August Rewind: Mayors Voices: C40 Chair, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg “Cities are Forging Ahead”

For our second August rewind post, we have selected a “Mayors Voices” post from C40 Chair New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. In this post, Mayor Bloomberg calls mayors “the great pragmatists on the world's stage.” Mayor Bloomberg explains how mayors across the globe are directly responsible for the well-being of the majority of the world's population and why they can lead in implementing actions on the local level that will have a lasting global impact. This post originally ran on February 14, 2012.

As New York’s Mayor and Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, I have the privilege of working with cities around the world to make urban sustainability a reality. Cities are where the future of the world happens first. And in many ways, in many places, that future has a hopeful face. In every corner of the globe, from Copenhagen to Sao Paulo to Hong Kong, city leaders are at the forefront of climate action.

The reasons are clear. City leaders understand better than anyone just how high the stakes are. We know that on our rapidly urbanizing planet -- where half the world’s people now live in cities and where, within 40 years’ time, urban areas are likely to be home to up to three-fourths of humanity -- cities are both the primary source of, and also the most hopeful cure for, the human activities that contribute to climate change. Already, the intensive burning of carbon fuels in the world’s urban areas accounts for some 70 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the leaders of the world’s cities, we recognize that these emissions not only dramatically contribute to climate change, they also pollute the air we breathe and harm the health of the people that we serve.

Thankfully, however, cities are increasingly part of the solution. C40’s research reports from Arup and CDP on cities across the network found we’ve taken more than 4,700 actions to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the effects of climate change. Lagos is preparing to take the first steps toward composting and recycling 300,000 tons of solid waste every year. Mexico City recently announced the closure of one of the world’s largest landfills, creating a model project to capture methane and generate electricity. Buenos Aires, Jakarta, and Johannesburg have addressed the problem of traffic congestion by establishing excellent bus rapid transit service. London, Paris, and other cities have created immensely popular bike-sharing programs. Hong Kong has made a major commitment to reducing the use of coal as a fuel. And Berlin and Seoul are requiring energy-conserving building retrofits.

New York is taking many of these steps, too, guided by our PlaNYC blueprint for the future. In less than five years, we have planted more than a half-million new trees. We’ve banned the use of the dirtiest heating oils. We’ve instituted bus rapid transit lines, and we’re on the verge of launching a major bike-sharing initiative. The strict codes we’ve adopted for energy-efficiency in major commercial and residential buildings will generate more than 17,000 new construction jobs. In fact, I’m proud to say that just last month, at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Durban, New York’s “green building plan” was singled out for honors by the World Green Building Council.

These are just a few instances of the far-reaching actions that New York and other C40 Cities are taking. In the process, residents of these cities are also benefitting from cleaner air, lower electricity costs, and a better quality of life. But there are economic benefits, too. A shift to sustainability at the local level is stimulating a new “green” economy – one that will foster innovation, generate investment, create jobs, and spur new consumption, even as it increases efficiency.

To a large extent, cities already have the power, the resources, and the expertise they need to forge an alternative path for development, one that creates truly “low carbon” communities. Through the C40 network, cities are strengthening these assets, armed with a unique peer learning network, comprehensive data, a roadmap for uniform emissions measurement, and a doorway to project financing. But cities cannot do it alone -- they need support at national and international levels.

As we turn the page onto the New Year of 2012, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development presents a real opportunity to set the word’s cities on the path of sustainability. This must be at the top of the Rio+20 agenda. And there are three key steps to making that happen. First, national climate policies must reflect the increasing importance of urban areas. Second, national governments and international organizations must directly allocate to cities more of the resources needed to make sustainability a reality; through its partnership with C40, the World Bank is already working to make this possible. Third, mayors and other local officials must have a formal institutional role in climate-change decision-making at the international level.

Nearly 20 years have passed since representatives of more than 170 nations gathered at the UN’s first pioneering “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. That meeting brought the world’s attention to the need for concerted international action across a range of environmental issues -- to clean our air and water, to manage congestion in cities, and to limit the emission of greenhouse gases.

Since then, there have been detours and delays in realizing those goals. Progress has not been nearly as swift as hoped. Nevertheless, the call to action sounded at Rio back in 1992 still rings loudly in the streets of cities across the globe. Yet cities are forging ahead.

Mayors are the great pragmatists on the world's stage and we are directly responsible for the well-being of the majority of the world's population. So we don't have the luxury of simply talking about the challenges we face and the need for change, but not delivering it. Which is why I am confident that as we enter 2012 Mayors -- and the C40 -- are up to the challenges that lie ahead and that we can truly implement actions on the local level that will have a lasting global impact.