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Hilda Blanco shines a national spotlight on climate change

The water supply for cities, agriculture and ecosystems will continue to decline, according to one report

Hilda Blanco in 2012
Hilda Blanco (Photo/courtesy of USC Price)

Climate change is receiving widespread attention, with USC Price School of Public Policy Research Professor Hilda Blanco playing a role in advancing dialogue on the topic.

Both of these reports emphasize that we have to do better. Otherwise, we face a very distressing future.

Hilda Blanco

Blanco, interim director for the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, contributed to two reports covering the impacts of climate change now and in the future, as well as ways to change course from the alarming direction in which the world is headed.

The scholar served as a lead author on the Southwest chapter of the third National Climate Assessment (NCA) and worked with an international team of 15 authors on a chapter of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, “Mitigating Climate Change.”

The NCA was the most publicized assessment on climate change to date, receiving a White House press conference when released on May 6 and front-page coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, among other major news outlets. And on June 2, the Environmental Protection Agency, following up on President Barack Obama’s response to the NCA report, unveiled new rules to cut carbon pollution from power plants.

“I think the increased coverage coincides with the emphasis of the NCA, that climate change is not just a problem for the future but an issue that is already impacting American people and the environment in every area of the country,” Blanco said.

Urban areas in Southwest are vulnerable

Among the findings from the Southwest chapter were that the sea level is projected to rise more than a meter by the end of the century, snowpack and stream-flow amounts will continue to decline and decrease the water supply for cities, agriculture and ecosystems, and that wildfires in California could increase by up to 74 percent.

“Hilda’s major contribution was making us realize the importance of the urban areas, where the vast majority of people are located in the Southwest, as vulnerable areas where the urban heat island effect would exacerbate the expected warming,” said Guido Franco, the convening lead author for the region, of the California Energy Commission. “Her ability to connect disparate potential effects of climate change, and see their connections and interdependences, was invaluable in the preparation of the Southwest chapter.”

For the United Nations report released in April, Blanco contributed to chapter 12 on human settlements, infrastructure and spatial planning. This was the last of three volumes released by the IPCC. The first focused on scientific evidence for climate change, and the second centered on the likely impacts.

The new volume addresses strategies to reduce carbon emissions, with Blanco’s chapter focusing on how to do this in urban areas. It’s an important topic due to the increasing urbanization of the world’s population. The chapter highlights opportunities for reducing carbon emissions through efforts to combine land use and transportation measures.

“Hilda was instrumental in providing an urban planning perspective to the chapter,” said Yale University Professor Karen Seto, the convening lead author of the chapter. “Her expertise in planning systems around the world provided context and insight into the literature we assessed.”

‘We have to do better’

Blanco put years of research into the reports, beginning work on the IPCC in 2010 and the NCA in 2011.

“Both of these reports emphasize that we have to do better,” Blanco said. “Otherwise, we face a very distressing future. I think as effects become more and more pronounced over time, and the frequency of extreme events becomes greater, perhaps we will see a change in policy to reduce climate change. That’s the hope of everyone who has worked on these reports.”

Blanco also organized the USC Center for Sustainable Cities’ spring forum on “Envisioning Drought-Resilient Cities” on May 6. The event featured a welcome from USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott, an introduction from Blanco and a keynote address from Maria Mehranian of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board and Cordoba Corp. on how changing water policy in California impacts local communities.

Blanco was pleased that many of the speakers talked about specific projects to capture rain water. Guy Carpenter of Carollo Engineers spoke on the Riparian Preserve water recycling facility in Arizona; Andy Lipkis of TreePeople discussed how Australia overcame a 12-year drought with installation of rainwater tanks in many urban households; Hadley and Peter Arnold of the Arid Lands Institute covered precise opportunities and constraints of harvesting local water in Los Angeles; and Mia Lehrer of Lehrer Architects, who is heading up design of the Los Angeles River Master Plan, focused on recalibrating water infrastructure.

Adding to the discussion were USC Price Professor Daniel Mazmanian, director of new initiatives for the Center for Sustainable Cities: USC Price adjunct instructor Krista Sloniowski; USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Associate Professor Travis Longcore; and Nancy Steele from the Council for Watershed Health.

“It’s a great topic that’s not going away and a good example of how we’re already facing the impacts of climate change,” Blanco said. “As we know from the Southwest NCA report, a reduced snowpack will make surface water less available over the coming century, so we have to think about our own water sources and how we capture more rainwater when it does fall instead of letting it go out into the ocean.”

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Hilda Blanco shines a national spotlight on climate change

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