Cities take action on climate in run-up to Paris talks

Not long ago, we featured a post that quickly summarized several global initiatives that are bringing cities together to develop effective local climate change programs.  Now, in the run-up to the Paris climate talks in November, these urban government efforts are accelerating.  In August, President Obama announced that 15 US cities had recently joined the Compact of Mayors, nearly doubling American participation, to 34 cities, and he challenged mayors across the country to bring that number up to 100 before Paris.  Meanwhile, 12 US mayors announced the Local Climate Leaders Circle; they will be delegates at the Paris COP21 talks, representing climate action at the municipal level, and Rio de Janeiro became the first city to meet the Compact of Mayors climate goals.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently penned a stirring article in Foreign Affairs that fleshed out why urban leaders have the incentive to take action where national governments are moving slowly:

Cities account for at least 70 percent of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. They also face the worst risks from the ultimate consequences of those emissions, as 90 percent of cities were built on coastal lands. It is fitting, then, that cities, the primary drivers and likeliest victims of climate change, hold the antidote as well.

Bloomberg goes on to note that with over half the world’s population now living in cities, the kids now growing up will push that to 70% by 2040, creating the a “Metropolitan Generation” that brings a new energy to the social sphere. leading to more responsive public policies:

The world’s first Metropolitan Generation is coming of age, and as a result, the world will be shaped increasingly by metropolitan values: industriousness, creativity, entrepreneurialism, and, most important, liberty and diversity. That is a hopeful development for humanity, and an overpowering counterweight to the forces of repression and intolerance that arise out of religious fanaticism and that now pose a grave threat to the security of democratic nations.

As those in the Metropolitan Generation assume leadership positions, cities will become not just more culturally significant but also more politically powerful. Influence will shift gradually away from national governments and toward cities, especially in countries that suffer from bureaucratic paralysis and political gridlock.

Most importantly, Bloomberg stresses that urban economic development has been radically transformed in the past generation, so that now the primary driver for cities are health and quality of life issues:

Traditionally, urban economic development has focused on retaining industries and luring new businesses with incentive packages. But in the new century, a different and far more effective model has emerged: focusing first and foremost on creating the conditions that attract people. As cities are increasingly demonstrating, talent attracts capital more effectively than capital attracts talent. People want to live in communities that offer healthy and family-friendly lifestyles: not only good schools and safe streets but also clean air, beautiful parks, and extensive mass transit systems. And where people want to live, businesses want to invest.

For mayors, reducing carbon pollution is not an economic cost; it is a competitive necessity. Earlier this year, Beijing announced that it would close its coal-fired power plants because any marginal financial benefit they offered was swamped by their net costs, including those of health care and forgone economic investment. Dirty air is a major liability for a city’s business environment.

Beijing is just the latest city to reduce its carbon footprint for economic reasons. In fact, one of the biggest changes in urban governance in this century has been mayors’ recognition that promoting private investment requires protecting public health. The congruence between health and economic goals is also the biggest development in the fight against climate change.

No longer do mayors see the economy and the environment primarily as conflicting priorities. Instead, they view them as two sides of the same coin. That is why mayors have so enthusiastically embraced the challenge of tackling climate change as a means to economic growth, and they have many tools at their disposal for doing so.

Also this month, Rio de Janeiro became the first city in the world to become fully compliant with the climate goals set by the Compact of Mayors:

“I am proud that Rio de Janeiro is the first global city to become fully compliant with the Compact of Mayors, and I call on all cities to join this critical initiative on the Road to Paris and beyond,” said Mayor Paes. “By complying with the Compact, we are advancing our work to make Rio a place with a better quality of life for its citizens and a healthier environment for its visitors. Cities are climate leaders, they are in the best position to effect real change. The actions we take at a local level will have a global impact and, by improving our city, we will be helping create a better world for today’s urban citizens and generations to come.”

Now is the time to see what is going on in your area to bring city and county governments into this burgeoning global effort.  Often, a few energetic individuals can convince city administrators and elected officials to learn more about what other municipalities are doing, and how these collaborative efforts can benefit their own economic development, as well as serving as an entry point for local citizens who are ready to support climate change mitigation programs at the local level.  This is a perfect place for resilient investors to devote some Zone 1 time and attention;  the returns will come in the form of personal/social assets (relationships and new collaborations in your community) and local/regional tangible assets (energy systems, enhanced public commons, etc.), not to mention knowing your region is doing its part to bend the arc of history toward a better outcome.

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