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CLIMATE CHANGE: Cities Get Serious About CO2 Emissions

Mithre J. Sandrasagra

NEW YORK, May 17 2007 (IPS) - Leaders of the world’s largest and most innovative cities met in New York this week with international business leaders, environmental experts and representatives of major urban utilities to discuss ways to cut carbon emissions through cleaner transport and more energy-efficient infrastructure.

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Mayor of Curitiba Beto Richa. Credit: Elisabeth Robert/C40 Large Cities Climate Summit

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone and Mayor of Curitiba Beto Richa. Credit: Elisabeth Robert/C40 Large Cities Climate Summit

More than 30 mayors personally participated in the four-day C40 Large Cities Climate Summit, which concludes Thursday, along with delegations from cities in six continents.

On Wednesday, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said that his group, the Clinton Climate Initiative, would launch a five-billion-dollar global fund to assist 15 of the world’s largest cities in upgrading older buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

“Climate change is a global problem that requires local action,” Clinton said. “The businesses, banks and cities partnering with my foundation are addressing the issue of global warming because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s good for their bottom line.”

With more than 3.2 billion people living in cities, for the first time, the world’s urban population now exceeds the number of those living in rural areas.

Cities are responsible for three-quarters of the world’s energy consumption – as well as about 80 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming — and play a critical role in the reversal of dangerous climate change.

In his keynote address, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed his goal of a 30-percent reduction in the city’s global warming emissions by 2030, and outlined a major conservation plan based on three main elements: providing incentives for cleaner-burning heating fuels; replacing old, heavily polluting power plants with newer, more efficient generators; and cutting transportation-related CO2 emissions by reducing vehicle traffic through strategies like congestion pricing – a daily fee for driving within city limits.

London’s Mayor Ken Livingstone, who successfully introduced such a charge in 2003, said the initial proposal came from a consortium of London business interests that calculated the cost of congestion in terms of London’s productivity and competitiveness at two billion pounds annually.

Although press coverage of the fee before it was adopted was overwhelmingly negative, the positive impacts were immediate and applauded by most Londoners.

In one year, the congestion charge brought about a 38-percent drop in private cars entering London – twice the anticipated figure, Livingstone said.

The number of cyclists increased by 80 percent, and the number of bus passengers rose from four million to six million. This shift has been accompanied by substantial emissions reductions, including a 20-percent reduction in carbon emissions.

Mayor Livingstone reassured nervous urban leaders that making such changes would not undermine their electability, noting that his poll ratings jumped 12 percent within one week of adopting the congestion charge.

Beto Richa, the mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, pointed out that the battle to stabilise the world’s climate would, in fact, be fought in the major metropolises since those cities are home to the majority of the world’s population.

In coming up with solutions to the problem of transport congestion, he said that cities need to look for integrated solutions that address multiple problems associated with climate change simultaneously.

In Curitiba, Richa is developing “green lines,” consisting of roadway arteries in which all traffic is fuel-efficient and bordered by plantings that both combat carbon emissions and increase biodiversity.

Curitiba’s population of 1.8 million consumes 23 percent less fuel per capita than the Brazilian national average, according to the U.N. The city has 16 parks, 14 forests, and over 1,000 green public areas shared by its residents.

Richa also argued that in expanding urban mass-transportation systems, “fair prices compatible with user’s wallets” had to be maintained. “Quality of life concerns and standards of sustainability” must be linked, he stressed.

At a panel discussion on water, Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, outlined some of the signature infrastructure upgrades that Tokyo has made in recent years to conserve water. They include a long-term pipe replacement programme whose flexible stainless steel piping has dramatically reduced water leakage, while also safeguarding against potential damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Clover Moore, the mayor of Sydney, told colleagues that, “Most people in Sydney realise that we have to change the way we live, change our ecological footprint.”

She called for a renewed dedication to promoting behavioural change as the only long-term solution to the problem.

The importance of recycling in conserving water was endorsed by many city leaders, along with an appeal to broaden the commitment to, and opportunities for, recycling across the globe.

Changes in water pricing were presented as one method of fostering understanding that everyone must work together to conserve water.

Amos Masondo, the mayor of Johannesburg, advocated for large-scale education programmes to enhance public awareness of why water needs to be understood as a public good for which all citizens are responsible.

Environmental analysts applauded the meeting, but noted that action is also urgently needed at the national level.

“This summit is a very positive step,” Katie Mandes, communications director of the Virginia-based Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, told IPS. “Large cities can be an important laboratory of learning.”

However, she added, “Ultimately, this issue will not be solved until we have a global framework in place that includes all emitting countries – including the U.S., China and India. This will have to happen at the U.N.”

The United States has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, and India and China, while members, are considered developing economies and are not bound to make mandatory emissions cuts.

Cities participating in the Summit include Addis Ababa, Austin, Bangkok, Barcelona, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Cairo, Chicago, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Delhi, Dhaka, Houston, Istanbul, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Karachi, Lagos, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Mumbai, New Orleans, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Portland, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Rotterdam, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Seattle, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Warsaw.

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