Opinion

Opinion

Mayors can outpace national leaders in fight against climate change

Posted June 27

While longstanding partnerships between nations are being tested by shifting politics on both sides of the Atlantic, the world's cities are working together more closely than ever to address shared challenges. No issue better demonstrates this than the global effort to confront climate change -- and in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, cooperation among US and global cities will be even more important.

Through the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, more than 7,400 cities worldwide have united in a coordinated effort to address the causes and impacts of climate change. These cities have pledged to meet ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, adapt to climate change and increase local access to clean and affordable energy, all while holding themselves accountable for planning and reporting their progress transparently and consistently.

This mirrors what nations have agreed to do under the Paris Agreement but with one critical difference: City leaders are often setting higher goals than their national counterparts and acting faster and closer to citizens to reach them.

Mayors helped to raise the ambition of the Paris Agreement by showing national governments how much progress was possible. Working together, cities are leading the charge to implement the agreement and help nations reach their goals. That includes the more than 200 US mayors and 1,500 business leaders who have signed a pledge committing to actions that will help the United States reach the goal it set in Paris in 2015 despite the federal government's decision to withdraw from the agreement.

The reason so many mayors, from all regions of the world, have come forward to join the pledge is simple: They recognize the same steps that are most effective in reducing carbon emissions while increasing access to clean energy and protecting people and assets also improve people's lives and spur economic growth.

For instance, cities such as Berlin, Bogota, Colombia, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, are building bus rapid transit networks and bike sharing programs, expanding pedestrian walkways and encouraging the use of electric cars. These changes clean the air, reduce traffic and make it easier to get around town.

Building energy efficiency measures being pioneered by cities such as Boston and Atlanta save residents and businesses money. Cities such as Melbourne, Australia, and Seoul, South Korea, are creating new parks and green spaces that cool the streets during heat waves and provide recreational opportunities that help attract new residents and businesses. All of these steps also reduce carbon emissions -- and as more and more cities take these steps, the reductions are adding up.

The Global Covenant of Mayors -- whose board meets Tuesday for the first time in Brussels, Belgium -- will help to accelerate this progress through a strong call for action, evidenced by comparable data and measurement. This helps cities see what efforts are effective at reducing emissions and pollution, enhancing climate resilience and increasing local access to clean energy, and gives them the opportunity to learn from each other, which helps smart policies spread. The overall commitments made by these mayors have the potential to reduce nearly 1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2030, which is the equivalent of 26% of what we know is possible globally through direct city climate action.

Mayors are responsible for protecting people's well-being, and they know that no city can tackle climate change alone. From rising seas near coastal cities to intense droughts in landlocked regions, city residents face serious risks from a warming planet. The majority of people on this planet live in cities for the first time in history, and 66% of the world's population is projected to be urban by 2050. So while every part of the world will face impacts, by sheer virtue of numbers, the world's cities will bear the brunt of them. At the same time, cities account for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions so the solution to climate change must be led by cities.

The good news is: Cities are embracing this role and taking bold steps forward. But to avoid the most dangerous potential effects of climate change, cities around the world must accelerate their actions. Collaboration is the key, because it will help proven solutions spread to cities around the world.

The fight against climate change is urgent. By joining forces worldwide, Global Covenant cities are creating a path to victory.

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