Canada's Condominium Magazine
There has been a lot of hand-wringing among the environmentally aware since Donald Trump promised to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement. Fortunately, if former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is right (he’s the billionaire who called Trump a “con” at the democratic convention in July), it won’t matter that much if Trump makes good on his promise. The reality is, says Bloomberg, it’s the cities of the world and their mayors that hold the solutions to the climate change problems we face, and mayors “have never waited for Washington to act here in the US, and have never waited for international treaties to protect their citizens and improve public health.” No matter what happens, no matter who occupies the White House, Bloomberg is optimistic that mayors will carry on the fight.
Bloomberg made the comments in his capacity as president of the C40 board of directors and as UN special envoy for cities and climate. C40 is an association of dozens of world cities, including Toronto, that represent more than 650 million people and one-quarter of the global economy. The group’s Climate Change Leadership Group was meeting in Mexico City last week for its annual Mayors Summit.
To coincide with the summit, C40 released a report explaining how cities can ensure that the key objective of the Paris Agreement is reached: limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. That, says the report, described as a roadmap to decarbonisation, will take an investment of $1 trillion across the C40 cities between now and 2050. Crucially, an investment of $375 billion must be made in the next four years—the report is titled Deadline 2020—mainly in East Asia and Europe. Each city must undertake an average of 143 carbon mitigation actions by 2017 alone, in order to “bend the curve” of rising emissions levels. Unless this happens, the report warns, global temperatures cannot be kept below 1.5 degrees of warming. As it is today, according to the UN Environment’s Climate and Clean Air Coalition, 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where air pollution is higher than deemed safe by the World Health Organization.
We have a ‘Deadline 2020’ for limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees. Action in the next four years will determine if it is possible for cities to get on the trajectory required to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. If insufficient action is taken over this period, limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees will be impossible.
What kinds of things can cities do to control air pollution and mitigate climate change risks? The annual C40 Cities Awards give a good indication. The African city of Addis Ababa won an award for building a light rail transit system that is forecast to cut emissions by 1.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) by 2030. Copenhagen introduced a Cloudburst Management Plan to protect it from seal level rise and heavy rains. The Brazilian city of Curitiba was recognized for an urban agriculture plan that will reduce emissions by sequestering carbon in soil, as well as providing various health benefits to the population. Kolkata (Calcutta) implemented a solid waste management project that aims to eradicate the extremely unsanitary practices of open dumping and burning of waste and to limit methane gas concentrations in landfill sites. And Yokohama’s Smart City Project set a target of 80 per cent CO2 emissions reduction by 2050.
The report gives snapshots of the kinds of environmental changes various regions can expect if climate change is not got under control. Toronto, which was not represented at the C40 mayors summit (though former mayor David Miller was chair of the awards jury), can expect more extreme winters, just our luck, even though the overall climate is warming. Those extreme conditions bring “various health effects” as well as stress on infrastructure, like roads and water mains.
A few big cities of the world—Paris, Athens, Mexico City, Madrid—took the occasion of the Mayors Summit to announce that they would ban diesel engines by 2025. The mayor of Paris declared “we no longer tolerate air pollution and the health problems and deaths it causes.” He invited people everywhere to sign a petition calling on carmakers to get out of the diesel market. The mayor of Athens, notorious for its diesel pollution, went even farther, promising to remove all cars from the city centre “in the years to come.”
The science hasn’t changed. The urgency hasn’t changed. As mayors of cities at the frontlines of climate change, we have a continued responsibility to carry forward solutions—even more so today than yesterday.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), meanwhile, issued a press release on the many benefits of simply planting more trees in cities.
The most significant finding of the Deadline 2020 report is that the terms of the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved without immediate and meaningful action by the world’s cities. The “business as usual” option, which would be the worst-case scenario, would lead to massive increases in emissions. Cities are already responsible for about 75 per cent of global energy-related CO2 emissions.
And despite Michael Bloomberg’s optimism, US mayors have said in a press release that American cities can contribute just over one-third of the emissions reductions needed by 2025 to meet their country’s commitments under the Paris Agreement. They called on President Trump to join them in the fight. The mayor of Boston, Martin J Walsh, noted that “the science hasn’t changed. The urgency hasn’t changed.” Mayors and cities are on the “frontline” of climate change and have a responsibility to find solutions.