Editor’s note: this op-ed was originally printed in El Universal.

By Michael R. Bloomberg, Board President, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and Eduardo Paes, Chair of C40 and Mayor of City of Rio de Janeiro     

Today, mayors and city officials from more than 17 cities are gathering at the C40 Latin American Mayors Forum in Buenos Aires to address one of the most important economic and development challenges facing the region and the world: how cities can fight climate change in ways that promote stronger economies and healthier societies.

The forum will help set the stage for the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Cities have a vital role to play in those talks by helping their nations recognize that ambitious climate goals are achievable.

Cities are well-positioned to lead on climate change because they are the primary source of the problem – and have the greatest capacity and incentive to address it.  Cities are home to more than half the world’s population, and they are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Most cities lie on coasts, making them vulnerable to floods, rising sea levels, and other effects of climate change.

For nations to substantially reduce their emissions and protect their citizens and economies from harm, they must put cities at the center of their work. The good news is that mayors – in Latin America and beyond – are eager to help lead the way. They recognize that contending with climate change presents an opportunity to invest in the modern infrastructure that will improve people’s living standards.

The 75 cities that make up the C40 coalition have taken more than 8,000 climate actions, and many others are also adopting policies and making investments that are reducing emissions, improving public health, and creating jobs.

Mayors in Latin America are playing an important role in this process. For instance, Rio de Janeiro built 150 kilometers of bus rapid transit routes to replace single-use vehicles. As a result, mass transit use in the city jumped from 18% to 63% in just 8 years. Bogotá’s TransMilenio system now carries 1.5 million passengers per day, with a new fleet of electric and hybrid buses still to come.

Promoting mass transit in cities does more than reduce emissions. Clean buses also improve local air quality, and better transport options help connect people to job opportunities. This is the reason over half of C40’s 75 cities will be taking similar actions throughout Latin America and Europe over the next year.

With almost 80 percent of Latin America’s population living in cities, it is no surprise to us that Latin American mayors are taking these actions, and accelerating them by joining the global Compact of Mayors.  As the world’s largest cooperative effort among cities to fight climate change, through the Compact, mayors are agreeing to measure greenhouse gas emissions, set reduction targets, and create citywide strategies for addressing climate change.

Today, we are excited to welcome the Compact’s newest members, including Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri, who is hosting cities from across Latin America at the C40 Mayors Forum. Buenos Aires has shown great leadership around the success of their “Better On Bike” cycling promotion program; for winning the Citizens’ Choice Award at the 2013 C40 & Siemens City Climate Leadership Awards for its Plan for Sustainable Mobility; and for co-chairing the C40 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Network, where they support 13 global cities in introducing, improving and transforming their cities’ BRT systems.

As nations work towards a successful climate agreement in Paris this year, these examples of local leadership show how cities are playing a crucial role in shaping the future of our economies, health, and environment.  And if more cities join the Compact of Mayors in the coming months, we can galvanize international support for a truly ambitious climate agreement.

Read the op-ed in Spanish or Portuguese.

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