The City of Irvine has a long history of leading when it comes to protecting the environment.  In fact, the very first ordinance passed by the City Council after its founding was limiting the removal of trees in the City. 

The City logo itself shows a balance between a family and their natural surroundings.

The City of Irvine has also had close ties with the University of California, Irvine (UCI) community.  Campus scientists, engineers, and policy experts have teamed up on numerous occasions with City staff and elected officials to address the environmental challenges impacting our local community and the world.

The most notable of the actions was the development of a City ordinance banning the use of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, as a collaboration between the City, UCI scientists and engineers, and local business leaders. 

CFCs were discovered to be destroying the Earth’s critically protective ozone layer at UCI, through a study led by Dr. Mario Molina and UCI Professor Sherwood Rowland.  (In 1995, Dr. Molina and Professor Rowland won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on this issue.) 

Irvine’s then-Mayor, Larry Agran led the effort for the City to adopt an ordinance banning CFCs.

The City’s adoption of the ordinance made it onto the front page of the New York Times, where it was described as the “most far-reaching measure” to protect the ozone.  The Los Angeles Times declared it “the most comprehensive law in the nation.”  Bloomberg credited the ordinance with “kick-starting the ozone’s recovery,” with other municipalities, states and national governments following suit.

Now, the clock is ticking on another global threat.  In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the remaining carbon budget into the atmosphere is 420 gigatonnes of CO2 in order to have a 67% chance of staying below the 1.5°C increase in global temperature goal of the Paris Climate Agreement in order to avoid the worst effects of global climate change.

Here we are three years later, and global CO2 emissions have not decreased.  We now have less than seven years of time left in this carbon budget at current rates of global emissions.  It’s hard to over-emphasize the scale of the threat.  If we exceed the 1.5°C threshold, we will have reached a point where, regardless of any adjustments we make, it may be too late to change the outcome of runaway greenhouse gas effects and an escalating climate crisis.

I was one of over 11,000 scientists to sign onto a 2019 Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency, because, as the associated paper states in its opening, “Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to tell it like it is.” 

Though we are in a dire situation, there is hope that we can turn our Earth’s climate around.  For example, the City of Irvine has committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, as has the State of California.  And this year, President Biden announced that the United States had rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement.

With the City’s commitment, Irvine has an obligation to reduce its carbon emissions as soon as possible, and it has several pathways to do so.  The first step is to identify the goal, which is decreasing our full carbon emissions by half in the next seven years, and to zero by 2035 in order to have a good shot at staying below the 1.5°C Paris Agreement limit in global temperature.  As my UCI student colleagues wrote here in the Irvine Community News & Views in 2019, we can get to a net-zero Irvine by using the solar resource available to us.

All of our residential energy use — including transportation, electricity, and heating — can be powered by solar energy hitting our own rooftops.  Because of the fact that solar power is now immensely cheaper than retail electricity, we have a real physical and financial potential to meet our community’s energy needs in a clean way with a concerted city-industry-community partnership.

We also now have a majority on our City Council who support placing our City and community as a global leader in sustainability and climate action.  Many of us on the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee look forward to advising and helping the Council and City staff make that a reality, helping save our planet, our environment, and ourselves, just as Irvine always has.

Dr. Kev Abazajian