Formation - 2 May 2017

en - Cities are not going to stop!

Trump may try to slow down environmental progress but he will not be able to reverse it. ` if Trump withdraws from the Paris accords I will recommend that the 128 US mayors who took part in the Global Covenant of Mayors will seek to join in its place’ says Michael Bloomberg , a leading figure in the Covenant, and UN special envoy for Cities and Climate Change.

The follow up conference to COP 21 held in Marrakesh (COP22) was happening as Trump was elected president of the USA in November 2016. Delegates refused to be downhearted; they saw the action was happening and will continue to happen through businesses, academic institutions, and above all local and subnational governments. How come they were so confident? At COP22 a ` Cities and Climate Change Science Conference‘ was announced for 2018; this will involve researchers, local governments, civil societies, NGOs and regional authorities and draw together a lot of what is already happening.

It is estimated that by 2030 60% of the world’s population will be living in cities. As people move into the cities their use of resources increases, often fourfold. Cities are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, they use the bulk of the world’s resources and do most environmental damage through pollution, loss of biodiversity, and make huge contributions to climate change, they create waste zones with landfill and sewage – as the urban population increases there is a correspondingly greater need for resource efficient convivial human habitats. Already people talk of `regenerative urbanisation’ moving towards zero waste cities and a more circular economy. It is realised that the cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America can be `smart from the start’ whereas those of Europe and North America will need ecological retrofits.

So what has been happening? There is the New Urban Agenda agreed at Habitat111 which took place in 2016 in Ecuador, adopted by the United Nations in 2017. This aims to promote sustainable urban development with basic services, cleaner cities, strengthened resilience in the face of freak climate events, green initiatives, safe accessible public green spaces as well as working to reduce social discrimination, support of migrants etc. Then there is CURB launched September 2016 by the World Bank, C40, Compact of Mayors amongst others: this is a new data driven planning tool to help cities more easily identify and prioritize cost-effective, efficient ways to reduce carbon emissions and improve urban livelihoods. It engages with multiple stakeholders, provides access to best practice, gives diagnostic tools, simulation technology, help with retrofitting transport systems and much else. ICLEI has been going since 1990 realising that local and subnational government action was vital to the challenge we face: it aims to share collective learning as a multidisciplinary network forming strategic partnerships. At present there are 1,500 cities, towns and regions involved, committed to building a sustainable future – low carbon, resilient, biodiverse, resource efficient, eco -mobile and with a green economy. This impacts on as much as 25% of the global urban population. The World Bank has an advisory service investing $314billion a year to make cities more resilient.

In 2016 7,100 cities from 119 countries joined together in an historic collaboration to accelerate climate action. The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy was born harnessing the vast power of cities to effect global change. Then there is C40 Cities, an umbrella organisation representing more than 90 cities focused on tackling climate change. City governments are more agile that state and federal counterparts, often more women are involved and responses are more pragmatic. C40 Women for Climate brought together female mayors from all over the world and made the link between women’s rights and climate change. There is an increasing recognition more generally, of the link between social justice, tackling poverty and working for the environment.

The Global Parliament of Mayors convened in September 2016: they came from all continents bringing together the leadership of cities from right round the world. This was a forum to bring together local knowledge and practical action orientated solutions to global problems. Mayor Roshaan Wolusmal from Kandahar, Afghanistan who has recently joined, reminds us that it will be the first time many of us in this world will be living in cities.

So what is being done? Examples of action are, for instance, Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have announced there will be no more use of diesel vehicles in their cities after 2025. New York is aiming for 100MW of solar power from municipal buildings by 2025. Guangzhou, China is going all out for green growth, energy efficient technologies, low carbon buildings and an efficient rail transport system.

Vancouver is the world’s first renewably powered city; they are aiming at renewably powered car sharing fleets and private vehicles, retrofits to existing buildings and 100% grid energy supply from renewables; they have an innovative energy system model mapping energy demand across the year.

Adelaide, Australia gets 44% of their energy from winds and solar, energy and water efficiency are mandatory, organic waste is all recycled, farmland irrigated with recycled sewage, trees have been planted and pedestrianisation and cycle lanes created.

In some places there are urban eco-villages for instance BedZED,, an area of South London. There are experiments with vertical forests helping to regenerate bio-diversity and clean air in cities (Nanjing, China) New York has discovered that implementing a forest protection strategy in the water catchment area of the city is estimated to be 7 time cheaper than building and operating a water treatment plant.

San Francisco has banned all fossil fuel extraction from city owned land whatever Trump may decree. Paris is planting 20,000 trees, Addis Abbaba has a new light rail system running on wind, geothermal and hydro. Yokahama has turned to clean energy, Kolkata has 5 new enormous composting plants to cope with its rotting trash problem.

Curtiba, Brazil has an urban agricultural programme training in natural pest control and providing seeds and organic fertilisers. These are just a few examples of what is being done. Cities are setting ambitious targets, making data publicly available and being transparent in their progress towards climate goals.

There is also great work being done in building resilience as people recognise that `things will not get back to normal’. There are already the challenges of sea level rise, dramatic fluctuations of rainfall, increased storm intensity, land loss and subsistence. The 100 Resilient Cities initiative empowers community groups, governments and business, ordinary citizens and neighbourhood volunteers to work together on` readiness, responsiveness and revitalization’. The Rockfeller Foundation is working to help cities adapt to climate change and in the process discover what they call a resilience dividend as technical and infrastructural solutions involve increased social cohesion.

Further information on this fascinating topic : - `the Resilience Dividend’ by Judith Rodin. 2015 Profile books.

It has been said the first commandment of the earth is `enough’. It also says `rejoice, you have been born into a world of self maintaining abundance and incredible beauty’. May cities continue to do their bit for the future of humanity. It is in the cities that most of the work is being done.

Jessica r.a.