SÃO PAULO - Given that the world’s 40 biggest cities account for eight percent of the global population and 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, local governments play an increasingly important role in confronting climate change.
This was one of the conclusions reached at the fourth C40 Cities Mayors Summit, organised by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) in São Paulo, Brazil May 31 to Jun. 3.
The summit culminated in the signing of an agreement to establish a common standard for measuring greenhouse gas emissions and another with the World Bank to facilitate financing for environmental projects in urban areas.
The C40 member cities are Addis Ababa, Athens, Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Caracas, Chicago, Dhaka, Hanoi, Houston, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Karachi, Lagos, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, New Delhi, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Warsaw.
"The leaders of C40 Cities - the world’s megacities - hold the future in their hands," said New York City mayor and C40 chair Michael Bloomberg.
Every two years, the group’s members meet to present and evaluate the results of their initiatives. The first summit was held in London in 2005, the second in New York in 2007, and the third in Seoul in 2009.
At this year’s summit in São Paulo, the C40 and ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability, an association of over 1,200 local governments, signed an agreement to establish a global standard for accounting and reporting community-scale greenhouse gas emissions.
"Establishing a single global standard for reporting greenhouse gas emissions will empower local governments to accelerate their actions and access funding for mitigation and adaptation projects," said Bloomberg.
In addition, Bloomberg and World Bank Group president Robert Zoellick signed a "groundbreaking" agreement aimed at helping cities accelerate current actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become more resilient to climate change. The World Bank Group has allocated 15 billion dollars to C40 cities, and another five billion has been granted in long-term loans at an interest of one percent annually for climate-related initiatives. Combined with other sources of financing, a total of 50 billion dollars would be made available, of which 30 percent is earmarked for private sector initiatives.
The conditions for accessing these funds vary. Priority is placed on infrastructure development and poverty reduction. To provide more information on the different mechanisms and sources of financing, a platform has been created to offer guidance on financial options available for climate action in developing countries, at http://www.climatefinanceoptions.org.
Speaking to the delegations from 47 cities gathered in São Paulo, Zoellick stressed that the World Bank Group wants to facilitate changes in the right direction, and that the establishment of specific targets and a common standard to measure their achievement will enable it to provide more effective support.
While this support "is fundamental, it is important to study ways for local governments to directly access these lines of credit. If we depend on national governments, it could complicate matters," Mauricio Macri, the mayor of Buenos Aires, told Tierramérica.
One of the featured speakers at the summit was Bill Clinton, former president of the United States (1993-2001) and founder of the Clinton Climate Initiative, which has worked in partnership with C40 since 2006.
Clinton’s address focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, specifically highlighting the need to curb landfill emissions of methane gas.
When organic wastes in landfills decompose they produce methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, but can also be harnessed to generate energy. This represents another potential source of revenue, in addition to the recycling of plastic, glass and wood from landfills.
"The financing has not been available for these things because they have been looked at as eyesores, not goldmines," said Clinton. "World Bank financing may give us the chance to do something historic."
Curbing pollution and adapting to the effects of climate change require major investments, particularly considering the need for new technology in large construction projects.
But big cities have also found simple measures that offer significant results. In the Australian city of Melbourne, for example, the local government offers free transportation until seven in the morning, to reduce the use of private vehicles and take advantage of the public transport vehicles that usually sit idle during these hours.
Another initiative presented at the summit is a programme adopted in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, in which drivers leave their cars at home one day a week. Participants in the programme place a sticker on their vehicle indicating the day they have agreed not to drive, and sensors monitor whether or not they have complied with their commitment.
Those who comply receive discounts of five percent on their vehicle tax fees and 8.7 percent on insurance premiums, as well as discounts on fuel and other services. If the radar sensors detect a vehicle being driven on the prohibited day three times, these benefits are revoked.
Initiatives highlighted by the summit’s hosts included dedicated lanes for buses, taxis, and bicycles; the recovery of streams and rivers; the creation of strips of parkland between buildings and along highways and river banks; the expansion of green areas to increase rainwater absorption and reduce temperatures; and the use of renewable fuels.
Planting trees in accordance with the number of inhabitants of a city is another fairly widespread measure. For instance, Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is currently investing in urban forests, the recovery of gallery forests and the renovation of housing, concentrating homes in complexes on smaller areas of land to free up space for parks and urban infrastructure.
Amsterdam has its own fund for climate projects. "We have achieved many things, but when we look at the big picture, we see that there is a lot left to do," Lodewijk Asscher, the mayor of Amsterdam, told Tierramérica.
The C40 summits provide a forum for the exchange of experiences, both successes and failures, and the discussion of shared and individual goals. Seoul hopes to transform 10,000 buildings into green buildings by 2030, Austin has a zero waste plan for 2040, London aims to have 100,000 electric vehicles on the streets by 2020, and Tokyo is introducing higher energy efficiency standards for large urban developments.
*Envolverde correspondent. This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme and the World Bank.