C40 Voices: Simon Reddy Reports on Durban

Last week, the City of Johannesburg, with C40 and Arup, hosted Climate Action in Megacities, a side-event to the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban. With this round of climate talks now over, we hear from C40’s own Simon Reddy on the growing momentum behind an alternative approach that centers on cities.

Two minutes. That’s the amount of time that national Governments allowed cities and local governments to address the high-level of the UNFCCC COP last week in Durban.

This matter of procedure or control belies the facts on the ground: cities are already leading the way with programs and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions irrespective of national governments failure to reach agreement. Furthermore, cities and urban areas account for over 70 percent of global GHG emissions and have a crucial role to play in combating climate change.

Around the world, cities are on the front-lines of climate change; and are acting as crucibles of innovation on policies, programs and projects that generate measurable reductions in both emissions and climate risks.

The landmark report, Climate Action in Megacities, co-developed by C40 and Arup, marks the first-ever comprehensive analysis of actions underway to address climate change in the world’s megacities:

  • The 40 participating C40 Cities represent 297m people, 18 percent of global GDP and 10 percent of global carbon emissions.
  • These cities have collectively taken 4,734 climate actions to date, with another 1,465 under consideration.

Last week’s side-event featuring the Megacities report brought together C40 and urban sustainability leaders from around the world for a dynamic discussion that drew a packed audience. Throughout the week, I saw many signs of strong interest in – and appreciation for -- the role of megacities; whether at the World Green Building Council (WGBC) Government Leadership Awards or Empowering Global Cities for Local Climate Change Action, an event organised by the Gold Standard, South African Government and Global Energy Basel.

Indeed, there is a palpable momentum behind the idea that we need an alternative approach to addressing climate change in the international arena: one that centres on cities, and calls on national governments to invest more in cities, through funding and longer-term financing of sustainable infrastructure projects.

C40 is playing an important role in driving this message. At Rio+20, the next major UN gathering on climate, C40 Cities are calling for an alternative approach that empowers cities to lead climate action, in close partnership with national governments, the United Nations and other international bodies.

Real change is rarely a top-down process. For sure, there had been little expectation that the COP 17 would deliver any significant outcomes. But if cities begin to have a seat at the table at international gatherings – at Rio+20 and beyond – and national governments work more closely with their cities in order to reduce GHG emissions, we can expect much more to be accomplished.