L.A.’s New Sustainable City Plan Might Actually Get Rid of That Smog

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This is a guest post by Allison Paisner.

On April 8, 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti released L.A.’s first-ever Sustainable City pLAn. (Image courtesy inhabitat.com)

In response to the effects of global climate change, experienced locally in the form of unprecedented drought and increasing frequency of extreme weather events, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the city’s first sustainability plan earlier this April, the Sustainable City pLAn. Garcetti’s initiative is preceded by the assignment of Matt Petersen as the city’s first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), following the Mayor’s appointment to President Obama’s task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in 2013.

Second to NYC as the most populous city in the US, with 3.8 million residents, Los Angeles is one of the last big cities to adopt a sustainability plan. Throughout the development process and creation of the pLAn came advice from other US Mayor’s offices, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Boston – comparably populous cities with well-developed sustainability or climate action plans of their own.

Already a national leader in solar power, energy storage and water conservation, this initiative will transform LA and establish the city as leader in crosscutting sustainability issue areas over the next 20 years. According to the mayor’s office, Los Angeles aims to develop a more comprehensive climate action and adaptation plan by 2017 and to be the first big city to achieve zero-waste by 2025.

Advertised as more than just an environmental vision, the pLAn also encompasses sustainability pillars of economy and equity for a more holistic approach. Incorporating sustainability into each of the city’s 35 departments and bureaus, one of the administration’s first action steps will be to appoint 18 departmental CSO’s.

Included are achievable targets across 14 topic areas, for each of which the plan provides an introduction, vision, highlights of goal outcomes, as well as a section that boasts LA’s accomplishments as a leader in the field.

Nestled under the environmental section entitled “Carbon & Climate Leadership” are the city’s short- and long-term emission reductions targets. The goal? To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below the 1990 baseline by at least 45 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2035, and 80 percent by 2050. With a baseline of 54.1 MMtCO2e, an 80 percent reduction correlates to 10.82 MMtCO2e in 2050.

A comparison of LA’s GHG percentage emissions reductions targets to other leading US cities is included below. The chart also reports the year each city’s initial sustainability or climate action plan was released. It is important to note that percentage reductions are proportionally comparable but correlate to different absolute value baseline GHG emission levels.

Municipally, the city intends to lead by example. This translates into GHG emissions reductions of city operations by 35 percent (2025) and 55 percent (2035) below the 2008 baseline of 772,696 MMtCO2e. As the most significant driver of climate change since the Industrial Revolution, a reduction in GHG emissions will help mitigate the effects of global warming.

Another highlight of the plan that will help track the city’s progress is the commitment to develop an annual standardized GHG inventory by 2017. The pLAn website already includes a useful dashboard of sustainability metrics to measure progress to-date.

Extending beyond just the city of Los Angeles, however, is the pLAn’s 2017 short-term goal to recruit and “lead mayors of the United States’ largest cities to sign on to the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agreement (MNCAA).” Announced in September 2014 by Mayors Eric Garcetti, Annise Parker of Houston and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, the MCNAA focuses on local efforts to reduce GHG emissions. One hopes that the passage of yet another city sustainability plan will encourage other cities to follow suit and broaden the network of local efforts to promote sustainability and combat climate change.

Allison Paisner headshotAbout the Author: Allison Paisner is an intern with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.