Published on Sustainable Cities

Climate Change and the World’s Cities: A Week To Remember

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SAO PAULO, June 4, 2011 -- For the cities of the world, there’s rarely if ever been such a momentous single week.  Faced with the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, the C40 organization of world’s large cities met in this Brazilian megacity to announce a set of landmark agreements. All the accords, said New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, current C40 chairman and the prime driver of its new initiatives, will be designed to undergird their struggle against rising seas and disruptive weather patterns -- in a world in which cities are responsible, directly or indirectly, for up to 80 percent of global climate emissions.

WB C40 agreement“The leaders of C40 Cities - the world’s megacities - hold the future in their hands,” Bloomberg asserted.

As a first step, the three dozen C40 mayors confirmed a full merger with the Clinton Climate Initiative, assuring added funding for a centralized, high-grade professional staff as well as full-bore support from former President Bill Clinton, who flew to São Paulo to seal and celebrate the agreement. Staff operations are global, with current bases in London and New York.

Clinton said his Climate Initiative’s Cities Program has accomplished much in informal alliance with C40 since 2006 -- for example working with Los Angeles on gas-powered buses and added bike lanes, and internationally on a total of 17 climate-positive developments in 10 cities on five continents helping “more than 1 million people live and work in communities with no greenhouse-gas emissions.” But “the truth is,” Clinton added, “it’s not enough-- to save the future of the planet we also need good economics.”

Bloomberg underscored the urgency, noting the “rapid and accelerating” pace of urbanization “all around the planet.” With cities representing 50 percent of mankind today, headed for 60 percent by 2030, he said, “our response has to be collective and global.” Bloomberg said he was intent that C40, by taking assertive actions and then measuring impact, become “the world’s leading, most effective environmental organization.”

But the object isn’t to expand C40 membership indefinitely, said Rohit Aggarwalla, the first director of Bloomberg’s “PlaNYC” sustainable investment effort and now a leading figure in launching the new C40. Rather, he said, the new goal is to include each new world “megacity” of 10 million or more inhabitants that appears on the world stage, and in addition to include the globe’s top 25 metros in GDP -- places that “punch above their weight economically.”

In a second major move at São Paulo, the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, appeared to announce his institution was terminating its historic practice of dealing exclusively with national governments. Now, he said, there will be “one-window access” for cities to tap the bank’s climate-related expertise, based on a new C40-bank agreement. Zoellick said the bank’s climate investment funds -- which totaled $6.4 billion last year -- might now enable cities to attract as much as $50 billion in private capital for their climate projects.

Critics say the climate protective investments needed globally are literally in the trillions, not billions. But at least a clear mechanisms is coming into focus.

The Bank’s special interest, Zoellick noted, was projects to aid the urban poor. “Those who get most hammered by climate change are those in slums,” he said, citing such needs as new shelter for people whose homes were destroyed in the 2010 mudslides in Rio de Janeiro.

Clinton hailed the C40/World Bank accord as “terrifically important, giving credibility to climate projects to attract private capital.”

Third, with Zoellick looking on approvingly, Bloomberg signed a C40 agreement with ICLEI – the world’s primary organization working with some 1,200 cities of all sizes – to assure standardized reporting of greenhouse emissions. Vancouver city councilman David Cadman, ICLEI’s president, signed the agreement for the organization. The accord defines a single standard for measuring emissions across all localities, large and small. One point of its significance: it will provide a base measurement for cities’ climate protection fund applications to the World Bank.

This combine of C40, the Clinton Climate Initiative, ICLEI and the World Bank, said Bloomberg, not only draws together a big percentage of the world’s peoples but “has the brainpower that understands the damage that we are causing to our planet and what we can do. Mayors must answer if traffic is tied up, water or air aren’t clear. We can’t just talk of goals for the year 2050 like some American Congresspeople, federal and state governments do -- they won’t even be alive then!”

Bloomberg added, quoting former Toronto Mayor David Miller: “While nations talk, cities act.”

The São Paulo meeting also heard of major city actions to demystify and standardize the chronically hazy numbers on cities’ climate conditions and the impact of corrective measures. The numbers matter because the C40 cities (now 59 in number), with a cumulative population of some 300 million, account for $10.6 trillion in global economic activity and 12 percent of worldwide greenhouse emissions.

One study, co-authored by C40 staff and the global engineering firm ARUP, found that C40 mayors currently oversee 4,734 climate change actions with 1,465 more currently under consideration.

A second report came from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), best known for its detailed analyses of the world’s 500 largest corporations’ climate protection actions. CDP found the C40's large city governments are keeping pace with the top companies in measuring and disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions.

“City governments,” noted Paul Dickinson of CDP, “sit at a critical climate change nexus. They are responsible for large amounts of greenhouse infrastructure. They’re immensely vulnerable to the damaging effects of warming temperatures, sea level rise, and increased occurrences of catastrophic storm events.”

The challenges are immense. São Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab cited the “uncontrollable growth” of his city of 11 million, with its vast network of clogged roadways, insufficient parks, 3 million inhabitants living in precarious settlements, and escalating demands for water, power and sanitization.

But work’s underway, Kassab insisted, to expand São Paulo’s parks, extend the limited subway system, to move to high-capacity buses, to capture the gases from 16 tons of daily waste and turn then into electric power. “The frustration,” he said, “is in not being able to do more. We will fight -- kill one lion a day!”

Addis Adaba Mayor Kuma Demeksa cited one amazing accomplishment-- a successful effort, recruiting thousands of youth, to plant two new trees (famous for their urban cooling effect) for every resident of the city.

Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle said he’d been inspired by witnessing the economically successful energy retrofit of the Empire State Building in New York, returning home on a campaign to “unlock” his local banks’ lending power to refurbish 1,200 ‘60s- and ‘70s-era commercial buildings. The Melbourne campaign has scored a range of successes, including a new asset base for the banks, a better working environment for workers in the revamped buildings, and claimed dividends of $2 billion of new economic activity and the creation of some 1,000 high-end jobs.

One intriguing Melbourne innovation: offering fare-free rides on public transit vehicles up to 7 every morning. The object: to shift more riders from private cars to transit, even while expanding use of the transit vehicles at ride-light early hours of the day. Other mayors talked of retrofitting of buildings -- often with deep long-term energy savings -- through steps ranging from improved insulation to double/triple glazing to switching to LED lighting. Cities across the continents, they reported, are installing bike lanes. On the transit side, buses are being converted to natural gas fuel or hybrid electric systems.

The clear intent of C40's expanded operations and professionalism is to carry the word of climate innovations to cities worldwide -- to learn how the new efforts are functioning, the actual results of new investments, and then keep careful score to inform the “state of the art.”

Bloomberg reminded the São Paulo attendees of one of his most popular sayings: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

The original C40 member cities are Addis Ababa, Athens, Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Caracas, Chicago, Dhaka, Hanoi, Houston, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Karachi, Lagos, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, New Delhi, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Warsaw. Affiliate cities are Amsterdam, Austin, Barcelona, Basel, Changwon, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Heidelberg, Ho Chi Minh City, Milan, New Orleans, Portland, Rotterdam, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile, Seattle, Stockholm and Yokohama.

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