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Irvine is one of 3 cities in state to win $1 million to combat climate change

A large crowd gathered during a climate change protest in Irvine in 2019.
(Raul Roa)
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After taking part in a statewide competition, Irvine has been awarded $1-million worth of funding to help 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 were chosen to receive $1 million each to roll out their climate programs.

Los Angeles and Petaluma are the other winners named this week. The cities will use the funding to try to develop the most innovative methods to achieve carbon-neutrality. More than 40 cities competed in the Cool City Challenge.

“I’m so impressed with the city’s commitment to climate solutions and response to this call to action,” Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan said. “Without the support of Irvine residents, we would not have exceeded our goal of 200 volunteers and been awarded this competitive grant. This community support, coupled with our work to develop a comprehensive Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, gives the city of Irvine a strong lead in the fight against climate change. I can’t wait to see what our community does next to help reach our carbon neutrality by 2030 goal.”

Irvine was named a finalist late last month after it recruited more than 200 volunteers to serve as Cool Block leaders, who will work with a team in their neighborhoods to discuss and implement plans for energy efficiency, water conservation, emergency preparedness and social justice. 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. Irvine has also partnered with more than 25 community organizations to help reach their goal.

Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center.
Climate change is causing plant die-offs in Southern California. Pictured, Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center.
(Courtesy of Sicco Rood)

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.

David Gershon, chief executive of the Empowerment Institute, said in a press release that he created the Cool City Challenge because “cities emit 70% of the planet’s carbon emissions and citizens represent 70% of those emissions through their daily lifestyle choices. A partnership between cities and citizens is clearly needed for success.”

He continued: “The latest climate science tells us we must move carbon reduction targets forward to 2030 from 2050 to avoid irreversible ecological tipping points. The Cool City Challenge is designed to do just that.”

Sona Coffee, Irvine’s environmental programs administrator, said in a previous interview that 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.

Desert Ecologist Jim Cornett measures a young Joshua Tree.
Desert Ecologist Jim Cornett measures a young Joshua Tree to see how climate change has impacted the desert plant life.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A few other Orange County cities are working on curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Santa Ana approved a sweeping climate resolution last month, 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.

A spokesman for the program said the Cool City Challenge will expand next year in the state and nationally. In 2023, the challenge will go international.

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