Making our collective response to climate change more equitable

by Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40 Cities

Climate change isn’t fair. The people responsible for the least greenhouse gas emissions, who have benefited least from our fossil fuel addicted societies, will suffer the most from its climate consequences. The poorest and most vulnerable in our societies are disproportionately at risk from rising seas and climate related disasters. Women and children suffer more than men. Perhaps most unfair of all, it is future generations who will live with the long-term consequences of climate change.

Nowhere are these tensions felt more acutely than in the world’s great cities.  More than 50% of the world’s population now live in cities, and the trend is moving towards ever more extreme inequality amongst those urban citizens. In many of the world’s fastest growing cities, one billion people now live in vast sprawling slums without access to land, housing or basic services. As climate change increases the vulnerability of cities to serious risks, whether floods, droughts, or extreme weather events, this inequality is becoming a matter of life and death for hundreds of millions of people. Rising food prices due to climate change affect low-income households the most, some of which have to use more than 60 percent of their income to buy food. Even in rich countries, inequalities are exacerbated by climate change. Two‑thirds of the jobs lost after Hurricane Katrina in the USA were by women.

Mayors have long been the most committed champions of urgent climate action, to protect the health, prosperity and welfare of their citizens. With every month that passes the need to radically and rapidly transform how our cities function becomes more urgent. In this context, it is becoming clear that it is impossible to tackle climate change without also tackling inequality, and vice-versa.

First, there is the practical argument, that steep emissions reductions can most efficiently be delivered by concentrating on the heaviest polluters. 10% of the global population contributes more than 50% of global emissions. If the top 10% of emitters reduced their emissions to the EU average, a population that enjoys a very high standard of living, this would cut global emissions by 35%.

Secondly, the ambitious climate action demanded by the Paris Agreement will not be fully effective if it is not inclusive. Climate policies and services need to be accessible affordable and well communicated. If a city sets a goal to increase the number of journeys taken by public transport, as a means to reduce emissions from the transport sector, then buses and trains must be safe, cheap and accessible for all citizens. Mexico City has significantly increased the number of journeys taken by bike, by specifically marketing its hire scheme and cycling infrastructure to women.

Thirdly, cities investing in low-carbon development will raise living standards faster and embed stronger economic growth than those that stick with old fossil fuel models. This is because climate actions can produce a wide range of different benefits, including improved health outcomes (and lower healthcare costs), better air quality, greater job opportunities and liveability. For example, air quality measures increased life expectancy by 20 months in China. According to the Just Transition Centre, 9.8 million people are globally employed in the renewable energy sector, of which almost two-thirds live in Asia.

Delivering on the Paris Agreement presents a unique opportunity to create a more inclusive urban society, with new protections for the groups that have been historically marginalised by the fossil fuel economy. According to the International Energy Agency, the number of people without access to electricity is expected to decline more than 30 percent by 2030. The vast majority, (60%) of those new electricity consumers will bypass fossil fuels entirely, relying instead on renewable energy.

For all of these reasons, at the behest of a group of very committed mayors around the world, C40 has established an Inclusive Climate Action Programme. This initiative builds off the knowledge, practices and experience of the world’s leading cities such as New York City and Paris which are making fairness and inclusivity pivotal to their city’s climate strategy or as Los Angeles, Nairobi, Quezon City, Seattle, Seoul and many others which are experimenting concrete inclusive climate initiatives. In this context, C40 will support cities to develop climate strategies that are accessible to all citizens and which also address issues of fairness and equity. We believe this will help mayors to build and strengthen consensus for the ambitious climate action needed to deliver on the Paris Agreement.

The programme will therefore deliver technical support, training and peer-to-peer exchange to ensure:

  • engagement of a wide range of communities and stakeholders when developing climate action plans (inclusivity of the process)
  • fairness and accessibility in the design and delivery of urban climate policies, programmes and services (inclusivity of the policy)
  • the wider benefits of climate action are as equitably distributed as possible (inclusivity of the impact)

C40’s Inclusive Climate Action Programme has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Ford Foundation, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy of the United Kingdom and Citi Foundation. Our aspiration is to help cities deliver climate action that also increases access to services, creates social and economic benefits for all and improves the quality of life of every citizen. Climate change may not be fair, but we at C40 will do everything possible to ensure our collective response to it is equitable.