By Lindsay Parker
This week, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 has begun. This conference is a very. big. deal. If successful, it could be a decisive moment in the fight against climate change.
Leaders from 150 countries along with 40,000 delegates from 195 countries are meeting to reach an agreement on how to address our biggest environmental challenge. Without international action, our climate is on track to warm up to 5C (9F) above pre-industrial levels, causing weather extremes and devastating our natural resources. The results of these negotiations are critical.
Leading up to the conference, political leaders and activists have responded to the call to address climate change. Countries across the world are setting sustainability goals, federally and locally. In particular, cities are enacting policies that reduce emissions and support mitigation and adaptation to global warming.
Today, half of humanity – 3.5 billion people – lives in cities , and roughly 5.2 billion people are projected to live in urban communities by 2050.
Cities are hubs for economic and social advancement, commerce, and culture; however, they are also the source of many energy-intensive processes and emissions: building energy consumption, vehicles and transportation, solid waste water treatment, industry, and more.
To ensure a slowdown of global warming, urban areas face a challenge: remaining hubs for jobs and prosperity, while limiting environmental impacts.
Fun facts about cities:
- Cities are responsible for consuming 78% of all energy globally
- Cities must invest USD $53 trillion in energy and efficiency by 2035 to remain on track towards the 2 degree C goal
- Cities occupy just 3 percent of the earth, but produce 70% of global carbon emissions
- In the upcoming decades, 95 percent of urban expansion will occur in the developing world
- Rapid urbanization exerts pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, ecosystems, and public health
- 90 percent of the world’s largest cities rest on coastal or intercostal waterways – making cities increasingly vulnerable to negative economic, environmental and health impacts
While cities face a sustainability challenge, they have an opportunity to enact influential climate policy much quicker than federal governments. In the U.S., Congressional inaction towards cohesive climate policy has pushed local leaders to take matters into their own hands. Currently, cities around the world are working to cut emissions, support public transportation, and increase efficiency. They are proving that they can fight climate change while growing economically.
The move toward sustainable and efficient infrastructure will not be cheap. Luckily, cities can benefit from international funding, particularly those in developing countries. Mexico City, for example, has pledged to commit 10% of the city’s budget to resilience goals. UNFCCC financing mechanisms, such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), provide grants up to $10 million for urban transport projects and low-emission urban systems to all non-Annex I members of the UN. Likewise, the Green Climate Fund (GCF), also instituted by the COP, finances low emission cities using $10 billion from country pledges.
Today, during a special Summit at the COP21, over 1,000 mayors will join President Obama and Secretary Kerry for the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. The event is co-hosted by Mike Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. The event will bring a collection of local actors together to urge action and build upon the efforts of the Compact of Mayors.
The Compact of Mayors is a global coalition of city officials who pledge to create ambitious climate action plans, increase resilience to global warming, reduce urban greenhouse gas emissions, and publicly track progress toward each goal. Currently, 382 cities, representing 345,853,881 people worldwide and 4.7% of the total global population have committed to the Compact of Mayors. Major cities involved include:
- Washington DC
- Cape Town
- New York
- Rio de Janeiro
- San Francisco, and
- Buenos Aires, to name a few.
Cities are leading as an example for national governments that is it possible to set and achieve more ambitious goals for emissions reductions. These officials will present their ambitious climate action plans at the COP21.
Earlier this year, President Obama announced his goal for 100 US cities join the Compact by the start of COP21. That goal has been met and exceeded. Across the country and the world, cities are taking action by retrofitting buildings, upgrading transportation, and building efficient infrastructure.
In the U.S., cities are already making great headway:
- Boston, Massachusetts is rated the most energy efficient city in the U.S. by the ACEEE. It has committed to reduce GHG emissions by 80 percent by 2050, is the first city to adopt Green Building Zoning, and its utilities network aims to include efficiency and microgrids.
- Atlanta, Georgia has set targets to reduce overall emissions from buildings, waste and transit to 40% by 2030.
- Oberlin, Ohio is moving toward an 89% renewable energy supply.
Internationally, megacities in the C40 network are leading the way with low carbon goals and sustainable urban growth. This group represents half a billion people and 25% of global GDP, and they have promised to shift towards sustainable policies. Below are actions taken by leading cities:
- London plans to install 6,000 charging points and 3,000 battery-powered cars by 2018
- Gothenburg and Johannesburg have issued $489 million worth of green bonds
- Shanghai will invest $16.3 billion over the next 3 years on 220 anti-pollution projects
In sum, the COP21 is on track to have some significant outcomes. If you live in a city, you’re likely to see evidence of these first hand. You can contribute to reducing global warming by taking public transportation, turning off lights, and supporting your local sustainability leader.
Lindsay Parker is a Texas native with a Masters of Public Policy focused on energy and climate policy from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Germany. She is currently working at the U.S. Department of Energy on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. When she’s not hiking, she enjoys choir, running, swing dancing, and yoga.