Translating Climate Science Into Action

By Lia Cairone, New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability & Patricia Himschoot, Buenos Aires Agencia de Protección Ambiental and Yann Françoise, Urban Ecology Agency, City of Paris.

In our cities, we know how crucial it is to limit global heating to 1.5°C. If we fail to adequately address the climate crisis, we will face rising sea levels, rising temperatures, and dangerous storms. We also know that the impacts of climate change will not be experienced equally. Around the world, the poorest and most vulnerable will bear the burden of the most severe impacts. 

Because of this, in 2018 we joined a group of city experts from around the world to advise on the development of a Summary for Urban Policymakers of the IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. The purpose was simple: to make climate science accessible to city policymakers, because without strong and urgent action at the city level, limiting global heating to 1.5°C will not be possible.

This unique opportunity allowed us to collaborate in the production of robust, tailored climate information for cities and marked the start of a longer partnership that resulted in For Cities By Cities: Key Takeaways for City Decision Makers from the IPCC 1.5°C Report and Summary for Urban Policymakers, which is being released today. 

For Cities By Cities presents the science in the most concise and action-oriented way possible, and is specifically tailored for decision makers and policymakers in the world’s cities and urban areas. This brief distills the science on 1.5°C to highlight key messages and actionable data, such as trajectories to phase out fossil fuels from our cities, the need to cut emissions 45-75% by 2030, and the need to achieve net zero emissions before 2050.

Through our collaboration with IPCC scientists, the truth about our climate future has become crystal clear to us:

– Limiting global heating to 1.5°C is critical; the difference between just 1.5 and 2°C will mean half a billion more people struggling to get enough to eat and double the number of people suffering from water scarcity. The Earth has already warmed by 1°C, and without further action, we are on a trajectory towards 3°C or more. Failure or success in meeting 1.5°C will have major implications for the prosperity of our cities and the wellbeing of our citizens. 

– The scale of the required transformation is unprecedented; we have never before witnessed the widespread and rapid transitions that are necessary to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Achieving this goal will demand bold, collaborative, and comprehensive leadership.

– It is still possible to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, but time is running out.

There is no doubt that all sectors, and all cities across all geographies, need to rapidly and deeply decarbonize. This includes rethinking the energy, buildings, transport and waste sectors, our industrial practices, agriculture and land use, and the food and goods our cities consume. The knowledge we have gained through this process has further shaped our understanding of the challenges we face and helped our cities to increase the ambition of our efforts.

In New York City, we published a climate action plan in September 2017 that aligned with the 1.5°C goal, becoming the first city in the world to do so. Our plan focuses on maximizing efficiency, transitioning to clean energy, while ensuring that our city is equitable and resilient. It details near-term action commitments, as well as a longer term commitment to achieving citywide carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

As more scientific knowledge has become available, the urgency to act has become even clearer. So in April 2019, we passed the Climate Mobilization Act (CMA). The centerpiece, Local Law 97, requires New York City’s largest existing buildings to meet strict greenhouse gas emissions limits starting in 2024 that become more stringent over time. Each individual building will receive emissions caps and buildings that exceed those caps will face steep penalties. 

This new law is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and makes New York City a leader in deep decarbonization of buildings. By 2030, the law will reduce emissions from large buildings across the city by a total of 6 million tons, the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road. In the same period it will create 26,700 green jobs and prevent up to 130 premature deaths annually from local air quality improvements. It will also put buildings on a path to net zero emissions by 2050 through building retrofits and clean energy. 

In Buenos Aires, we have joined a group of eleven Latin American cities that have pledged to develop a climate action plan aligned with the Paris Agreement through the reduction of emissions from buildings, transportation and waste management, as well as by strengthening our capacity to deal with the impacts of climate change. The climate action plan we are developing will include strategies to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and to make the city resilient and inclusive.

The IPCC 1.5°C Report and For Cities By Cities will serve as the basis for increasing the ambition of our plan to align with the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. Buenos Aires will also draw on the expertise of Argentine researchers who participated in the development of the IPCC report, to develop local climate projection scenarios for the city.

In both of our cities, we are already experiencing social and economic benefits as we transition to a lower carbon economy. Smart climate action will lead to improved health, better air quality, job creation, higher productivity, more walkable and livable cities, and greater resilience to the extreme events we face including heat, floods, and hurricanes.

We are committed to pursuing ambitious climate action in the near-term to bring us in line with the 1.5°C target, and to achieving citywide carbon neutrality. We’ve started down that road, but much more work remains to be done. We now call on cities around the world to join us in accelerating efforts to adapt to emerging climate risks and to transform buildings, infrastructure, and transit systems to near zero-emissions, in line with the global trajectory necessary for 1.5°C.

In Paris, following 18 months of consultation between Parisian stakeholders, the 3rd Climate Action Plan was adopted in March 2018, becoming the first plan which commits Paris to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, for a fairer, more inclusive and resilient city. It is fundamental for all of us to accelerate this transition and crucial to ascertain that no one is left behind in the process. What is at stake is a huge challenge: retrofitting 1 million apartments within 30 years, banning diesel vehicles by 2024 so that residents can breathe clean air, implementing a local sustainable food system in Paris to decrease our carbon footprint and improve our health, and of course continuing to green the city, by implementing cool areas to fight heatwaves and more permeable grounds to manage heavy rains.

Yet, we can only rise to the challenge if we act together; so far more than 60 major Parisian companies support the New Plan mobilizing a community of 500 business actors. In May 2018, we launched the initiative of “Paris Volunteers for Climate” to involve Parisians in personally addressing climate change issues. Now 25,000 Volunteers act every day at home, at work, and in their neighbourhood.

Science made it possible to tackle these topics and get everyone’s agreement on their importance and urgency. Paris believes in science and wants to circulate the information to everyone. Together, we will achieve the Paris agreement.

Download "For Cities By Cities: Key Takeaways for City Decision Makers from the IPCC 1.5°C Report and Summary for Urban Policymakers' in English | French.