C40 Chair & LA Mayor Eric Garcetti Kicks Off the Climate Decade at VX2020

Eric Garcetti

In November of 2019, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was named chair of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a world-wide network of mayors from 96 megacities—representing a quarter of the global economy— committed to delivering at the local level on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. With Southern California now the 3rd largest Metropolitan economy in the world, Los Angeles stands as a global leader and subnational laboratory for innovation and opportunity in the face of climate catastrophe. At VX2020, Mayor Garcetti delivered the following remarks, edited for space, to an audience of over 400 global marketmakers on how cities, like Los Angeles, are demonstrating the transformative power of the green economy to drive robust and sustainable growth while embracing the existential imperative of this decade, the Climate Decade.

We’re here at VerdeXchange today to not just talk about what’s here right now, but to think about what comes next. We face—and there’s no way of sugar-coating this—a global crisis. We feel the ecological devastation everywhere. I met recently with the head of FEMA; In the last 2 years, we paid as much as we had in the previous 27 years for FEMA relief because of the extreme weather events that we’re seeing.

If you ask a young person today, there are two things that preoccupy them. The threat of nuclear war was the stress that we had as children. Remember the feeling we had growing up that if somebody pressed the wrong button, there would be nuclear annihilation? Today, if you talk to a young person, they know that threat is global warming. But unlike the past, when we worried somebody could hit the button, they know the button has been pressed already. The whole world is asking that fundamental question: will this world as we know it still be around for the rest of our lives, for our children, and for our children’s children?

If you ask a younger person these days what else stresses them out, they wonder, if the world still is around, will there be a place in that economy for them? The good news is that here in Los Angeles, we recognize those two questions, not only can, but must be resolved together. They’re intertwined, and we cannot even begin to talk about ecological preservation without looking at economic development as well.

In 2015, we released our city’s first pLAn, our sustainability plan. We put together the three E’s: economy, equity, and the environment. What do equity and the economy have to do with the environment? It used to be a segregated issue, but we have to integrate these three values together. We set really hard goals: 61 goals in 14 categories with specific deadlines throughout the next 5 years.

I’m proud to say that we exceeded or met those goals—90 percent of them, on time or early. We said we’d completely wean ourselves off of coal power plants by 2025, and we will. We said we’d invest in a record number of renewables, and we are. We made the decision to look and find the largest single solar plant with battery storage in American history, at only $1.99 per kW/hr.

In 2016, we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 11 percent in a single year, and guess what happened with unemployment? We reduced our unemployment by 14 percent. So, we exploded the myth that economic development and sustainability don’t go together, and were able to take the equivalent of 737,000 cars off the road in a single year. I know it can be depressing work these days when we can see the statistics from countries not hitting their goals. But as chair of C40 Cities, we just announced that of the 96 megacities in C40, 30 of them have already peaked emissions and are now on their way down. For our national governments who feel that we can’t do that, we show how we actually are doing that.

Last April we upped the ante and released the second iteration of our pLAn with accelerated goals, new projects, and moved up deadlines. We released it as LA’s Green New Deal with a focus on those good-paying, middle-class—often union—jobs of the future together, with a decade of action: the Climate Decade, which the 2020’s must be.

We must look back and be able to say this was the decade in which we turned the tide on global warming—too late to stop it, but we mitigated it enough and set the base foundation for a day in which we could imagine it being healed.

At the same time if we accomplish the specific pieces of LA’s Green New Deal—to have a zero-carbon electricity grid, zero-carbon buildings, zero-carbon transportation, zero wasted water wasted, and zero waste, we will cut emissions by an additional 30 percent from what we pledged in the 2015 pLAn. That's how quickly things are moving. To put that in perspective, that's the equivalent of the yearly emissions of New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong combined, just from one city.

