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New Report Says Cities May Fight Climate Change Better Than Countries

Cities could help save 450 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next five years.

Melbourne's bike share program. Image via Flickr user Alpha (cc).

As delegates from more than 190 nations start to put a bow on a broad climate deal at the climate talks in Paris, a new report has emerged outlining how cities around the world are playing their own vital role in the climate fight.

The research, published by C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, specifically cites 2,300 actions that, if implemented, would cut 450 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. That’s the equivalent of the annual emissions of the United Kingdom—and that’s before any COP21 agreement even formally kicks in.

“The road from COP21 is now clear because we understand very concretely the further action cities can take to make a global impact in tackling climate change,” Eduardo Paes, C40 chair and mayor of Rio de Janeiro, said in a statement. “The leadership of cities is unequivocal, but there is no question that barriers remain—the most significant being access to finance and a need for greater governmental coordination.”

Paes has made news in recent years while helping prepare Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, amid rumblings that pollution will make parts of the city unsafe for the athletes competing there. Earlier this year, he signed an agreement making Rio the first city to be fully committed to achieving C40’s climate change goals.

To encourage more cities to take bold action, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was appointed last week to head up a task force evaluating the risks to businesses in cities affected by climate change. “It’s critical that industries and investors understand the risks posed by climate change, but currently there is too little transparency about those risks,” Bloomberg said during the announcement. His team is expected to finish their work within a year and will then deliver a set of voluntary recommendations for businesses in cities affected by climate change around the globe.

Some of the ideas outlined in the C40 report include building retrofit schemes and new energy-from-waste facilities—a plan that C40 estimates will cost around $6.8 billion to implement.

The best news about the report is that many mayors are already implementing a large number of these actions across the globe. Six years ago—around the time COP15 was taking place in Copenhagen—only 20 cities had officially introduced LED lighting. Today, that number has risen to 65. And there has been a similarly rapid increase in bicycle share or hire programs in two-thirds of the cities surveyed by C40.

Overall, C40 cities have taken more than 10,000 actions toward combating climate change over the past six years. However, it will require a great deal of large-scale investment before cities will reach C40’s ambitious new targets. C40 says it will be able to help unlock $1 billion through its Cities Finance Facility, but it will also take the collective power of local governments and private industries around the world to reach that $6.8 billion mark.

“Our research shows that cities still have many valuable opportunities to scale up their actions and make even greater strides towards emissions reductions and climate resilience,” added Arup Group Chairman Gregory Hodkinson in the release. “As international climate negotiations continue, there is a fundamental role for business and civil society, as well as government at all levels, to facilitate cities’ ongoing climate leadership.”

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