A template for a new era of climate leadership – Los Angeles’ Green New Deal
Los Angeles’ Green New Deal, which I was privileged to join Mayor Garcetti in launching this week, provides a template for a new era of climate leadership. Like many other great C40 city climate action plans, it is built on hard data and sets goals to reduce emissions in line with the science-based target of constraining global average temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial average. That’s why C40, the organisation for which I am privileged to work, has provided support to LA as part of our Deadline 2020 programme. But its starting point is climate justice and its framework is how action to reduce pollution will also reduce inequality, introduce new and better jobs, develop a stronger, more sustainable economy, and improve the health and well-being of Angelenos. In short it is a strategy to take forward the whole of society and thus moves climate change from a peripheral issue to the central organising principle of government.
Climate breakdown, as the Mayor’s plan notes, is not fair. Those who have done least to cause environmental pollution, the least well off globally and within all societies, are hit hardest by its consequences. But faced with immediate problems of feeding a family, paying the rent, and accessing health care, unless political leaders can demonstrate that there will be immediate and tangible benefits for everyone and that they are actually designing policies to avoid inequities and redistribute resources, they won’t be able to win popular legitimacy for the tough decisions that are required to slash emissions and safeguard everyone’s future. As the LA Green New Deal puts it: “L.A. is home to a diverse population, a dynamic workforce, and a growing economy. Yet too often, the Angelenos left behind by progress – low-income families and communities of color – are disproportionately impacted by pollution and face dire consequences for their health. If we wish to build a truly fair, just, and prosperous city, we have to ensure everyone experiences the benefits of a sustainable future.”
The LA Green New Deal doesn’t just map out how LA can become zero carbon, therefore, it also considers how to “[Enact] sustainable policies that prioritize economic opportunity. We will mandate and incentivize the transition to a zero carbon city in a way that prioritizes the needs and opportunities of disadvantaged communities, ensuring that the new green economy fulfils the promise of a more just and equitable economy.”
The whole strategy starts with a chapter on ‘Environmental Justice’, which contains some measures that might surprise people about a city as wealthy as Los Angeles (the third biggest city in the world measured by economy size). For example, there is commitment to “provide drinking water access in five sites of highest need”, and to provide permanent drinking water facilities in Skid Row, where thousands of homeless people sleep in fabric tents in the heart of downtown, overlooked by some of the wealthiest real estate in the world.
Similarly, those with images of Hollywood and Beverly Hills in their minds might not have expected a pledge to reduce oil production by 40% against 2013 levels, but in fact there are over 300 oil wells in Los Angeles, many of them deep inside residential areas and even next to schools. This measure will contribute to preventing 1,650 annual deaths from air pollution and saving $16bn in health costs from reduced hospital admissions.
Then there are the commitments to further extend mass transit in this city that in the mid-twentieth century was re-designed to put the motor car first and humans second, as automotive companies bought up the trams and trains with the explicit intention of shutting them down in order to generate more demand for their products. The result is an extraordinary spaghetti of highways and elevated streets, alongside traffic congestion that is a vision of hell itself. The Green New Deal will build on a once-in-a-generation investment in buses, metro-lines, cycle lanes and pedestrian priority that Mayor Garcetti gained public backing for through ‘Measure M’. The car, however, is not entirely forgotten, albeit in a new, quieter, zero-emission guise, with a commitment to further extend ‘ BlueLA’ – an electric car hire scheme – into the least wealthy neighbourhoods.
The macro target for environmental justice builds on a management tool that I foresee many other cities wishing to emulate, to “[I]mprove the raw scores of CalEnviroScreen indicators (a measure of environmental pollution) of LA communities in the top 10% by an average of 25% by 2025; and 50% by 2035.
The promised job creation numbers are big too – over 300,000 good, green, unionised jobs created by 2035, rising to 400,000 by mid-century. This builds on a strong legacy whereby 25,000 new green economy jobs have already been created in Los Angeles in the last few years – more than all the coal jobs lost in the USA over the same period. This is one of the strongest arguments for green new deals everywhere, because the data increasingly shows that low carbon economic development simply creates more and better jobs than staggering stubbornly along the existing high-carbon growth highway. Halving emissions in the next decade is going to take an awful lot of investment, creating a lot of work.
In Mayor Garcetti’s Green New Deal this will include:
- $8bn of investment in the next 3 years by the publicly owned energy utility to build the country’s largest, cleanest, and most reliable urban electrical grid to power the next generation of green transportation and clean buildings.
- $860 million per year to expand the transportation system
- Billions more to build clean buildings, with new regulations that mean all new buildings have to operate at net zero carbon by 2030 and shutting down remaining gas power stations so that all buildings are powered by renewable electricity by the same date
This part of the Green New Deal is really interesting, but somewhat understated. Los Angeles is a city with a hugely powerful and unremittingly innovative private sector that is the envy of most in the world. But the key targets of the LA Green New Deal are firmly anchored in a publicly-led programme of investment and tough regulation. In my view (and noting that this is not in any way stated in the LA Green New Deal itself), this is a recognition that climate breakdown is irrefutably the consequence of huge, global market failure and there is no (so-called) free-market-led pathway to a climate safe future.
