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Climate and Environment

UN Report Hails LA's Climate Action Plan, But It Won't Mean Much Without Huge Reductions In Emissions Worldwide

An orange glow from a large wildfire looms over a wooded hillside at dusk.
The Bobcat Fire burns through the Angeles National Forest on September 17, 2020.
(KYLE GRILLOT/AFP via Getty Images
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The final and most critical analysis yet from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lays out a stark picture of the future if the world doesn’t drastically cut emissions within this decade.

The 3,675-page report was compiled by more than 230 of the world’s top climate scientists and approved by all the world’s governments. It’s the definitive guide to climate action for the next eight years, a period scientists are calling “critical” and “a crossroads” for governments—from the national to local level—to make drastic cuts to emissions across all sectors.

L.A. got a couple shoutouts in the report: the city is listed alongside Vancouver, Barcelona, London, Accra, Santiago de Chile, and Bogota for its climate action plan, as well as for the 34% reduction in the city’s emissions during early COVID lockdowns.

The world’s biggest annual emitteris China, followed by the U.S. But the U.S. is responsible for the largest amount of emissions over time, which is what brought us to the situation we face today.

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“Some government and business leaders are saying one thing, but doing another,” United Nations Secretary-General António Gueterres said at a press conference on Monday morning. “Simply put, they are lying, and the results will be catastrophic.”

The report is the third and final part of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment. This can be considered the “what can we do” part of the report. The last two segments focused on the physical sciences and impacts—the “why” and “how bad is the problem” parts.

Guterres said we’re in a climate emergency and squarely placed the blame on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas — and on the governments and corporations that are continuing to push their use. But this report, he emphasized, is about what we can do about the situation.

“Leaders must lead, but all of us can do our part,” Guterres said. “If you live in a big city, a rural area or a small island state, if you invest in the stock markets, if you care about justice and our children's future, I'm appealing directly to you. Demand that renewable energy is introduced now, at speed and at scale. Demand an end to coal-fired power, demand an end to all fossil fuel subsidies.”

So What’s This All Mean For L.A.?

The climate emergency is a global issue, but it’s felt and adapted to locally. Since an international agreement in 2015 called the Paris Agreement, the goal has been to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius (about 2.7° Farenheit). Even if we do limit warming to 1.5° C, places like Long Beach and Huntington Beach will still experience significant coastal flooding, likely before the end of the century. (You can see various sea level rise scenarios here.)

If global temperatures rise above 2° C, we’ll see even bigger and hotter fires across the county, particularly in the San Gabriel Mountains. Places like Lancaster and Santa Clarita could see average summer temperatures, already about 100° F, rise by as much as six degrees. And neighborhoods in central L.A., like Westlake and Crenshaw, could be hit by inland flooding as rainfall becomes less common, but more extreme, all according to a study from L.A. County.

The IPCC report is clear that cities — responsible for about two-thirds of global emissions — play a key role in mitigating and adapting to the climate emergency, especially when it comes to identifying equitable solutions that work and pushing more action at a national level.

As for action in L.A., here are a few things: the city has voted to phase out all oil and gas drilling over the next 20 years. The county also recently shifted more than a million Angelenos to renewable energy and a massive, recently completed wind farm is now powering hundreds of thousands of homes throughout the city.

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From the city to state level, there are efforts to electrify and retrofit buildings, improve electric vehicle access and infrastructure as well as improve the public transit system so we don’t need our cars as much. But these efforts may not be fast enough, and many important climate actions face significant resistance, such as the battle over rooftop solar happening at the state level now.

Now, Back To The Report. First, The Gist Of The Bad News:

  • We need to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 if we want a chance at keeping global heating to 1.5 degrees C. We’ve already heated the planet more than 1° C since the Industrial Revolution—on geological time scales, that’s a rapid and unnatural increase. We’re seeing the impact of it in today’s worsening heat waves and wildfires. Here’s more on why 1.5° C matters and what it means for L.A. 
  • After a century of steadily rising, global emissions need to peak by 2025 and then reduce by a quarter until 2030 in order for it to be possible to limit warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.
  • We’re not close to getting to 1.5°. Currently, emissions pledges made by countries in the Paris Agreement have us on track to hit at least 3 degrees Celsius of warming (about 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the report.
  • The report emphasizes that the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas for energy are the biggest drivers of the climate emergency. The authors write that additional investments in those energy sources will lock in even greater emissions. Amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some countries, including the U.S., are doubling down on fossil fuels to fight rising gas prices. 

Ok, That’s A Lot. Now, The Better News:

The report finds we have all the tools we need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, but to get there, we need unprecedented systemic and individual action in the next eight years. Here are some of the solutions the IPCC report lays out:

  • Cities account for nearly 2/3rds of global emissions, so urban planning is key to mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis. The report found that if we improve access to walking and cycling, electrify transport such as cars, buses and rails, reduce air travel and get buildings unhooked from gas or coal-powered electricity, cities could bring down global emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2050
  • The housing sector also presents a big opportunity. If cities adequately invest in retrofitting existing buildings and making new buildings powered by clean energy like wind and solar, the building sector could reach net zero emissions by 2050. 
  • Lifestyle changes like reducing air travel and eating less meat, particularly beef, can play a significant role, but also need systemic incentives. 
  • How we use land is another critical opportunity for lowering emissions: protecting and restoring natural ecosystems that are highly efficient at removing carbon from the atmosphere—such as coastal wetlands, forests, and grasslands (all of which we have here in California)—could provide large-scale emissions reductions. The authors warn conservation efforts should not lead to displacement and that Indigenous communities and other communities who live on such landscapes must be central to decision making.
Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?