Cities pushing nations toward deeper cuts


Mexico City at night. Cities house a majority of the world's population, use 80 percent of the energy, are responsible for 75 percent of humanity's greenhouse gas emissions, have transit, carpools, combined heat and power systems and other "green" energy infrastructure. "This is an obvious place to start," British economist Nicholas Stern said. Photo by Steve Oldham/flickr

16 December 2009

'We will go further, and we will make it safe for politicians to go further.'

By Douglas Fischer editor

COPENHAGEN – Mayors of some of the world's largest cities flexed their muscle at the United Nations climate talks Wednesday, warning that "billions of people" are prepared to cut emissions far beyond whatever agreement world leaders may ink this week.

"We at the local level have too much to lose," said Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. "We will go further, and we will make it safe for (politicians) to go further. We will push the envelope."mayors-450

Nickels and mayors of Delhi, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Melbourne – representing some 45 million people total – said they were pushing forward with ambitious climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, even as their national leaders remained stuck on those very points.

They had no choice, said Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle. Earlier this year the worst wildfires in Australia's history grazed the outskirts of his city, killing more than 75 people. Experts attributed the exceptionally fierce blaze to drought conditions that scientists predict will become increasingly common as emissions increase.

"My city went into meltdown," Doyle said. "If those conditions are what my city is going to have to deal with, then my city is not ready."

The mayors were joined by Sir Nicholas Stern, a leading climate change economist, at a standing-room-only briefing attended by mayors and local officials from around the world.

mexico-250The discussion came a day after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for a UN climate summit for cities and regions.

And while the world's attention was focused Wednesday on the premiers and presidents cloistered across the Bella Center behind a tight security cordon, the key to unlocking the climate crisis, Stern said, can be found at the local level.

"We can see the agreement. We know what it looks like. It is now a matter of political will," he said. "The cities have to show it. And that will add tremendously to the conviction of the national leaders. There's nothing like the power of example."

Some 75 percent of all manmade greenhouse gases can be linked to cities, Stern said. Cities consume nearly 80 percent of the world's energy. They house the majority of the world's people, they have bus lines, carpools, combined heat and power systems, infrastructure for electric cars.

"This is an obvious place to start," he said.

Yet there is a disconnect between local and national governments across the world on what is possible, Stern and the mayors said.

In the United States, 1,060 mayors have committed to meet their share of the Kyoto Protocol's emissions cuts, even though the Obama administration has dismissed the protocol's framework as "old think."

India claims it cannot afford to commit to binding emissions cuts, even as Delhi's Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta is developing ways to sell a multi-pronged energy and water conservation plan to the poorest of his city's 16 million people.

It all points to the need to give cities a seat in future climate talks, said Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

"It's clear the desires of billions of people who live in cities will not be met this week," he said.

And if the mayors were at the table?

"We would never let them finish the negotiations without a deal, really."

The Daily Climate's archives have more than 1400 stories from media around the world on local efforts to trim emissions.

Photo of the mayors at Copenhagen's Bella Center on Wednesday, 16 Dec., by Douglas Fischer, Daily Climate. Photo of Mexico City's subway by Rafael Rodriguez/flickr

Contact Daily Climate editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [ at ]

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