Cities across the nation and around the world are taking action against global warming as they recognize that climate change has tremendous implications for the livability, competitiveness and resilience of communities. Climate science has shown for decades that the earth is warming at an alarming rate because of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, given that cities everywhere are responsible for up to 70 percent of all GHGs, many locales are on the front lines of climate events and impacts.
Lancaster, for many years, has been a leader in the switch from fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources. Recently, Mayor R. Rex Parris, along with Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz and noted journalist and best-selling author Naomi Klein announced a new, aggressive climate initiative in partnership with the national Climate Mobilization group designed to speed up current efforts in Los Angeles County to combat climate change and affect a reduction of harmful GHGs. Parris said local leadership—and not federal guidance—is more crucial in drawing attention to and combating climate change.
Lancaster sets world example
“Local municipal leadership is paramount to addressing the many issues [of climate change],” Parris said. “The city of Lancaster is leading the way as we have become a global leader in the alternative energy arena, and is now leading the way for other cities that seek to take charge of climate change concerns within their own communities.”
Parris, Koretz and Klein are part of the newly-formed Climate Justice Mobilization 2025 working group that envisions a “World War II-scale” or “moon-shot” action plan to achieve a “just, carbon neutral Los Angeles by 2025.” Koretz said he’s calling on all Angelenos—basically all county residents—to mobilize to ensure that not only the Southland is kept environmentally safe, but that the planet itself remains habitable and resilient. The group also wants to enlist the creative minds throughout the Los Angeles basin to join with grassroots activists and just regular folks to do what they can to help fight climate change.
Additionally, Canada has instituted a unique initiative called the LEAP Manifesto, a coalition of movement leaders that has brought together different viewpoints relating to specific injustices endured by a variety of communities ranging from inequality, racial discrimination, economic disparities, etc., since these may relate to the dangers of climate change and the effect on the most vulnerable populations. Klein said people across North America are beginning to “take ownership” of new methods of energy production, transportation and housing to move toward 100 percent renewable energy, much like Lancaster’s goal of Net Zero status.
“If the city of Los Angeles listens to the voices of communities on the frontlines, and centers racial and economic justice in the way it addresses climate change, this could be an historic leap, with ripples around the world,” Klein said.
Mayors National Climate Action Agenda
When President Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign promise this spring to withdraw U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accords, mayors of some of America’s largest cities such as Los Angeles, Houston and Philadelphia became more pro-active in participating in an initiative to combat climate change and prepare for global warming. The mayors National Climate Action Agenda (NCAA) was formed even before 196 nations agreed to the Paris Accords in 2015 to build on former President Barack Obama’s national climate task force that saw municipalities share involvement and engagement on a range of climate issues facing their cities (in 2015, the Obama Administration had vowed to cut GHG emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, as part of the Paris deal). The NCAA calls for national and international binding emission reductions agreements, establishing stronger inventory standards and reporting, and committing to a set of local actions to reduce GHGs. They’ve begun with existing cap-and-trade programs in the U.S. to make them more conceptualized or “visible” for business leaders, while developing community action plans specific to each city or town which can identify strategies for meeting the emissions reduction target(s) as well ensuring that climate equity and environmental justice is prioritized in climate action plans.
A group representing large cities around the world has issued a new report saying that the long-term goals of the Paris Accords are still reachable, but only if cities act in the next four years to reach a peak in GHG pollution and then work to reduce average per-capita emissions nearly in half by 2027. The group, known as C40 Cities, said if all cities of 100,000 people or more act on the recommendations of its report, the world will achieve a minimum 40 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to avoid “catastrophic climate change.” So far, dozens of U.S. mayors, organized by the Sierra Club, have promised to shift to renewable electricity in the coming decades. Former President Obama reacted to the decision by these individual cities—and to the Trump Administration’s decision to leave the Paris Accords—by issuing a statement earlier this month: “The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in [“green”] jobs and benefits created. I believe the United States should be at the forefront of the pack. But even in the absence of American leadership, I’m confident that our states, cities, and businesses will step up and do even more to lead the way.”
Industry giants balk at decision
Industry giants such as Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, Shell, Microsoft, Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Monsanto and Dow Chemical argued that the United States should remain in the Paris Accords, despite President’s Trump’s campaign statement that climate change was largely a hoax perpetuated by China. They said that by pulling out of Paris, America is “rolling the dice” with high stakes for the nation’s economic future and the welfare of the world. These and other American companies are reportedly shifting away from a domestic energy policy that strongly favors increased production of fossil fuels. They’re also in agreement that “missed opportunities” in the emerging green economy could end up outweighing any short-term gains from fossil fuels. In announcing that the U.S. will no longer be part of the Paris Accords—a process which will take a full four years for finalization—President Trump said the rest of the world will have to return to the bargaining table “for a new deal.”
