Some of the 18 C40 mayors who attended the C40 Climate Change summit in Johannesburg this week. (Image: Lucille Davie)
Mayors and officials from major global cities gathered in Johannesburg this week for the fifth biennial summit of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, to discuss ways urban leaders can tackle the causes – and effects – of climate change.
The summit, held in Africa for the first time, brings together officials from 66 cities, representing 600 million people across the world, in a global network to share information on how they can reduce their carbon footprint. These cities produce 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 21% of GDP.
The C40 group was established in 2005 and now includes seven African cities: South Africa’s Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Nairobi in Kenya, Cairo in Egypt, and Lagos in Nigeria.
The summit saw the release of a new report, Climate Action in Megacities 2, which builds on research from the 2011 C40 summit in São Paulo in Brazil. The 400-page report arms officials with data to help them change the way they run their cities, compare their administration with others, and to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
“While international negotiations continue to make incremental progress, C40 Cities are forging ahead,” said Michael Bloomberg, former three-term mayor of New York, outgoing C40 Cities chair and president of its board. “As innovators and practitioners, our cities are at the forefront of this issue – arguably the greatest challenge of our time.
“C40’s emphasis on measurement and reporting helps cities focus resources and spread the most effective solutions – and this report shows that our efforts are bringing powerful results,” Bloomberg said. “By using data to show what works – and what’s possible – cities can inform the global conversation on climate change and contribute to aggressive national targets to reduce emissions.”
Autonomous cities do better
Bloomberg was recently appointed the United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, where he will work with mayors to increase their climate change-related commitments, and encourage national governments to do the same.
He stressed that there is a contrast between what governments do and what cities do. Cities have more diversity, and their leaders more contact with the communities who live there, so there can be different expectations from mayors. “Cities want national government’s money, but don’t want national government’s interference. You find that cities that have autonomy do much better.”
He said that to get citizens more involved in tackling climate change it was important to bring the issues down to the here and now, instead of talking long-term plans.
Christiana Figueries, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said mayors must raise their voices at a national and international level. “They must actively reach out to their national governments. Mayors need a strong climate agreement.”
The mayor of Copenhagen, Denmark, Frank Jensen, said he worked closely with the country’s cabinet, and they were on a “similar mission” on climate change issues. He said half the citizens of Copenhagen used bikes and, between 1995 and 2012, the city had reduced its carbon emissions by 40%. It also treats is waste water so people could enjoy a swim in the inner harbour.
The power of mayors
Stressing how powerful mayors can really be, C40 executive director Mark Watts used the expression “When mayors rule the world”, saying cities are learning from each other. Overall, global cities’ actions to combat climate change have jumped from 4 700 in 2011 to 8 100 today.
“There is a willingness to be bold and innovative – mayors have the power to act,” he said.
From installing energy-efficient LED lighting and creating bicycle lanes and bike hire programmes, to introducing bus rapid transit (BRT) systems to cut down on carbon emissions, cities across the world are having an impact on tackling their climate change issues, he said.
The new C40 chairperson and the mayor of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Eduardo Paes, said climate change directly impacts city government. “Ninety-eight percent of city mayors say that climate change presents significant risks to their cities.” He spoke about the power of cities, and their actions making a difference.
The C40 has become a global network, he said, citing how BRT systems have caught on, particularly in the southern hemisphere, jumping from 13 in the world a few years ago to 29 now, 16 of them in developed countries.
Climate action in megacities
Annise Parker, the mayor of Houston in the US, said the city has reduced greenhouse emissions in the last seven years by 26%, and would take that figure down by another 5% in the next five years. And, instead of talking in lofty long-term goals, Houston’s officials tell citizens that by changing 28 000 street light bulbs to LED bulbs, the city has saved $3.6-million. “We talk about bottom lines instead of talking about greenhouse gases.”
Another mayor spoke of how they had to teach citizens how to sort waste, with signs and symbols, the latter to include children. And another spoke of how the city invites businesses to help reach emission targets, with a whopping 93% of companies reporting to the city on reaching their targets.
Parks Tau, Johannesburg’s executive mayor and host of the summit, spoke of reversing the effects of apartheid planning, which located the majority of citizens on the periphery of the city. His Corridors of Freedom plan would see densification of the inner city, thus reducing carbon emissions. The city’s BRT system has also achieved the same benefits, and by 2020 the city is expected to save 1.6-million tons of carbon dioxide.
Tau sees climate change measures as a communal responsibility, involving communities and the private sector.
The summit also marks the launch a directors’ programme which will provide dedicated, on-the-ground staff to selected cities. “This significant investment by the organisation in member cities will result in the development of projects and policies to support local sustainability efforts, as well as increase the ability of cities to share best practices through participation in C40 networks,” C40 Cities said in a statement.