Cities have the power to lead climate change
14 December 2017 | Adaptation
Negotiating the Paris Agreement was a monumental achievement. Nations rallied together and subnational actors, especially cities and local governments, afforded confidence that targets could be met, leading to swift approval and ratification. As we lean into implementation, leaders in every corner of the world, in cities large and small, are taking bold climate action to ensure we are able to meet these commitments — and, importantly, take even more ambitious action. However, for some local leaders, implementation of the Agreement comes with challenges. This is especially pertinent when it comes to obtaining the financial support needed to turn ideas into action and make the changes necessary to ensure they can help meet the goals set forth in Paris.
Luckily, one of the many successes of the Paris Agreement was the establishment of mechanisms to increase climate-friendly ideas and investment. Cities, as hubs of innovation, now stand at the forefront of climate action, ready to accept these investments. I am proud to serve as the vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, an initiative that supports city leaders in meeting these commitments. Together with our partner city networks both globally and locally, cities in this alliance are developing cutting-edge solutions to the challenges of climate finance. They are providing critical leadership and support as national governments move towards a greener future.
The power these cities have to tackle climate change cannot be understated. Mayors and local leaders often have greater influence over the sectors that most impact carbon emissions. Buildings, transportation, water and waste are all complex systems, and city leaders’ in-depth knowledge of regional environmental landscapes means they are uniquely suited to pinpoint which areas need the most attention to reduce emissions while increasing sustainability and economic efficiency.
“We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral.”
Central to scaling timely global climate action is financing the development of modernized low carbon infrastructure. We must see climate in every facet of the economy, from green buildings and infrastructure to sustainable agriculture, so that our growth will be climate neutral. Investments in these priorities now will build the tomorrow we want our children to live in.
As cities work to accelerate the collective impact of their actions, improving city-level access to finance will increase investment flows into cities and other urban areas. It will unlock the potential of cities to be a fundamental part of the global climate solution. It will re-shape the economics of development and reinforce sustainable infrastructure as a stronger investment over high-carbon polluting options.
In Cape Town, this philosophy has been taken to heart as a number of new strategies are pursued to increase investments in our green future. Many climate and resilience solutions, such as renewable energy, green transportation and net-zero buildings, are less expensive to operate than they are to build, meaning it takes partnerships between governments and the private sector to finance them.
“Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system.”
For example, Cape Town is poised to become the first city in Africa to install an electric bus system. The MyCiTi bus system is an ambitious project and will be made possible by a public-private investment partnership and pay dividends to the city in the future. The strategic partnership goes beyond just buying buses: the buses, currently made by Chinese green energy firm BYD, will soon be manufactured at a new plant in Cape Town in 2018. The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs. This project will help Cape Town save money with reduced maintenance and operating costs while supporting the city’s ongoing journey to build a strong and prosperous green economy.
The city is also collaborating with the private sector to mitigate the dire effects of drought on Cape Town’s water supply. To accelerate emergency water projects, the city is issuing tax-exempt green bonds to private sector developers to incentivize developments that will enhance sustainability and improve water security. Thanks to the investment spurred by green bonds and other innovative strategies, a platform of climate security is being created from which the city’s future is wide open.
“The implementation of the MyCiTi bus system is not only increasing sustainability and helping to reduce carbon emissions, it is boosting the city’s economy and creating hundreds of jobs.”
Cities like Cape Town are helping to spur the global transformation that spells success for the Paris Agreement. By investing in sustainability and resilience now, we can guarantee not only stable returns for our private sector partners, but a stable future for our cities and the world.
Unlocking a sustainable path for cities allows them to accelerate their impact. By 2050, implementing sustainable urban infrastructure choices could save $17 trillion on energy costs alone.
Through initiatives like the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, over 7,400 cities around the world — 9.35 percent of the population — are showing their potential and making real progress to greatly accelerate the world’s achievements towards the legally binding global commitment to create a carbon neutral world this century.