EPA Chairman Scott Pruitt said he is confident that the U.S. will not be sitting idle on the sidelines while other nations develop and implement climate change strategies: “We’re leading the world now, and we are at pre-1994 levels with our CO-2 footprint, not because of Paris, not because of a government mandate but because of innovation and technology. For those who say we are going to lose our seat at the table, we are the United States, we don’t lose our seat at the table,” he said.
The corporations and environmental activists opposing the Trump decision cite pressing risks to ongoing efforts worldwide to address climate change. The biggest downside, they say, is that backsliding by the U.S. may lock in a prolonged and dangerous warming of the climate, particularly if other nations follow the U.S. abdication. Proponents of the Paris Accords believe a retreat by the U.S. could end the acceleration of the shift to cleaner fuels that the Paris negotiators built into the agreement, which sends powerful signals to the private sector reign in on excess pollutants during manufacturing. Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of global climate programming with the Environmental Defense Fund, has stated that the longer nations wait to act on addressing the issue of climate change, the more difficult it will be to avert the worst aspect of the issue.
“A huge gamble”
“We know that the longer we wait, the more expensive it will be and the more drastic the measures we’ll have to take,” Keohane said. “Walking backwards on climate just when the rest of the world has committed to move forward is a huge gamble.”
The White House decision also means that the Untied States is no longer bound to adhere to any of the treaty’s obligations, such as contributions to the international Green Climate Fund—of which the U.S. had committed $2 billion—designed to help poor countries cut their emissions and adapt to climate change. The White House called the fund essentially a “redistribution of wealth” of which the U.S. could ill afford. The Trump Administration began overturning Obama’s energy policy soon after taking office, most notably in March when he issued an executive order directing the EPA to begin the process of rescinding the Obama-era Clean Policy Plan which reversed regulations that required all federal agencies to incorporate climate change into their planning and review processes. President Trump also overturned a moratorium on coal development on federal lands, and ordered a sweeping review of emissions restrictions for oil and gas wells. Opponents of the Trump energy policy generally agree that, taken together, these initial steps sharply decreased the likelihood that the United States would have met its Paris obligations.
With the U.S. producing almost one-fifth of all global emissions, the withdrawal from the Paris Accords reportedly could undercut collective efforts to reduce carbon output, a transition to more renewable energy sources, and lock in reliable data for future climate measures. America’s European allies lobbied hard against a U.S. exit from the deal, arguing that it would weaken the accord’s enforcement measures and undermine the resolve of other countries to make their own tough cuts. Some foreign policy experts, such as former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, say that going back on the deal could hobble U.S. clout on a suite of unrelated diplomatic issues and set the stage for the rapidly-expanding Chinese sphere of influence to forge new alliances with the European Union to advance common climate policies without any input from the United States.
California sets its own strategy
David Victor, co-director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation at UC San Diego, said the exit from the Paris Agreement would have no “up side” for the United States, but rather a series of negative consequences.
“There are lots of downsides to this decision,” Victor said in explaining that the move would inflict “gratuitous damage” on the United States’ relationships with critical allies and trading partners, including the European Union, China and India.” It would make it more likely, he believes, that other countries would back out of the deal or shirk their pledges and effectively weaken an accord that still doesn’t do enough to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. Total funding so far is well below the stated goal of $100 billion in private and public funds per year by 2020 he said.
“Poor nations are already livid at the U.S. decision to back out, and they’re going to really question whether it makes sense to participate in the process,” Victor said.
Pulling out of the Paris Agreement and the ongoing federal roll-back of climate regulations has spurred 34 states, led by California and New York, to undertake their own ambitious carbon reduction strategies. The private sector is shifting toward renewable, cleaner energy sources (e.g. solar, natural gas, wind turbines) which continue to drive the retirement of coal plants. And almost a year prior to the U.S. decision to exit Paris Accords, Gov. Jerry Brown said the Golden State will push forward working with foreign nations on ways to reduce climate change. California is the world’s sixth-largest economy.
“California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington,” Brown said. He made similar comments just after Trump was elected, when he said California would launch its own climate-reading satellites, if the new administration pulled funding for NASA’s climate research program. “I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. We will take action to preserve the policies that Californians have worked so hard—for so many years—to implement pollution reduction and maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.”