Los Angeles: Fighting Climate Change on the Front LineOwen Mitchell
During the second week of COP26, Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles since 2013, was interviewed on the importance of cities in fighting climate change.
As outlined by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in August, the built environment currently accounts for almost 40% of global carbon emissions. With over 60% of the world’s population living in cities, it’s evident that the planet cannot reach its climate aspirations and ambitions without cities being on side.
Around the globe cities have adopted schemes to tackle the crisis – Shenzhen has now implemented fully electric bus routes, London has cut its central air pollution by 50% with its ultra-low emission zone, and Rio de Janeiro has made radical changes to waste treatment to limit methane emissions – proving that cities are not just making abstract pledges but concrete actions.
During his interview, Garcetti acknowledged that Los Angeles’ climate and geography pose unique weather challenges, causing the city to be on the front line of the climate crisis. Every year since the start of his premiership, California has suffered severe droughts, with the state experiencing its most destructive wildfire season on record in 2021. Recent conditions have been so serious that LA has had to draw water from the already overstretched Colorado basin which, as Garcetti highlighted, is not sustainable.
Currently 15% of the city’s water is locally sourced, but under LA’s ‘New Green Deal’ this will soon increase to over 70%. Garcetti is adamant that thanks to existing technology, the city will be able to recycle 100% of its water within a couple of years, adding 60% more water to the overall system.
The New Green Deal has also seen LA commit to a net zero electricity grid by 2050, but in one of the most active earthquake regions on the planet, delivery of this grid will encounter problems. As an alternative, renewable energy has proven to be cheaper and more dependable – specifically distributed solar or wind power that can be generated inside the Colorado basin. In this case, power lines are not required to cross faults, meaning city authorities do not have to constantly take down lines during earthquakes.
The city is also in the process of converting its biggest coal plant into natural gas storage. Over the next couple of years, 30% of the gas stored will be hydrogen – with this increasing to 100% within the next decade. This will enable a steady fuel supply that the city can rely upon if all other sources are exhausted.
Listening to Garcetti, it’s clear that existing technology is more than capable to tackle the crisis and solutions are getting cheaper – it’s now all about political will. Most unpopular decisions in the short term are the ones people are most thankful for in the long-term – it’s just a question of whether our leaders are brave enough to implement these solutions.