Cities Lead the Charge Against Climate Change


Cities Lead the Charge Against Climate Change

Chris garvin at the C40 Mayors Summit

Me with Bill Worthen at the Summit

I spent the last week of November in Mexico City at the C40 Mayors Summit and I wish you had all attended. I was invigorated by the actions and goals of the participating cities. The current C40 chair and Rio mayor Eduardo Paes, former mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera were the perfect hosts, providing a venue for honest conversations, uplifting performances, and empowering examples of leadership. It was great to connect with old colleagues and meet many of the leaders in this community. The vibrancy of Mexico City gave the event an extra dose of life, and a couple of shots of Mezcal didn’t hurt the mood either. Everyone was inspired by the unanimous voice of cities as the leaders in taking impactful action against climate change, regardless of the national rhetoric and inaction of any one nation.

Deadline 2020

Deadline 2020 initiative.

Mark Watts, Executive Director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, presented “Deadline 2020,” a critical look at the actions that cities must deliver by 2020 in order to achieve the Paris Agreement. It’s daunting but doable. We need to reduce per capita carbon to below 2.9tCO2e per person by 2030 and then to 0tCO2e per person by 2050. The planet is currently at 5tCO2e per person and heading toward 9tCO2e per person. The mayors of Chicago, Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Nanjing discussed how they are achieving this goal and improving citizens lives and growing their economies. Our friend Amory Lovins of RMI broke down the economic and technical inevitability of renewables and deep retrofits that left the audience focused on implementation. Janette Sadik-Kahn released a new guideline on street design that prioritizes the citizen, not the vehicle, and led an engaging conversation with the several mayors on how to redesign our urban public space.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will be taking the chair of the C40 for the next three years and introduced a welcome new initiative to reconnect female leaders in the fight for the climate (#women4climate). Equity in our cities was also highlighted throughout the conversations, including providing equitable transportation, housing, and opportunities to all citizens. At the end of the day, Christiana Figueres, former secretary general UNFCCC (and one of my personal heros), gave an impassioned speech. Vocalizing the reality that if we do not curb greenhouse gas emissions, the world will become systemically uninsurable, she asserted that cities have the power to reverse climate change.

Cities have the power to reverse climate change.”

– Christiana Figueres

The reality is that without the world’s megacities on board, we will not be able to achieve the Paris Agreement and keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees. But this also means that cities have the opportunity to have a large impact on the fight against climate change. The good news is that this will not require huge leaps in innovation or economically-crippling measures. According to a new report by Risky Business, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 in the U.S. and across all major economies “is technically and economically achievable using commercial or near-commercial technology…meeting [this] goal does not require an energy miracle or unprecedented spending.” Their recommendations include moving away from fossil fuels toward electricity, shifting to renewable sources of energy generation, and conserving energy. These changes will also provide significant opportunities for companies to invest and create jobs in clean energy technology and infrastructure upgrades. In cities, we are already seeing progress on upgrading infrastructure, integrating renewables into the grid, and making building energy retrofits.

We all must work together to to achieve these ambitious goals. But as one of the artists stated in their performance, by harnessing our leadership, passion, science, and truth, humans can reverse climate change and protect our home on this planet.

As a partner, Chris is an architect and sustainability leader focused on systemic thinking to address challenges in the built environment. Chris believes we can learn how to live on this planet if we start listening to nature again.