C40: Cities can move quicker

In this Q&A, Mark Watts, Executive Director for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, presents his view on the role of the world’s megacities in the green transition.

By Jesper Toft Madsen, October 2014

1. What is it that cities can do better than others when tackling the global resource and climate challenge?

Cities are showing leadership in the global fight against climate change for two main reasons.

First, city leaders tend to be closer to the actual delivery of services than national governments, allowing them to move quickly to implement bold environmentally and financially viable solutions.

Second, cities have demonstrated much greater willingness to collaborate with and learn from each other, something that C40 helps to facilitate through our city networks.

For example, as our recent research – Climate Action in Megacities 2.0 – set out, as recently as 2011 only 13 C40 cities had implemented bus rapid transit schemes (which make it cheap and fast to travel by public transport, rather than more polluting cars). Just two years later when we conducted our survey, and after much sharing of best practice, 29 C40 cities were delivering bus rapid transit schemes.

2. Where do you see the biggest potential in optimising resources in a city context?

In the short term, the biggest potential is improving the energy efficiency of buildings, so that they waste less heat in cold climate and are easier to keep cool in hotter cities. ‘Retrofitting’ buildings to achieve this, or using building codes to ensure that new buildings meet high standards, saves citizens money off their energy bills and releases capital for investment in other infrastructure.

But in the longer term, cities will only become sustainable if they get planning and transport right. The successful, low carbon cities of the future will be dense and compact and offer a high degree of mobility based on walking, cycling and mass transit. 

3. Is it realistic that cities can carry the weight of the world?

City leaders have certainly proved better at working together to tackle major global issues than their counterparts in national government. Mayors do compete also, but rather than confronting each other with armies or tariffs, it is to improve the infrastructure and quality of life in their city, so as to attract investment and the brightest people in what is an increasingly mobile world.

So cities can’t carry the entire weight of the world as far as tackling climate change is concerned. But they may be the best of hope of getting greenhouse gas emissions on a downwards trajectory in the next few years – as the world’s scientists have unequivocally demonstrated is necessary. And hopefully that will buy enough time for the necessary inter-governmental climate deal to emerge.

About C40

C40 is a global network of large cities taking action to address climate change by developing and implementing policies and programs that generate measurable reductions in both greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks.

The network was created in 2005 by former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, and forged a partnership in 2006 with the Cities Program of President Clinton’s Climate Initiative (CCI) started by the Clinton Foundation. The network has a list of partners and funders, including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Realdania and the World Bank.

Among the 69 affiliated cities are New York, Singapore and Copenhagen.

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