Large cities including Los Angeles meet in Brazil to talk carbon cutting and climate change

Representatives of the city of Los Angeles are in Brazil this week. Along with reps from other big cities, they’re planning local policies to combat climate change. The sponsor of the conference in Sao Paolo is a group called C40. The conference that begins today with a participant from L.A.

C40 stands for 40 founding cities – large ones, including Los Angeles. Five years ago, the group’s founders built it on the idea that because cities hold half the world's population and use most of its energy, they must urgently shoulder the responsibility to cut carbon and slow the pace of global warming.

"Mayors don't have the ability to put things off. Mayors can't pass the buck," says Jay Carson. Until last year he was a deputy to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Now, Carson heads the group known as C40-Clinton Climate Initiative.

It aims, he says, to share climate policies and trade carbon-cutting tactics. But he adds that each city can and should emphasize those plans where they're most efficient.

"If you're a mayor with limited resources and limited time," says Carson, "you should focus on the areas that are the highest drivers of carbon output and limited control, so if it's a 10 in control and 10 in carbon output, that's where you should be working."

At the conference in Brazil, Los Angeles city representatives will present information on energy-efficient street lighting. For that and and for work like tree planting and greener construction rules, Carson calls L.A. a world leader.

He says the efforts of the L.A. Department of Water and Power to cut coal and switch to renewables are a success. "Your highest carbon output is your municipal utility. One of your highest areas of control is your municipal utility, so you do work there."

By some estimates, large cities are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Critics of C40's work say that focusing only on what cities directly control won't do enough to shrink that heavy footprint.

But Carson points out that cities drive the world's economy. "So you can see why we don't need to sit around and wait for federal action because we've got an enormous amount of potential power with just these cities linked together."

The conference in Brazil begins as the C40-Clinton Climate Initiative announced that it’s added cities to its number. Federal climate policy remains stalled, but that doesn't faze Carson – he says his group's work continues either way.

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