Along the way, we can also train the workforce of tomorrow. We launched careers through our Green New Deal that will bring pollution to new lows and power our economy to new highs. In the six years since I've been Mayor in the city of Los Angeles, we've added 35,000 green jobs. That's more than 8 percent of all employment through new green jobs in six years. That's equivalent to about 60 percent of the remaining coal jobs in America. And we're just 1 percent of the population. I always tell mayors whether they're in Appalachia or in the South or out here in the West: If you're not getting with this revolution, you're losing jobs.

What we've achieved so far has been possible because of the power of partnerships. A great example of this is our Streets LA Cool LA Neighborhoods program, an initiative to lower temperatures by cooling down neighborhoods with cool pavement and shade. Shade represents the economic vitality, the social justice, and the opportunities in an area. In Los Angeles, we have some beautiful tree-lined neighborhoods, but go elsewhere in the city, and we see how shade is an equity issue. Cooling streets means the difference between whether a senior can actually go and get the food at the market, or is stuck at home. We, under Adel Hagekhalil’s leadership at StreetsLA, launched a way to install cool pavement with lighter colored streets, new shade structures, necessary tree placement, and so much more.

We're partnering with the private sector. Whether it's the through the innovation coming out of our Cleantech Incubator—the number one ranked cleantech incubator in the world—the solar panels that have been installed across our region with feed-in tariffs that allow building owners to earn some profit while we cool our Earth, or the Eland battery storage and solar energy project that will provide electricity for a million people at half the price of other modes—when we look at what we're doing, we’re thinking big and bold.

Together, with my brother Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach, where 43 percent of goods come into America, we pledged to have the first Zero Emissions ports in human history. We’re working hard with our state partners to set those standards, to develop the technologies, and to get the trucks and cargo movers to zero emission right here, right now in Los Angeles.

We’re partnering not just here in this region, but across the country and across the world. When the president said he would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, we didn't cry in a corner. I picked up the phone and talked to republican, democratic, and independent mayors across the country and co-founded, with the mayors of Houston and Philadelphia, a group called Climate Mayors to address this biggest crisis of our lives. At the time, we had only a few cities represented, then it was a dozen, and now in 49 states—and we're about to get the first mayor in North Dakota— so, we’ll have all 50 states, representing more than 70 million Americans living in cities committed to implementing the Paris Accord.

Now, we know we have to go much further than Paris—it’s just the beginning. But we're putting our technical expertise on the line—we're pooling our buying power so that small cities can get the same price for electric vehicles that we do in a big town like Los Angeles—we're sharing those best practices and talking about how we can go further and go faster.

C40 Cities represents 96 mega cities—a quarter of the world's GDP is represented by chief executives that I now lead as chair. We have pledged, across the board, to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Some say that's impossible, but I say we’ll get there early. Look at Copenhagen, which in 2025 will be the first carbon-neutral big city in the world. When I took over as C40 Chair, I was in Copenhagen, and I want to just share what I said to the leaders of these megacities— from Mumbai to Shanghai, from London to Paris, folks that don't look at global warming as something abstract, but are dealing with it every single day.

The first thing that I shared was that we must collectively enact a Global Green New Deal. There's a lot of talk in Washington about a Green New Deal. Is it a social program? Is it economic redistribution? I think we have a good model of what it is right here in Los Angeles. We've created jobs. We're rethinking how we live, but we're doing in a way that brings the city and the economy along with us.

We must make this the Climate Decade, a decade of action. No more talk, no more plans—actual action. This is the last chance we will be given in our lives. If you're a company, if you're a government, you’re a nonprofit—this is that moment. Now really is the time to make that change across the board and think through that future, because a billion climate refugees will fundamentally shift the world that we live in, even if you can afford to deal with climate change.

Second, we must mobilize a broad coalition, a coalition of everybody. I went to the WWII Museum in New Orleans over Christmas with my family. I was amazed to realize that the amount of  time between Pearl Harbor and D-Day was less time than I have left as your mayor.

