As global warming continues to make its way into the political sphere, environmental policy issues are becoming more prominent. Sixteen-year-old climate activist and Nobel Prize nominee Greta Thunberg has dominated headlines for her work in the Fridays For Future movement, while others, like President Donald Trump, have received attention from activist groups for their lack of environmental concern.
While these sentiments have made their way to the forefront of global conversations, environmental initiatives are also happening on a smaller scale — in cities like Los Angeles.
On Oct. 25, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti met with French Ambassador Philippe Étienne to discuss the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris and Los Angeles, and the fight against climate change.
Despite Trump’s 2017 announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has involved himself and the city in multiple global initiatives aimed at combating climate change.
“My goal is to build such a strong coalition that the next mayor, the mayor after that, has to accelerate these goals further,” Garcetti said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “There will be pride in this. There will be a sense of who we are.”
In 2014, Garcetti co-founded Climate Mayors, a bipartisan network of over 400 mayors working towards expressing and creating political will to lead to impactful federal and global policy against climate change.
Garcetti was also elected in 2017 for a second term as Vice-Chair of C40, an international city-led coalition connecting 94 cities in the fight against climate change. Within the coalition, Garcetti signed an initiative called: Fossil Fuel Streets, which pledges to buy only zero-emission buses starting in 2025 and make a major part of cities zero-emission by 2030.
“[Cities are becoming] this global network to confront both national problems in our respective countries but also planetary problems from climate change to refugees that are fleeing conflict,” Garcetti said in a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone.
Monalisa Chatterjee, an environmental studies professor at USC, emphasized the importance of Los Angeles taking initiative in fighting climate change.
“[L.A.] also has lots of features which are very similar to any other large city whether we are looking at developed country or even a developing country,” Chatterjee said. “If L.A. is able to [create effective environmental policy], the lessons that we learn and the successful practices that we find can be implemented elsewhere.”
In direct response to the U.S. announcement to withdraw from the Paris Accords, Garcetti announced an update to L.A.’s Sustainable City pLAn in 2019, creating a Green New Deal for the city in line with the goals of the agreement, and mirroring the proposal of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a national environmental deal.
The plan is outlined by eight main goals:
- 100% electrify by 2030
- Create 400,000 green jobs by 2050
- Plant 90,000 trees by 2021
- Divert 100% of waste from landfills by 2050
- 100% renewable energy by 2045
- Source 70% of all water locally by 2035
- Recycle 100% of wastewater by 2035
- 100% net-zero waste by 2050
To achieve these goals, the plan includes programs such as the BlueLA Electric Car Sharing Program, the nation’s largest electric vehicle car-sharing program for underrepresented communities, and an agreement with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia to make the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach zero-emission. The plan also incorporates partnerships with organizations such as nonprofits, universities, and corporations to tackle various environmental issues.
However, there has been some backlash against Garcetti’s efforts toward sustainability.
In April 2019, a labor union that represents workers at the Department of Water and Power protested his decision not to rebuild three gas plants on the coast. Workers protested outside of the mayor’s house, concerned that his plan would get rid of jobs and raise electricity rates.
Other criticism comes from the youth-led Sunrise Movement, which asserts that Garcetti’s efforts are not enough. Rather than 2050, the organization emphasized that we would need to reach zero emission goals by 2030 to have a chance of preventing the irreversible effects of climate change.
Antonio Bento, a Price School of Public Policy professor who leads the Center for Sustainability Solutions, acknowledged that while some aspects of the plan are unrealistic, he believes that there are still important benefits.
“The rest of the world, when it comes to these types of policies, they look at Southern California for guidance,” Bento said to The Times.
Cassidy Cunningham, a junior majoring in environmental studies, also spoke to the importance of local environmental policy in having a significant impact, especially in a city like Los Angeles. He pointed out that California has one of the largest economies in the world, and passing environmentally-friendly legislation in a major port like Los Angeles puts pressure on companies that import to companies based in L.A.
“Working with mayors and people from all different countries is the only way that we’re actually going to be able to solve this issue because it is a global climate crisis,” Cunningham said. “[It] shows that we’re moving forward in the right direction and not just being stagnant.”
In the meantime, one of Garcetti’s upcoming goals in his Sustainable City pLAn is to plant 90,000 trees in the next year. While Garcetti continues to lead sustainability efforts in L.A., and make the city an internationally-recognized leader in these initiatives, criticism from environmental groups remain.
His reelection in 2017 provided him with five more years to continue to tackle these pressing issues. And as he provides new solutions and attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change, voters three years from now will decide if they view his efforts as successful.