Irvine has fallen behind on achieving ambitious carbon neutral goal, activists say

A year ago, Irvine became the first Orange County city to commit to carbon neutrality in response to the growing climate crisis.

Only a handful of other California cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Jose, have made similar pledges.

The move was praised by climate activists. But now the city is facing demands to do more to ensure its goal of becoming a zero-carbon economy by 2030 is met.

“There’s a plan to get a plan,” said Dr. Kev Abazajian, a physics professor at UC Irvine and a member of the city’s environmental committee. “The lack of concrete action on carbon neutrality is very frustrating.”

The resolution, passed by the city council on August 10, promised to set deadlines for greenhouse gas reductions and implement measures such as energy-efficient building standards and the expansion of bicycle and public transport.

Earlier this year, Irvine became the largest city in OC to choose to source 100% of its energy from renewable sources. But there has been little movement on the other targets in last year’s resolution – including the development of a detailed plan.

Local climate activists say a year of inaction has jeopardized the 2030 target. In an Aug. 10 letter, supported by more than 20 organizations, they criticized the lack of progress, as well as Irvine’s “notable” absence, in dozens of cities that have implemented policies to phase out natural gas in new homes and businesses.

Councilor Larry Agran is proud of the city’s reputation as an environmental leader. When he was mayor in 1989, Irvine restricted the use of chlorofluorocarbons to protect the ozone layer. He calls the activists’ criticism “fair”.

“The mayor in particular, but the council as a whole was very interested in aspirations, declarations and proclamations,” he said. “It has not failed at any significant follow-through.”

Mayor Farrah Khan said Irvine has taken several steps toward its climate pledge by offering green home grants, rebates for solar power groups and research into greener transportation options.

“Reaching our goal of carbon neutrality is an ambitious undertaking that requires careful planning,” she said in a written statement. “We look forward to finalizing details on our climate action plan over the coming months.”

At a meeting of the city’s environmental committee, city manager Oliver Chi warned that Irvine would outpace the state’s own climate protection efforts. Without progress in surrounding communities, Irvine’s efforts would have limited impact, he said.

“If you accelerate what the state is doing, are we really moving the needle from a sustainability perspective?” Chi said. “It’s like putting air in a balloon. They are moving the problem elsewhere in the state.”

But some say action is needed from both the state and the city.

“We absolutely need government-level action to tackle climate change, and we also need the city to do its part,” said Dr. Kathleen Treseder, professor of biology at UC Irvine, member of the environmental committee and candidate for city council.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s climate package, expected to be presented to the state legislature this week, calls for the state to be carbon neutral by 2045 at the latest.

As the city’s climate plan is being developed, Chi suggested that Irvine could reduce vehicle emissions by funding alternative gas stations and making the police department’s fleet electric. He also expressed an interest in hydrogen fuel.

“The city is considering ultra-clean hydrogen as part of our strategy for a carbon-neutral Irvine,” said Jaimee Bourgeois, Irvine’s director of public works and transportation.

The number of “hot days” over 92 degrees in Irvine will triple by 2053, according to a new study published last week.

Irvine City Council is expected to consider converting new homes and businesses to natural gas before the end of the year. The city has also promised to provide an update on its sustainability efforts.

On the steps of Irvine City Hall two weeks ago, climate activists – including some city officials – called for the state to take stronger action on climate change.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t possible on a city-by-city basis, and certainly not possible when cities are making big commitments, but fundamentally we’re not moving forward,” said Agran, the city councillor. Irvine has fallen behind on achieving ambitious carbon neutral goal, activists say

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