We were a country that wasn't really building stuff, that didn't know how to mobilize its people. Everything went into the war effort, even used chewing gum wrappers, because every little piece of scrap metal was so precious. So when people say they can’t adjust their dish washing machines to a different cycle or the president belittles conservation efforts, let's get real:

We have always lived with much more sacrifice than we do today. This isn't a partisan issue. We are the exceptional generations, every other human being after us and before us will look back at this moment saying how did they live that way? And look what it did: Two-thirds of the plastic that's been made by human beings has been made in my lifetime, over 50 percent of the emissions of human generations that have spanned millennia has been in my lifetime. We have to mobilize everyone to this.

That means accelerating what works. That means being honest about where we can do more: To the folks protesting in the street, it means learning how to come into the boardroom and into City Hall. And for folks that are inside, it means getting out there and listening—to feel and to hear, not just the panic that people have, but the ideas that they have.

We need to look at global supply chains that power the global economy and make smart, sustainable changes. We also have to look in new places. That's why as C40 chair, I'm looking at a global ports collaborative to share what we’re doing here and make sure it’s also happening in Hong Kong and in Rotterdam and other places.

The price of a Global Green New Deal may seem expensive, but it is nothing compared to the cost of inaction, which is why we need financiers and investors to accelerate the ability for cities to implement these changes more quickly, especially in the global south. We could do everything perfectly, and simply the population growth of Africa— if we're not helping to build that infrastructure simultaneously—could wipe out those gains in 30 or 40 years. We can no longer just think about Asia, or the Americas, or Europe on their own. We have to think about the global south and make sure everybody is included there.

We have to make sure that labor is there at the front end, so that when people are worried about those jobs, we have the answer and we have the training.

We have to work with scientists and innovators and academia to make sure those solutions that come forward are here.

We have to empower those cities that are in the global networks, but also those that aren't. How do we do that for a mid-sized city in South Africa, a small town in Sweden, even the megacities of the future that we don't see yet?

We have to make the 2020s a decade of action, the Climate Decade, and we have to have a Global Green New Deal that is inclusive of everybody.

This room is filled with warriors, but you might not think of yourself that way. If you’re the CEO of an important energy company, you're a warrior—you're ready. If you're an academic, you need to get that big idea to market. If you're an investor— and some of you have been to the front end of this— you need to start shifting over to financing mechanisms that make green investments not an option, but a mandatory obligation for the money that we will need for this war effort to move forward.

In closing, there are two ways people often look at the world and the future. Because it comes at us so quickly, oftentimes, people get future phobic. People want to fight it off, and I always find that's a deadend. Alternatively, a lot of people are future passive. They figure what will happen, will happen, and we, in positions of leadership, should just lie down and let it happen. But neither of those are the pathways forward.

Here’s what I offer: we need to be future guiding. We need to know what we all know, and we need to share what we know.

We need to not distrust governments’ future-guiding work any time it impacts business. And vice versa, we have to trust that business will figure out a model to get there as well—so that pipes now carrying natural gas might have hydrogen instead; so that we run turbines in a greener way; so that we ourselves sacrifice and take a couple trips a week differently; so that we think about investing in public transportation the way folks have set the bar here in LA, and that we demanded be accelerated by Washington, Sacramento, and City Hall simultaneously. 

The poet Robert Browning, when he was writing about the great painter, Andrea del Sarto, said, “A man's reach must always exceed his grasp.”

When I first read that, it gave me the chills, because I thought about how do you fight homelessness? How do you fight climate change? Sometimes we reach past what we will be able to hold.

Think about the history of this country and of this world. You think about slaves who lived in this country fighting for their freedom, but died never having one free day, so that their children would. Think about women who never got to exercise their right to vote in a single election, but fought so that their daughters and granddaughters could. Think about the farm worker whose children were killed by pesticides providing food for this country, but they fought that battle so that somebody else's kid could live.

Let us make sure that our reach exceeds our grasp. Our children want us to stretch as far as we can— our earth and the other creatures that live on this planet demand it of us. The second line of that poem says, “after all, what is a heaven for?” I would challenge you, after all, what are we here for, if not for that?


“We must make this the Climate Decade, a decade of action. No more talk, no more plans—actual action. This is the last chance we will be given in our lives.” —Eric Garcetti