Caption: (L-R): Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, chairing Monday's discussion, with Steve Adler, Mayor of Austin, Texas; Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel; and Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson.

Mayors, city leaders and climate experts are meeting this week in New York City to advance a common agenda on climate change.

Climate Week NYC, organised by the Climate Group, is an international summit intended to drive climate action forward around the world, in advance of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in November in Bonn, Germany.

It is taking place alongside the UN General Assembly and being attended by international leaders from business, government and civil society. Members of the C40 cities mayors grouping, representing 650 million citizens and 25 per cent world GDP, are present.

To time with the opening of the conference, the Climate Group published a report revealing that the impact from the US decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement could be significantly mitigated thanks to the determined action demonstrated by US states, cities and businesses.

The report, States, cities and businesses leading the way: a first look at decentralized climate commitments in the US, shows the US can meet half of its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement by 2025, if the 342 commitments included in the analysis are implemented.

Climate Group chief executive Helen Clarkson said this showed that “US states, cities and businesses are not waiting for the US federal government to make its position clear on Paris,” and “that climate action is not solely dependent on the actions of national government”.

Last week, the Climate Group announced that four major companies had joined the RE100 campaign and committed to sourcing 100 per cent renewable energy across their global operations.

Mayors speak out

In the New York Times Building on Monday morning, eight American mayors announced their plans to decarbonise their cities and uphold the Paris Agreement. The mayors were particularly defiant of the White House’s attitude, proving they were more than willing to step into the vacuum left by the absence of the federal government in setting climate change policy on the world stage.

“Nothing happening at national level can stop a city that is already in transition for climate change,” Austin mayor Steve Adler said. “Almost half of the goals of the Paris Accord have to be achieved at the city level – our path is very clearly set. Cities … transitioning to a clean economy are seeing their economies improve. And this is not just because they are attracting dynamic people.”

New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio said that his administration’s plan to make New York City’s buildings efficient “will have the equivalent impact of taking 900,000 cars off the road”.

“NYC is moving towards a higher standard: 1.5°C. We want to go farther, go deeper, go faster, because we have to,” he said, adding, “Climate change isn’t a theoretical problem for New York City. It’s a threat we’re boldly taking on. If the president of the United States is backing away, we have to step forward. Profound change always engenders opposition. This is the effort that never ends – we should not be afraid of the work that lies ahead.”

Mayor of Paris and C40 chair Anne Hidalgo paid especial tribute to Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who she called “one of the strongest climate advocates in the US”.

In her speech she said, “Do not listen to the advocates of yesterday’s world; they are accountable for today’s destruction, and do not care about tomorrow.”

Emanuel himself said, “Events like hurricanes Irma and Harvey have transformed climate change into an urgent problem in public mind. Chicago has met 40 per cent of its Paris Agreement goals. City carbon emissions are down 11 per cent while jobs expand. Additionally, Chicago focuses on inclusive growth in our climate actions increasing quality of life for those normally left outside.”

Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, chairing the discussion, told delegates “we cannot address climate change in any real and meaningful way unless cities are a part of the process”.

Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson lamented there was still a gap between federal energy policy and climate change at a local level, meaning there were still plans to build fossil fuel infrastructure.

“It’s still up to cities to hold federal government accountable,” he said, “supporting our rural sisters and brothers in going renewable and to a clean economy. We have to take every step we can to support 100 per cent renewable energy.”

25 finalist cities

C40 took the opportunity to announce the 25 finalist cities for the 2017 C40 Bloomberg Philanthropies Awards.

The awards celebrate the best projects across five categories that fight climate change: building energy efficiency and clean energy; sustainable transportation; reducing waste; climate action plans, and adaptation plans and programs.

No Australian cities were represented this year. Highlights include:

  • Austin Texas’ solar program, which has expanded solar power in Austin at a massive scale, all while limiting increases in electricity bills to no more than two per cent a year.
  • Retrofit Chicago, which partners with local organisations to improve energy efficiency and cut costs and greenhouse gas emissions for Chicago’s residents and businesses.
  • Qingdao, China’s clean energy plan to eliminate 215 million tonnes of coal consumed, by retrofitting existing boilers and subsidising new clean energy infrastructure.
  • Copenhagen’s energy surveillance program, which makes the city the first in the world to have a completely centralised building monitoring system.
  • Bangalore, which has developed India’s first intelligent transport system, making it possible for Bangalore’s 5.2 million daily riders to enjoy a streamlined transportation system.
  • Buenos Aires’ innovative recycling centre, which provides five different facilities to process different kinds of waste and repurpose surplus materials for soil stabiliser or compost.
  • Oslo’s Climate Action Plan, aiming to reduce emissions by 95 per cent by 2030. It has developed a unique climate budget that accounts for every single unit of CO2 emitted by the city.
  • Mexico City’s Climate Action Program, that has already delivered on 65 per cent of the city’s 2018 goals and has begun work on all but five per cent of the cumulative actions outlined by the plan.

David Thorpe is the author of Energy Management in Building and Sustainable Home Refurbishment

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