Private innovation and investment and the organisational role of markets will have a massive role to play, but if we are going to halve global emissions in a decade then governments at all levels are going to need to move well beyond the neo-classical economic maxims of passively creating a ‘level playing field’ for private companies and only intervening to fix broken markets. Instead we are going to need what economist Mariana Mazzucato calls the ‘entrepreneurial state’, that creates and shape markets, leading by example through investing in the clean new economy, taking a return on that investment so that it can be recycled, and pulling private capital in behind them.
I haven’t heard Mayor Garcetti put it quite that way, but that is clearly the philosophical under-pinning of the national Green New Deal movement launched by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Perhaps it doesn’t need saying if you are in power and have the means to deliver. A pragmatic politician, Mayor Garcetti’s pitch is that while Washington talks about a Green New Deal, Los Angeles is showing what one looks like in action.
That does not mean that all those whom one might expect to be enthusiastically rallying behind the LA Green New Deal are doing so. Launching the plan in the garden of his official residence the Mayor had to raise his voice to speak over the sound of a noisy protest outside, staged by a trade union representing a section of workers in the city-owned utility. They fear that the decision to close down gas plants will make their specialised skills redundant.
The Mayor made clear that his commitment is not simply that there will be net job creation, but that in a just transition to a low carbon Los Angeles, the specific workers who lose their jobs in the dirty economy, will be re-trained and supported to find as good or better opportunities in the clean economy to come. Understandably, given a national economy where real wages are in decline and the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, a lot of trust will need to be built up for blue-collar workers to easily give up secure, well-paid jobs. C40 is working globally with the trade union-led Just Transition Centre on just this issue, and Los Angeles is creating a jobs cabinet, with employers, training institutions and communities, to do just that, by training people for these new jobs and opportunities.
I thought it was brave and much needed leadership by Mayor Garcetti that he didn’t attempt to side-step the protests and made no bones about the fact that the transition to a climate safe world is going to be tough.
In my own remarks at the Green New Deal launch I also pointed out that if, when the C40 group of mayors was formed 15 years ago, other political leaders had joined them in taking climate change seriously then our emissions reduction pathway could have been far less dramatic. It would have been even more straightforward if climate change had been put at the top of the agenda when James Hansen presented unequivocal evidence of looming climate disaster to the US government in the 1980s, or when Exxon and the other big oil companies conducted, and then smothered, their own analysis of the dangers of continuing to burn fossil fuels in the 1970s. Half of all the greenhouse gases humanity has pumped into the atmosphere in our entire 200,000 year existence have occurred in the last 30 years, when we were well aware of the dangers. Now the task of avoiding climate breakdown is urgent and the emission reduction pathway grows steeper every day.
That much is clear in the LA Green New Deal. In Mayor Garcetti’s words, “with flames on our hillsides and floods in our streets, cities cannot wait another moment to confront the climate crisis with everything we’ve got”.
The raw climate targets in the Green New Deal, accordingly, sound ambitious, although in fact they are simply driven by working backwards from what science advises is the minimum necessary to avoiding global heating passing a disastrous tipping point:
- A 50% reduction in GHG emissions (against 1990 levels) by 2025
- 80% renewable energy supply by 2036
- Mandating that all new municipally owned buildings and major renovations be all-electric, effective immediately
- All new buildings to be net zero GHG emissions in operation by 2030
- Recycling 100% of wastewater by 2035; sourcing 70% of our water locally; and nearly tripling the maximum amount of stormwater captured.
Institutionally, an already impressively-organised sustainability team will be bolstered by a new ‘Jobs Cabinet’, a ‘Climate Emergency Commission’, and a ‘Climate Emergency Mobilization Director’.
These are genuinely tough targets and C40’s analysis validates that they will be sufficient for Los Angeles to make its contribution to keeping global average temperature rise below 1.5 degrees (C40 has provided funding and other resources to LA to help produce its Green New Deal plan, as part of our Deadline 2020 programme whereby every C40 city must publish a similar robust strategy by the end of 2020 at the latest in order to remain a member of our network). But as Mayor Garcetti pointed out at the launch, with the price of renewable energy falling by the day, “it has never been cheaper and quicker to solve this problem”.
The concept of a ‘Green New Deal’ might turn out to be peculiarly American. The memory of the achievements of the original New Deal linger long here, while it doesn’t have the same resonance elsewhere. But I am thoroughly convinced that the principle of focusing on equity and a low carbon economy together will come to underpin all of the successful climate change strategies around the world. Mayor Garcetti is by no means alone among C40 mayors in recognising this (over 30 have signed our Equity Pledge), but in launching the Los Angeles Green New Deal he has made a very concrete step to demonstrating what that means in practice. It gives me massively renewed hope for the future.
One Response to “A template for a new era of climate leadership – Los Angeles’ Green New Deal”
So welcome to see people taking thoughtful, courageous and far-sighted decisions involving climate and social justice in a location where so much needs to be done.