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A harbor in Oslo, Norway

City officials in Oslo, Norway, are attempting to enact an ambitious plan to drastically cut the city's greenhouse gas emissions—but they're being stymied by the right-wing national government. (Photo: Nadir Hashmi/flickr/cc)

Cities Worldwide Take on Climate Fight—And See Pushback From National Governments

Many cities are outpacing national governments in the climate fight, setting the stage for power battles

Nika Knight Beauchamp

Cities worldwide are setting climate goals that are far more ambitious than the targets agreed upon by national governments, leading to clashes between urban leaders and national ones, Reuters reported Monday.

"Just over half the world's population lives in urban areas, meaning municipalities will help to determine whether the historic shift from fossil fuels to cleaner energy agreed in Paris succeeds or fails," Reuters notes. "But as many cities become more assertive, governments are reluctant to cede control."

Oslo, for example, is battling Norway's right-wing coalition government to enact an aggressive plan to cut the city's carbon emissions.

The city is pushing "to more than halve the capital's greenhouse gas emissions within four years to about 600,000 tons," Reuters reports. "The plan for the city of 640,000 people includes car-free zones, 'fossil-fuel-free building sites,' high road tolls, and capturing greenhouse gases from the city's waste incinerator."

Yet the national government's "Transport Ministry is dragging its feet" on the plan, introducing delays that have slowed the introduction of new tolls and car-free zones for months, Oslo's deputy mayor told Reuters.

It so happens that supporters of the far-right Progress Party, which together with the Conservative Party forms the ruling coalition, are deeply opposed to climate change policies.

In Denmark, meanwhile, Copenhagen's mayor is accusing the national government of levying unfairly high fees on the city for using the national grid to power its fleet of electric buses. And on the other side of the world, Sydney officials are battling the conservative Australian government for the city's right to power itself with its own solar panels without paying hefty fees.

And in the U.S., green-minded city leaders are taking to the frontlines of the climate fight in the face of a right-wing, climate change-denying Trump administration.

Cities are powerful players in the global effort to combat climate change. Urban dwellers consume 75 percent of the world's resources and are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, according to Columbia University's Earth Institute. Because of their large and dense populations, locations, and infrastructure, cities are also most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

"Cities are on the front line of both the cause and effect of climate change," said Somayya Ali Ibrahim, program manager for the Urban Climate Change Research Network at the Earth Institute. "Cause—because if there are so many people gathered in one spot, there are more emissions and more energy is used. And on the converse side, they will be most affected by climate change because of coastal flooding, heat waves, urban heat island effects, epidemics, [and impacts on] water and sanitation systems, and transport systems. So most of the people affected [by climate change] will be in cities."

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