Tackling inequity with a Green New Deal

In the United States, race is the most significant indicator of whether a person lives near contaminated air, water or soil. In Seattle, the climate crisis disproportionately affects neighbourhoods impacted by economic, environmental and racial inequities. 

The city is tackling these issues through a Green New Deal, which promises to address the climate crisis and environmental injustice through carbon-pollution reduction and climate adaptation efforts. It will also build an inclusive and equitable low-carbon economy and promote community health and wellbeing by investing in Black, Indigenous and people of colour, refugees and low-income communities. The overarching goal is to reduce climate-related health disparities and foster community resilience.

The Green New Deal Budget Investment Signing at the South park Community Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022 in Seattle, WA. Earlier this month the City of Seattle’s Green New Deal reached a critical milestone as the Mayor released a proposal that would invest USD$6,491,539 towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. (Ron Wurzer/AP Images for C40)
© Ron Wurzer / AP Images for C40

An Independent Green New Deal Advisory Body Board, comprised of 19 individuals connected to groups disproportionately affected by climate breakdown, gives recommendations to accelerate climate action. In 2022, the Board recommended US $6.5 million investments to finance green and just initiatives, such as converting oil-based heating to electric heat pumps for low-income households. Residents give feedback to the Board on their specific community needs and opportunities to build climate resilience across the city. Expected 2023 Green New Deal investments range between US $14 million to US $26 million, with funds raised via taxation on big business.

Since 2008, Seattle has decreased greenhouse gas emissions in the buildings, transportation, and waste sectors by 4.9% – despite a 25% population increase. The soon-to-be-released citywide building standards will reduce emissions by a further 27% by 2050. Seattle’s initiative also creates jobs in government and the clean energy industries for people of colour, showing how climate action can deliver equity.

Mayor of Seattle, Bruce Harrell, said: “Effective climate justice work requires true collaboration with those most impacted by economic, racial, and environmental injustice. It’s about people, connection, and partnership. Seattle’s Green New Deal centres our most impacted communities and brings forward meaningful solutions to meet the scale of the climate crisis. We’re honoured to receive this award and grateful for the tireless work of community leaders helping Seattle transition away from fossil fuels, create economic opportunity, and build healthy and resilient neighbourhoods.

Tokyo / Kuala Lumpur
Global North and South collaboration to decarbonise the building sector

Buildings and construction work are responsible for over one-third of the world’s energy consumption. The sector needs to be almost net-zero carbon by 2050 to keep global heating under 1.5˚C and avert catastrophic climate breakdown. In 2019, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur established an innovative Global North-Global South climate partnership to decarbonise the building sector to rise to this challenge.

Tokyo previously made bold and successful steps to reduce emissions from the built environment and shared its learnings with Kuala Lumpur, so the city could begin making dents in its emissions output. Improving energy efficiency is vital given that tropical climate makes the indoor environment more comfortable while reducing baseline emissions. The cities continued communicating throughout the pandemic, holding more than 50 meetings over three years. 

As a result of peer-to-peer discussions and knowledge sharing, the cities developed the Low Carbon Building Standards for facilities owned by Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur has already started renovations at four buildings based on a five-year renovation plan. An energy-related database for Kuala Lumpur’s 1,955 facilities has also been developed, becoming the basis for implementing Low Carbon Building Standards.

The Global North and South Collaboration project on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tokyo previously made bold and successful steps to reduce emissions from the built environment and shared its learnings with Kuala Lumpur, so the city could begin making dents in its emissions output. (Richard Humphries/AP Images for C40)
© Richard Humphries / AP Images for C40

In a world where true and equitable Global North-Global South partnerships are rare, this collaboration is a trailblazing model for other cities to emulate across multiple sectors.

Governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, said: “I am very honoured to have received so much support for our efforts to decarbonise buildings. In September of this year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the City of Kuala Lumpur agreed to promote collaboration in the field of urban infrastructure, including measures against flooding. Now is the time for action. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government will continue to take the lead in the global climate movement.”

On 7 October, Mayor of Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Seri Haji Mahadi Bin Che Ngah, said: “Kuala Lumpur is the heart of our nation and we are proud to see that it has truly evolved to become one of the leading carbon-neutral cities in the world. With the Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo joint project, in the ‘United to Build A Climate Movement’ category thus far, imagine how much the impact can be if we can create collectively. Let’s continue on this journey to achieve a carbon-neutral future, together. Climate action; act now, act together.”