This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

UCLA experts take lead in regional climate plan

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The LARC hopes to transform the Los Angeles region. Above, the LA skyline on a smoggy day, and the same skyline on a clear day.
The LARC (Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability) hopes to transform the Los Angeles region.
In a unique effort to address climate change, experts with UCLA's Institute of the Environment (IOE) have been tapped to administer a new countywide collaborative and help create the group's regional climate plan.
 
The group, called the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability, referred to as the LARC, seeks to include the county's 88 cities as well as transportation agencies, clean air groups and other organizations to unify the region's plan of attack. Some of the agencies involved are already directing grants to UCLA to support the collaborative.
 
Stephanie Pincetl.
Stephanie Pincetl.
Stephanie Pincetl heads UCLA's partnership in the LARC from her position as director of IOE's Urban Center on People and the Environment. The regionalism the LARC seeks to create, she noted, is just beginning to gain acceptance around the country.
 
"What we're doing here is a completely novel collaborative, getting all of these jurisdictions working toward a common goal," Pincetl said. "Cities have never teamed up like this before. They've been brought to regionalism kicking and screaming, wanting to control their own territory. This is an extraordinary opportunity to change how we do things in California."
 
Although the LARC is just beginning, and Pincetl says it's premature to say with certainty what will be in the plan, she foresees exciting possibilities. The LARC will likely tally the sources of greenhouse gases around the county, and survey the existing sustainability plans in local cities and agencies. She also expects it will determine, for example, the impending sea level rise in the South Bay versus in Malibu, or the difference in anticipated temperature changes in Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks.
 
"We will probably develop scenarios of how water use, land use and energy use should change, and … where we should and shouldn't build," she said. "This is hypothetical, but one can imagine that as the sea level rises, we might need building codes to help push construction back from the coastline, or new codes about elevating buildings on piers. As the temperature changes make wildfires more prevalent, do we need new building codes in fire zones, or should we say it's too dangerous to live there at all?
 
"The important part, of course, is that UCLA is playing an enormously important role in making all this happen at the regional level," Pincetl added. "We can't continue to have each city pursuing its own plan, sometimes even canceling out each others' efforts."
 
The collaborative already includes Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Santa Monica, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the South Bay Council of Governments (COG), the Westside COG, and the regional coalition Green L.A.
 
Already, Los Angeles County has received a $400,000 grant from the federal Department of Energy, which the county is transferring to Pincetl's Urban Center on People and the Environment at UCLA. Pincetl anticipates that the City of Los Angeles will also receive and transfer $400,000 to UCLA, she said. "That will fund the collaboration's carbon registry, which will track all the sources of greenhouse gases in the county, and will also pay for some of the science modeling at UCLA."
 
Alex Hall.
Alex Hall.
UCLA will not only administer the collaborative, but will also create a technical advisory committee to work with the writers of the action plan. The committee will also provide some of the support science, such as fire hazard models, details on how urbanization impacts water runoff, and — the centerpiece — a localized climate model for the region. The IOE's Alex Hall, associate professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, will create the L.A. County-specific climate change model.
 
The model will predict variables such as ocean levels, heat waves, smog days, fire danger, temperature increases, energy use and ecosystem changes. The details will inform the LARC's main action plan. Hall's previous work includes helping develop the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the international body that the United Nations relies on for climate predictions. It will be a multi-year challenge, he said, to make models that will predict the different ways climate change will manifest in the basin, the valleys, the mountains and on the coast.
 
"Almost all climate change research up until now has been on the global scale," Hall said. "The technological infrastructure for doing regional simulations and projections is not as advanced, so that's part of our work. The study will also be groundbreaking in that it will use the model to determine the region's potential for developing renewable energy, such as solar and wind infrastructure."
IOE Director Glen MacDonald called the LARC a great example of "UCLA in LA" — an opportunity for UCLA to be involved in developing the climate solutions that will keep the region "prosperous and sustainable."
 
Glen MacDonald.
Glen MacDonald.
"It's a really exciting and innovative approach," MacDonald said. "LARC brings together local governments and agencies, NGO's and the university in a real partnership to tackle these tough issues. I believe that LARC can provide a model organizational structure for regional climate-action planning in many of the nation's large metropolitan regions." 
 
Paul Bunje, executive director of the IOE's Center for Climate Change Studies, will head the technical advisory committee that advises the LARC team chosen to write the climate change plan. The committee will probably include about a dozen experts from all over the region, not just from UCLA, he said. Having all the county's cities work together is a challenging proposition, Bunje added.
 
"Harmonizing all the municipalities region-wide might appear to be straightforward, but it will truly be a powerful part of it," Bunje said.
 
Bunje also applauded LARC for including a prominent academic component — UCLA.
 
Paul Bunje.
Paul Bunje.
"Many projects like this one are done in a fairly rote way. They tally the greenhouse gas sources, and some plans end there," he said. A good plan requires a list of actions to reduce pollutants, and teeth to enforce those recommendations, he explained.
 
"The truly great plans that I've seen have included an academic component," Bunje emphasized. "The better plans also include adaptation — acknowledging that temperatures will get warmer, water availability will decline, etc. They consider how the water utilities can contend with less water; how transportation management and public health will contend with more smog days."
 
UCLA's contribution to the LARC plan offers the expertise to not only offer ideas to those who write the LARC climate change plan, but to offer suggestions about cutting-edge technological options that many people don't even know about yet, Bunje said. "That's the insight I'm really enthusiastic about bringing."
 
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