For those of us worried that even rumors of the United States pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement would have a chilling effect on efforts to fight climate change everywhere, last week’s Global Mayor’s Climate Summit in Mexico City offered a badly needed counter perspective.
Mayors of the 90 global megacities in the C40 network, who represent 25% of global GDP and one in 12 people worldwide, are doubling down on ambitious climate actions.
Mayors don’t need convincing. They understand intuitively that the same actions that will get us to our Paris targets—making streets safer for walking, and investing in clean, renewable energy—will also make their cities healthier, more livable, and more resilient places. And what mayors do matters: According to C40, cities alone can take 40 percent of the action necessary to reach the Paris climate goals, regardless of what nation states do.
“It’s the mayors in this room right now who hold in their hands the power to put the world on a climate-safe path,” C40 Cities Executive Director Mark Watts told summit attendees.
In fact, “The battle of climate change will be won or lost in the cities of the world,” Dr. Andrew Steer, head of the World Resources Institute, told us. “Doing nothing is not an option.”
Raising the bar even higher, Copenhagen Mayor Frank Jensen pledged that his city will be carbon neutral by 2025, in little more than eight years. We heard, too, about the synergy between social equity and low-carbon cities—that everyone does better and thrives when all neighborhoods become resilient to climate change.
The time is now
There is no more time to wait. C40 released a stunning new report, Deadline 2020, detailing how the infrastructure decisions we make in the next four years will either put us on a climate-safe path, or spell disaster.
As director of the Urban Solutions Program with the Natural Resources Defense Council, I direct my team to keep environmental progress front and center, but also to do more—to combat intolerance of every kind to ensure that social equity is the touchstone of our work.
Through our Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) initiative, for example, we are seeking to overcome a legacy of injustice that has defined infrastructure spending decisions in our country for too long. We are bringing significant financial resources and expertise to traditionally disadvantaged communities, and we are doing so in lockstep with community-based organizations, which know their needs best.
Through our Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA) initiative, we are leveraging NRDC’s expertise in energy efficiency and utility sector advocacy to secure dedicated resources to bring energy efficiency retrofits to low-income residents who need the energy savings the most. We are taking the time and spending the money to be inclusive, building local coalitions in each of the 12 states in which we work and giving 25% of the money we raise to local organizations.
We build racial inclusion into our City Energy Project, our High Road Infrastructure theory, our Green Neighborhoods program and all our other work.
We have made this commitment as an institution with our creation of an equity screen and toolkit that we use to evaluate whether proposed areas of work will help to address historic disparities in access to resources and opportunity. I am particularly grateful for the efforts of my colleagues who are standing up for what is right—so much so that I’m taking the opportunity here at the C40 Global Mayors Summit to pen this statement of Urban Solutions’ values.
Looking to the future
Many have asked me how we move forward from here. I am encouraged and inspired by the leadership I have seen on the ground in Mexico City. Now, more than ever, we will need local leadership and we will need to come together to align with other progressive causes.
I am particularly inspired by the strong women leaders I saw standing up for climate solutions. Last Thursday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo accepted the mantle as incoming chair of C40 Cities, the first time a woman has held this position. Christiana Figueres, who so deftly negotiated the Paris climate agreement, is also now turning her focus to the leading role cities can play in reaching our global climate goals.
Mayor Hidalgo is launching a Women For Climate initiative, acknowledging that women around the world “move mountains every day” and that “women know the power of hope, and will.”
Mayors, as we’ve seen, are not backing down. Cities today are their own powerhouses, beholden not to federal government inaction—but to their citizens, and therein lies our hedge against efforts to thwart progress by an incoming U.S. administration or anyone else unconvinced that climate change is based on sound science.
U.S. mayors united
I’ve been empowered here at home by the 37 self-identified Climate Mayors from New York to Miami, Phoenix to Dubuque, Portland to LA and beyond, who sent an open letter to the U.S. president-elect touting their bold action and pledging more on climate on behalf of nearly 31 million Americans in both blue and red states.
Before I came to NRDC I worked for the federal government, in the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I had the privilege to award over $250 million to 143 communities all across America. I visited most of those places—from Memphis to Miami—and I refuse to accept the premise that our nation is as divided as the presidential election might imply.
We are all in this, and our diversity makes us stronger. We all get up every morning, need mobility choices to find our way through our communities, want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We all want peace and stability for ourselves and our families. We want connections with friends and family and we are all searching for a sense of community.
Let us all pause and recommit to creating the kind of strong, prosperous, and resilient places in which we want to live. As Austin Mayor Steve Adler so eloquently put it, “I reject the false dichotomy that environmental progress and economic gain stand at odds. Our economy is growing because of our environmental commitments, not in spite of them.”
Amanda Eaken, Urban Solutions’ Director of Transportation and Climate, contributed to this blog.