An edited version of this article was originally published as a letter to the Editor of The Financial Times
Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and Chair of C40
Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney
Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo
Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town
The next four years will be crucial in determining if the world can avoid the worst impacts of climate change, keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees. As America inaugurates a President who has cast doubt on global warming, European leaders distracted by Brexit and the rise of populist movements across the continent, and China adjusts to the prospect of providing global leadership on climate change, it is now cities and businesses that are delivering the boldest ideas and most ambitious plans for a sustainable low carbon future.
As political and business leaders met last week in Davos, the message coming from city halls and boardrooms around the world is clear. The urgency of the climate crisis and the economic potential for businesses and cities in shifting towards a greener future are too well established to be rolled back by forces of isolationism at a national level.
The private sector is acting swiftly and seriously, with massive investments in the next generation of low carbon technology and shifting to renewables. 365 of America’s largest companies recently wrote to President-Elect Trump reaffirming their “deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.” Chinese companies recently supplied the city of Shenzhen with the world’s largest fleet of electric buses. In 2015, global investments in renewable energy reached $286 billion and for the first time, more than half of all added power generation capacity came from renewables.
Mayors, too, have forged ahead with delivering and implementing climate change solutions through organizations such as C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. Crucially, we understand the scale of the challenge ahead. The world’s megacities must peak emissions by 2020 and must cut per capita emissions from over 5 tons of CO2 to around 3 tons by 2030.
The scale of the challenge is vast and it is urgent. To achieve the transformation needed will require $375 billion of investment in sustainable infrastructure in 90 of the world’s most important cities. Fortunately, our efforts to tackle climate change also present incredible opportunities. The projects that are set to cut emissions, clean the air that we breathe and build low carbon infrastructure will also improve public health, encourage social inclusion and create jobs.
Take the example of bicycle-friendly cities. The health benefits of cycling are clear, as citizens who cycle instead of driving, live up to 4 months longer. Just in Mexico City, healthcare savings could total more than $65 million thanks to bike lanes. By not using their cars, cyclists of this city avoid emitting nearly 1,190 tonnes of greenhouse per year. That is equivalent to almost 4.2 million kilometers driven by car.
This is why cities and businesses are working together as never before. Through networks like C40 and We Mean Business, city leaders and businesses are examining the data and committing to serious, science based targets to reduce emissions and cut their environmental impact.
Cities are where the future happens first. It has been the same throughout history and it is true once again as we face the unprecedented threat of climate change. If we cannot rely on the leadership of nations in these crucial four years, then mayors, chief executives, scientists, entrepreneurs and citizens will bear the burden instead. The consequences of failure are too dire and the opportunities for us to succeed are simply too great.