That's the message LA will share with Obama's task force, says Mayor Eric Garcetti's sustainability czar, Matt Petersen, who just got back from a summit of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week. The C40 group was founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and they paid Petersen's way. Garcetti stayed home to "focus on the near term priorities of his administration," Petersen said, though he personally assured Bloomberg that the mayor's absence was not indicative of Garcetti's interest in the group. "He's very committed to our involvement in C40 and wants to do more," Petersen said.
Mayors have a lot of things on their minds. Only 17 mayors showed up for the summit, mostly mayors taking victory laps near the end of their terms, and, perhaps, with their eyes on next steps. The mayors do, generally, have things to crow about. Mayors have the power to act on climate change, according to a report released at the summit, which analyzed mayoral authority and actions. Where mayors have the power to act, they are creating solutions across key sectors--energy, water, transportation, buildings, waste management and other areas--to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the resilience of their cities to climate change and extreme weather disasters. According to the report, the C40 cities--including many of the largest cities in the world--have taken more than 5,000 specific actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the last five years. As result, emissions worldwide will be reduced by 248 million tons in the next six years, which is equal to the emissions of Argentina and Portugal combined, with the potential to reduce over 1 billion tons of emissions by 2030--equivalent to the emissions of Mexico and Canada combined.
"At a time when progress at the international level is moving too slowly, there is considerable hope in cities," says Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute. Steer visited UCLA recently to talk about "stories to watch" in 2014 before heading to the summit. He says 2014 will be "the year of cities." More than half of the people on Earth now live in cities, which produce 70 percent of global greenhouse emissions. And the planet's urban population and built environment is going to double in the next several decades.
Petersen said the C40 summit is a place for cities to share lessons from their successes and their challenges. Closer to home, after 30 hours of travel this weekend, Petersen is planning for Thursday's meeting with officials from the Obama administration and Governor Jerry Brown. On the agenda for the task force's report to the president: "removing red tape," he said, lowering barriers and changing rules to make it easier to take action at the state and local level to make communities more resilient to climate change and reduce emissions. Also: incorporating "equity and environmental justice into the work of the task force," Petersen said. "Low-income communities suffer the most in any climate related disaster, so what can we do to best prepare communities like Wilmington that are more at risk?" Oh, yeah, and "what funding can be prioritized," he said, to help get all of this done, even if Washington, DC, and climate negotiations between nations remain gridlocked.
Map courtesy of C40 Cities. Hat-tip to Javier Arbona for our headline "Climate urbanism."