UCLA environmental professors Magali Delmas and Susanna Hecht are among the climate experts, politicians and industry leaders gathering in San Diego today and Tuesday for a University of California climate change summit. The goal of the high-level meeting, to be attended by Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano, will be to develop a practical and scalable blueprint for tackling climate change that can be applied to California and the world.

Top UC climate experts will fill the halls at the University of California Summit on Pathways to Carbon and Climate Neutrality. Delmas, an environmental economist, will speak on a panel about social change, while Hecht, an urban planning professor, will discuss challenges for scalable solutions.

With the Carbon Neutrality Initiative announced by President Napolitano in 2013, UC pledged to become carbon-neutral by 2025 and the first major university to reach that goal. The state has its own ambitious climate targets: Reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels, shift California’s electricity production to at least 50 percent renewable sources and increase energy efficiency in buildings by 50 percent — all by 2030.

A group of 50 academics and researchers from across UC’s 10 campuses are rising to this challenge on behalf of the university and the state. Led by renowned climate scientist Veerabhadran "Ram" Ramanathan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who in 1975 discovered the greenhouse effect of chlorofluorocarbons in the Earth’s atmosphere, the group convened over the summer with the aim of settling on a set of actionable solutions for curbing climate change. These solutions will be presented and refined at the UC summit that begins today.

Recognizing that climate disruption is as much a technical challenge as it is a cultural, political and communications challenge, UC has pulled together experts from a broad spectrum of fields, ranging from climate science to ethics, economics, ecology, energy, environmental justice, political science and religion.

“Such diversity could have been a deterrent to working together,” said Ramanathan. “The binding glue is our understanding of the reality and seriousness of the climate change problem, as well as the strong belief that there is still time to mitigate the most disastrous of the predicted changes.”

Bending the curve

Ramanathan and colleagues are concentrating their efforts on the best ways to “bend the curve” by finding the most efficient and practicable ways to minimize the Earth’s temperature increase due to emissions of greenhouse agents.

Under the current “business as usual” practices, the planet is on target to exceed an increase of 2 degrees C relative to the pre-industrial average by 2050 and an increase of 4 degrees C by 2100, triggering serious large-scale problems including droughts, forest fires and sea level rise from 1.5 meters to 2 meters by the end of the century.

Mitigating carbon dioxide and short-lived climate pollutants like methane and black carbon can significantly reduce global warming and avert climate disruptions and eco system destruction — but only if real action is taken soon. The sooner emissions are reduced, the greater the effect on cumulative emissions.

With a group of 50 experts, there will be at least 51 opinions on the best course of action. “But there is one thing we all agree on,” said Ramanathan, “that we have to slow arctic warming, and we have to do it immediately to avert extreme climatic events that are becoming more and more common, and are disproportionately affecting the world’s most vulnerable people.”

Under legislation signed by Gov. Brown on Oct. 7, California must get 50 percent or more of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. UC campuses already are on their way to this goal and will get a boost at the end of 2016 when UC's historic purchase of solar energy comes online.

UC also has been making big strides on the research front with improvements to market-ready technologies such as photovoltaics and energy-efficient lighting, as well as emerging technologies for energy storage and microgrids that will enable a transition to renewable energy, fuel cells and compressed air energy storage, and biodigesters that trap food waste emissions and turn them into energy, among many more. UC Davis’ West Village is serving as a living laboratory for many of these technologies, and is currently 82 percent of its way toward the goal of reaching zero net energy.

At UCLA, the Sustainable L.A. Grand Challenge is an all-campus research initiative to develop solutions to help the Los Angeles region transition to 100 percent renewable energy, 100 percent local water and enhanced ecosystem health by 2050.

To Paris via San Diego

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris starting in late November, and the UC San Diego summit aims to arm participants with the strongest set of solutions to get the globe on the right path.

“Many climate change solutions are emerging out of our own research in the University of California and we will be sharing them with the world at the upcoming global climate summit in Paris,” Napolitano said. “Together, we can present an inspiring, pragmatic path forward to counter the doom and gloom and the equivocating that stop us from taking action.”