Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Global Cities at Forefront of Sustainability Movement

By Charlene Porter
Staff Writer

Washington - With their smaller scales and grass-roots governments, cities and towns around the world are becoming the greatest innovators in the search for sustainable solutions for energy, water, land and other resource needs. Their populations, their economic clout and their cultural influence put cities at the vanguard of change, and no one realizes this better than city governments themselves.

C40 is a self-formed group of the world's megacities that is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address climate change and mitigate the changes that are already affecting their urban areas. While still recognizing the importance of high-level, multilateral agreements in addressing planet-wide problems, city governments on every continent are also making contributions to sustainability with the mundane business of street lights, sewage treatment, bicycle paths and other infrastructure operations that make cities livable.

First conceived by a group of 18 international mayors in 2005, C40 has now grown to include 59 large cities. The group met on the fringes of the recent Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, making the announcement that urban areas have the potential to reduce their annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than a billion tons by 2030, an amount that "is equivalent to the annual GHG emissions of Mexico and Canada combined."

C40 announced that cities have taken nearly 5,000 actions to address climate change, and are well on track through existing and committed activities to reduce their collective annual emissions by 248 million tons by 2020.

The immediacy of urban problems teaches city officials to act quickly and decisively. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the current C40 chairman, said that background may be the secret to C40 success.

"Because of mayors' commitment to action, cities are making great progress in reducing greenhouse gases, which helps beat back climate change and makes our cities better, more livable places," Bloomberg said. "The data we are releasing today is more evidence that cities have been and will continue to lead the way."

C40 also announced a partnership with the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS) to create an online reference library to catalog the successful policy and financing solutions that cities have found to address environmental issues and climate change.

JIUS is a partnership between the United States, Brazil and private-sector groups, announced in March by the presidents of the two nations. It will provide a showcase for innovation in sustainability, with the goal of transferring these solutions for urban problems to other cities in the United States and around the world.

In the June 19 announcement of these actions, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes offered his thoughts on cities' effectiveness. "When mobilized as one, cities wield sufficient collective power to influence opinion and nudge policy further up the legislative agenda," Paes said. "Cities have more freedom than nation-states to put into place progressive strategies that are already changing people's lives."

C40 members reported further progress June 19:

.. 100 percent of the 45 reporting C40 cities are implementing a range of carbon emission reduction activities.
.. 71 percent of the 45 reporting C40 cities reported citywide emission reduction targets.
.. Mayors have direct control over 75 percent of urban emissions sources.

The Obama administration is applauding the innovation and the energy that urban governments are applying to sustainability and climate change issues. Reta Jo Lewis, special representative for global intergovernmental affairs within the Department of State, spoke to urban officials during their Rio meeting. She emphasized how sustainability policies can be introduced in many urban government functions.

"This includes deploying green technologies and services; prioritizing green infrastructure and buildings; protecting and restoring green spaces; creating more housing opportunities; reducing emissions; seeking greater efficiency in resource use and waste processing; and making more sustainable urban-system and land-use decisions," Lewis said.

As she met with C40 leaders, Lewis represented the Climate and Clean Air Initiative formed by the United States, Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the U.N. Environment Programme in early 2012. Expanded now to include the European Commission nations, Japan, Nigeria and others, the initiative is acting upon recent scientific findings that show significant short-term gains in GHG reduction can be achieved with a focus on what are known as short-lived pollutants and soot.

C40 announced in Rio that cities will be working with the Clean Air Initiative to assist local governments in reducing methane emissions through solid-waste management. Methane is one of the targeted short-lived pollutants. C40's partners are going to work to ensure that cities can learn from each other how to lower methane emissions from their waste programs and how to find ways to pay for GHG-reducing actions.

Governor of Jakarta Fauzi Bowo welcomed the initiatives introduced by C40 at the sustainable development conference in June, saying knowledge-sharing and the exchange of best practices are "crucial" to addressing climate change issues. "The basic approach Jakarta has taken in reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been a holistic approach based on the basic policy implemented in managing Jakarta, which is pro-poor, pro-jobs, pro growth and pro-environment," Bowo said. "These four factors cannot be separated from each other."

Lewis agrees with Bowo that the solutions to climate change and sustainability require a "holistic approach." The State Department representative said it is also imperative that all sectors of the society recognize that sustainability is "an issue for government at all levels, as well as for the private sector and civil society."

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)

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