Engaging community leaders to cool Irvine

California is at risk of coastal flooding, habitat destruction and wildfires; Irvine is taking a holistic, grassroots approach at the block-level to tackle these threats and improve community climate resilience.

In 2021, the city collaborated with 25 community-led organisations to engage residents in making climate pledges a reality, recruiting over 200 block leaders to guide community efforts. The pledges include introducing energy and water conservation measures, shifting to a planet-friendly diet, switching to cycling or walking, retrofitting homes, and creating disaster evacuation plans/kits. The city launched a pilot programme offering grants up to US $1,000 and no-interest loans of US $25,000 to help finance home upgrades that improve sustainability and resilience in Irvine’s oldest neighbourhoods.

Community-building and connecting with residents who are traditionally excluded from the climate conversation is a core part of the initiative. So far, more than 180 ethnically diverse Irvine households are taking part in the Cool Block programme. Together, they have pledged over 1,800 actions and taken 1,385 measures to reduce emissions. The measures have resulted in a reduction of nearly 250 tonnes of CO2 emissions, bringing Irvine a step closer to its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2030 – 15 years before the rest of the state of California.

Putting people at the centre of climate action

With a population of 160,000, the Chilean municipality of Renca may be small in size, but it has proved to be a climate giant. The historically low-income city faces numerous challenges, with a green space per-resident ratio of less than half what WHO recommends. Heat waves and droughts are becoming more intense and frequent, and nearly half of Renca’s residents live in vulnerable conditions. The city is collaborating with residents and global networks on an ambitious, holistic programme to mitigate the impact of climate change and improve residents’ wellbeing. 

The ‘We all care, we all act’ programme was created in collaboration with locals, reflecting residents’ wishes and needs and placing equity, inclusion and wellbeing at its heart. Actions implemented include installing solar panels in schools and heating/cooling systems in housing, launching four air quality monitoring stations and the city’s first electric bus, which prioritises journeys taken by the elderly. With the help of more than 16,000 resident volunteers, Renca is aiming to reforest 80,000 native species in a new urban park, supporting urban biodiversity and increasing resilience and resident access to green spaces.

Renca cemented its climate ambitions after attending COP26; the only Chilean municipality to do so, it has made further pledges to expand its e-vehicle networks. By 2024, all municipal cars will be electric and all residents will have sufficient access to green space.

Tackling inequity with a Green New Deal

In the United States, race is the most significant indicator of whether a person lives near contaminated air, water or soil. In Seattle, the climate crisis disproportionately affects neighbourhoods impacted by economic, environmental and racial inequities. 

The city is tackling these issues through a Green New Deal, which promises to address the climate crisis and environmental injustice through carbon-pollution reduction and climate adaptation efforts. It will also build an inclusive and equitable low-carbon economy and promote community health and wellbeing by investing in Black, Indigenous and people of colour, refugees and low-income communities. The overarching goal is to reduce climate-related health disparities and foster community resilience.

An Independent Green New Deal Advisory Body Board, comprised of 19 individuals connected to groups disproportionately affected by climate breakdown, gives recommendations to accelerate climate action. In 2022, the Board recommended US $6.5 million investments to finance green and just initiatives, such as converting oil-based heating to electric heat pumps for low-income households. Residents give feedback to the Board on their specific community needs and opportunities to build climate resilience across the city. Expected 2023 Green New Deal investments range between US $14 million to US $26 million, with funds raised via taxation on big business.

Since 2008, Seattle has decreased greenhouse gas emissions in the buildings, transportation, and waste sectors by 4.9% – despite a 25% population increase. The soon-to-be-released citywide building standards will reduce emissions by a further 27% by 2050. Seattle’s initiative also creates jobs in government and the clean energy industries for people of colour, showing how climate action can deliver equity.

Tokyo / Kuala Lumpur
Global North and South collaboration to decarbonise the building sector

Buildings and construction work are responsible for over one-third of the world’s energy consumption. The sector needs to be almost net-zero carbon by 2050 to keep global heating under 1.5˚C and avert catastrophic climate breakdown. In 2019, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur established an innovative Global North-Global South climate partnership to decarbonise the building sector to rise to this challenge.

Tokyo previously made bold and successful steps to reduce emissions from the built environment and shared its learnings with Kuala Lumpur, so the city could begin making dents in its emissions output. Improving energy efficiency is vital given that tropical climate makes the indoor environment more comfortable while reducing baseline emissions. The cities continued communicating throughout the pandemic, holding more than 50 meetings over three years. 

As a result of peer-to-peer discussions and knowledge sharing, the cities developed the Low Carbon Building Standards for facilities owned by Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur has already started renovations at four buildings based on a five-year renovation plan. An energy-related database for Kuala Lumpur’s 1,955 facilities has also been developed, becoming the basis for implementing Low Carbon Building Standards.

In a world where true and equitable Global North-Global South partnerships are rare, this collaboration is a trailblazing model for other cities to emulate across multiple sectors.