Here’s How Cities Led Climate Action at COP21

The spotlight at COP21 may have been on the leaders of nation-states trying to work out a decisive climate action plan, but leaders at the municipal level also made moves to advance mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Cities cover only 2 percent of the world’s land area, but account for as much as 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN-HABITAT. And with more than half of the world’s population currently living in cities, which is fast-approaching 60 percent by 2030, that is where the most risk for exacerbating — and opportunity for fighting — climate change lies.

Here is what cities were up to at COP21:

C40 recognizes world’s most sustainable cities

Boston; Johannesburg; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Nanjing, China, were among the 10 cities recognized by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) as winners of the third-annual C40 Cities Awards, which recognizes global cities for leadership in tackling climate change across key sectors.

Cape Town; New York; Stockholm; Vancouver, British Columbia; Wuhan, China; and Washington, D.C., also were recognized for demonstrating “exceptional innovation and ambition to build low carbon and climate resilient urban communities.”

C40 recognized Boston for “Smart Cities & Smart Community Engagement,” due to the success of Greenovate Boston, an initiative which unified the city’s various climate action programs in energy, transportation, air pollution, food and solid waste under an umbrella brand. It also established a broad platform for communication, community engagement and recognition of achievement. By simplifying community outreach, residents are more able to become aware of and participate in Boston’s various climate action initiatives.

Vancouver won the award for “Carbon Measurement & Planning” for its “Greenest City Action Plan,” which established a vision to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. The plan comprises 10 goal areas covering jobs, carbon, the built environment, the natural environment and food, each with specific 2020 targets that address three overarching focus areas: zero carbon, zero waste and healthy ecosystems. With around 160 actions already completed or underway, the city is on track to hitting its targets.

C40 received more than 200 applications from 94 cities for the 2015 Awards; these were reviewed in partnership with sustainability think tank and consultancy Sustainia.

100RC mayors commit $5 billion to resilience-building

On the first-ever “Resilience Day” at COP21, 100 Resilient Cities — Pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation, which focuses on improving city resilience in cities across the globe, announced the first round of signees to its Resilience Pledge.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera alone has promised to devote over $1 billion to build its resilience to shocks and stresses related to climate change.

The pledge represents a key principle of resilience: a commitment to making sure each project the city engages in achieves multiple goals, allowing the city to get the most return out of every dollar rather than spending any additional money. Projects include everything from deep energy retrofits and floodwalls to neighborhood revitalization and rapid bus transit.

Cities that sign the pledge will have access to up to $5 million in goods and services from 100RC’s “Platform Partners” — a collection of organizations from the private, public, NGO and academic sectors. These services will help maximize the success of city resilience-building efforts and amplify the impact of their new, stronger budgetary commitment to resilience, 100RC said. Cities can invest the new funding both into current projects and new ones.

Cities can help close the ‘emissions gap’

At COP21, Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and the United Nations secretary general’s special envoy for cities and climate change, released a report claiming that cities can help to close the “emissions gap,” the divide between what countries have promised to do before the climate talks, and what is needed to avoid a rise in temperature above 2 degrees Celsius — which amounts to around 15 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year.

If cities take aggressive steps, they can help curb global emissions by 3.7 billion tons a year by 2030 — close to one-quarter of the gap. Measures to achieve these reductions include stronger energy-efficiency standards for new residential and commercial buildings; retrofitting existing buildings to be more energy-efficient; tougher rules for home lighting and appliances; promoting citizen use of public transit and bicycles, rather than cars; and capturing the methane released by landfills.

This can be accomplished because mayors have strong influence over key policies that influence emissions, such as building energy standards, urban planning and public transportation, the report said.

(Image Credit: Wikimedia)

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