I recently joined the Steering Committee of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. I also recently celebrated the installation of what will be the largest single-rooftop solar power system in Los Angeles county at Forever21: a 5.1 megawatt system that when fully functionally this fall will displace 13 million pounds of carbon dioxide – the equivalent of taking 1,200 cars off the road.
These two developments could not have been timelier, for they coincided with the White House’s release of the third National Climate Assessment (NCA), the most rigorous examination to date of how climate change is going to impact our lives as Americans.
This assessment does not mince words. From the outset, it reminds us of what both science and our own personal observations tell us: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” The NCA goes on to detail how climate change is affecting our coastlines and cities, breaking down climate impacts by region and by sector.
A key focus of the NCA is climate impacts on urban areas, which in the U.S. account for 80 percent of the population and where infrastructure is particularly vulnerable. The NCA points out that in a warming world, rising seas, stronger downpours, longer heat waves, and more extreme weather events will put both physical infrastructure and the interconnected networks supporting city services at risk.
As a coastal city, Los Angeles also faces two key threats from rising sea levels. First, the NCA predicts greater physical disruptions to low-lying areas, like the Port of Los Angeles. This doesn’t just impact Angelenos: this vital economic hub, along with the Port of Long Beach, handles over 40 percent of U.S. container traffic. Second, rising seas could result in saltwater intrusion, affecting our precious groundwater supplies.
While much of the report focuses on the potentially dire threats of climate change, it also offers mayors a crucial roadmap for the future — that we must both adapt to and mitigate climate change: “Adaptation and mitigation are closely linked; adaptation efforts will be more difficult, more costly, and less likely to succeed if significant mitigation actions are not taken.”
C40 mayors take very seriously our mandate to create climate resilient cities and cut carbon. Through local action we are having a global impact.
In Los Angeles, we have an aggressive goal of generating one-third of our power from renewable sources by 2020. The Forever 21 solar installation brings us closer to that goal, and is a direct result of our Feed-in Tariff (FiT) and Solar Incentive Program, which together provide incentives to L.A. Department of Power and Water customers who install solar panels.
But we’re not stopping there. We are focusing on securing our local water supplies, as our imported water sources are highly vulnerable to climate change. We’ve passed the most comprehensive cool roof ordinance in the country, which will lower energy use in buildings while keeping neighborhoods cooler during the extreme heat events that are becoming more common. And we are cooperating with other cities and the State of California to take joint action that collectively increases the impact of our actions.
As we in Los Angeles are all too aware, climate change is no longer a problem to be solved for our children and grandchildren. It is impacting the world we live in today. Yet as the NCA and C40 research make clear, we still have the ability to act: indeed, cities worldwide are embracing policies right now to curb carbon pollution and ensure a cleaner, more prosperous future for our cities and our planet.