Irvine could secure $1-million worth of funding to combat climate change

A large crowd gathered in Irvine for a climate change rally.
A large crowd gathered in Irvine for a climate change rally.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Irvine is moving forward in a statewide competition for $1-million worth of funding to help the city achieve its ambitious goal to have a zero-carbon economy by 2030.

The competition, the Cool City Challenge, was started by the Empowerment Institute, an international consulting and training organization specializing in empowering cities to meet their carbon reduction goals. As part of this initiative, three California cities will receive $1 million each to roll out their climate programs. The three recipients of the grants will also share the Carbon Neutral City Prize, which includes $25 million in funding.

The winners of the challenge will be announced in mid-October, said Irvine spokeswoman Kristina Perrigoue.

“For Irvine in particular, the community has been really supportive around sustainability issues and climate awareness for the last several years,” said Sona Coffee, Irvine’s environmental programs administrator. “Now it’s an opportunity for the city as a local government to show that we are supportive and understand the seriousness of these issues and know that we can do something about it as a local government.

“Irvine is really well positioned with the community resources we have, the standing of the city and the innovative nature of this community, to be able to take on a challenge like this and serve as a model for others to follow.”

Irvine is able to move forward because, as of Wednesday, it recruited more than 200 volunteers to serve as Cool Block leaders, who will work with a team in their neighborhoods to host workshops in sustainability, emergency preparedness and climate action.

With the Irvine City Council’s unanimous approval of an aggressive climate resolution on Tuesday night, it became the first city in Orange County and the third in the state to make a pledge of carbon neutrality.

Coffee said that under the program, neighbors will commit to making certain changes to reduce their carbon footprint and will report back to the team so community members will hold each other accountable. Team members will be able to input their sustainability choices in a website portal, such as changing out light bulbs, and then their reduced carbon footprint will be measured for each action.

Anybody in the community can be a Cool Block leader. No science background is required.

“So the idea is that we’ll be working from the bottom up with the community members and their neighborhoods, while we’re also working top down to set the policies in place,” Coffee said.

The first phase that the city needed to complete before taking part in the Cool City Challenge was approving an aggressive climate resolution in early August. With the unanimous decision by the City Council, Irvine became the first city in Orange County, and the third in the state, to make a pledge of carbon neutrality.

Coffee said the next phase of the challenge for the city is designing its climate strategy. She said it could take about 18 months to finish the plan. The Cool City Challenge gives cities two years to finish the climate strategy.

As California begins exploring ways to become carbon neutral by 2035, cities are faced with quickly adopting their own climate action plans to help the state achieve its goal.

A few other Orange County cities are working on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Santa Ana recently approved a sweeping climate resolution, committing to 100% clean and renewable energy usage by 2045.

The issue has become all the more crucial following the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s alarming report calling climate change a “code red for humanity” that is already being felt across the world and will only continue to accelerate.

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