Power to the Cities

on June 01, 2011 at 9:00 AM

With President Obama promising to end tax breaks to oil companies and invest in clean energy for the future, it may seem that state and particularly city governments have little room to maneuver.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, chaired by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is trying to illustrate just how powerful cities can be. The group released two reports on Tuesday that record detailed information about greenhouse (GHG) emissions in 42 participating cities across the globe and shows the impact of specific actions from mayors on those numbers (see full selected data graphs below).

“C40 mayors have the power to take climate action – from transport to waste management to existing buildings, mayors have the authority to make a difference,” the C40 group said in a written statement. This is particularly true because cities tend to show high concentrations of emissions.

Conor Riffle, head of CDP Cities at the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), emphasized, in a telephone conference call announcing the release of the reports, that mayors have the power to make critical decisions regarding a city’s infrastructure and its total GHG emissions, including transportation systems, sanitation and waste-management systems, efficiency of buildings, and outdoor lighting in public spaces. A mayor can also choose whether and how to use waste products, many of which can potentially provide emissions-free power.

Riffle noted that mayors have little say in energy supply and grid operations. Nevertheless, according to Rohit Aggarwala, senior policy advisor to the C40 group, who was also on the call, “in the US, mayors have been the leaders in actually getting things done in terms of climate change.”

And for Bloomberg, a mayor who also has an extensive background in business, the reports are critical for GHG emissions management.

“I firmly believe that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” he said. “That is true in business and its true in government.” Of the 58 cities in the C40 Group, 42 participated in the studies.

The first report, “Climate Action in Megacities: C40 Cities Baseline and Opportunities,” co-authored by Arup, looks at the segment of total GHG emissions that are emitted by C40 cities (2.9 billion tons) and looks at how the mayors of these cities have affected these numbers with climate action policies. The report notes high levels of collaboration between mayors of the different cities, a number which has grown since the C40 Group was formed in 2005.

It notes: “Even in areas where mayors do not have direct control, they have used creativity and leadership to take actions through incentive programs, education campaigns, and using City government operations to lead be example.”

“This report demonstrates that cities really matter when it comes to taking action on climate change,” said Arup Director Mark Watts. “Mayors have real power in the right places.”

Among the actions have been expansion of green spaces, purchasing of taxis that are electric or hybrid, installation of energy efficient light bulbs and smart lighting mechanisms in city buildings and implementation of waste recycling programs that harness existing resources for further use.

The second report, co-authored with CDP Cities, “CDP Cities 2011: Global Report on C40 Cities,” looks at the climate change risks facing the C40 cities (90% reported in the study as being at-risk) including the actions the cities have already taken to deal with those problems. This report found that 79% of cities claimed that climate change could hurt their businesses.

To that end, 36% of cities reported that citizens, businesses, and academic experts are involved in climate change mitigation program.

“It is not just city governments who must take responsibility for creating sustainable cities, but a wide cross-section of society,” the report says.

The Fourth Annual C40 Mayors Summit is currently taking place in Sao Paulo.

This story was also covered on the Huffington Post.