Cities lead the way on climate, resilience

Everywhere I turn lately, there’s another reminder that cities are central to our hopes for a more sustainable, resilient future.  The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group—a decade-old collaboration among 75 of the world’s largest cities that are home to over a half-billion people and a quarter of the global economy—is on the forefront of these efforts, as is the Compact of Mayors, involving 84 cities, many of them smaller or mid-sized. Both groups are gearing up to have a major presence at the upcoming Paris climate talks. The C40 has just released a new report, Powering Climate Action: Cities as Global Changemakers, which highlights the collaborative potential of cities working together: “The evidence shows that cities are taking action even where they have limited power, by collaborating with other cities and non-state actors and catalysing wider climate action in the private sector and civil society.”

NRDC’s OnEarth magazine recently produced an issue devoted to city-based climate action that is full of inspiring stories, including tales from big cities like New York and Mumbai, as well as smaller ones like Carmel, Indiana and Amsterdam.  The issue stresses that “urban centers account for more than 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and for two-thirds of the world’s energy use. As cities go, so goes the planet,” and notes, “In U.S. cities, climate solutions represent a clear path around paralyzing ideological divides. The urban imperative isn’t about politics; it’s about action, on the ground, in real time, where the majority of us live, work, and raise families.”

In the US, the Conference of Mayors has been active on climate issues since 2007, when 600 mayors signed on to a goal of reducing carbon emissions (over 1000 are on board now); a report last year, Climate Mitigation and Adaptation in US Cities, surveyed efforts in 282 cities.  And just this week, 65 mayors visited the Vatican to discuss climate change efforts ahead of the Paris talks; this quick article includes a wealth of links to urban climate action.

Another new report, Seizing the Global Opportunity, supports these initiatives by laying out the economic value of significant low-carbon investment in cities. In the central scenario, these measures would cost US$977 billion per year on average globally in 2015–2050, but they would reduce annual energy costs by US$1.58 trillion in 2030 and US$5.85 trillion in 2050. Overall, the investments would pay for themselves within 16 years.

Last but surely not least, the Global Green Cities project tracks conferences and publications that will be useful to anyone working on these issues. Wherever you live, it’s likely that local governments and independent groups are active in these efforts.  We encourage you to invest some of your personal assets of time and energy to getting involved and moving them forward at the pace that’s needed to face our climate challenges.

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