Cities take meaningful climate action as nations lag

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Canada and every other rich country need to crash their CO2 emissions 10 per cent per year starting in 2014 to have any hopes of ensuring a not-super-dangerous climate for our grandchildren, said Kevin Anderson of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.

"We can still do 2C but not the way we're going," Anderson said on the sidelines of the UN climate talks, in Warsaw, Poland.

Anderson wasn't just referring to the lengthy-and-acronym-laden COP 19 process held inside Warsaw's 58,000-seat soccer stadium. It's too late for any normal approaches to emissions reductions. Preventing climate disaster requires a radical measures and our economic system is not up to the task he said.

"Massive amounts of capital needs to be directed towards a low-carbon future straight away."

Not only does that mean governments redirecting the more than $500 billion they spend subsidizing fossil fuels, it means financial institutions and pension funds need to pull their money out of dirty energy and put it into green projects. If they're not willing, then governments will have to make them, he said.

And for the next five years most of that money should go into reducing energy consumption. Alternative energy can't be built fast enough or at the scale needed to 100 per cent replace dirty energy sources.

Automobile manufacturers like Kia and BMW already have non-hybrid, non-electric vehicles with double the fuel efficiency of the typical car on the road today. If governments put in tough new efficiency standards, CO2 emissions could fall 40-50 per cent in 10 years, he said.

As "pushers of petroleum" the Harper government isn't about to do anything like this, said David Cadman, President of ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), the only network of sustainable cities operating worldwide.

"They don't understand science and are willing to leave future generations with a bleak and nasty world," Cadman told DeSmog in Warsaw.

The practical alternative vision is a green low-carbon future that is different but far better than the present. And cities are leading the way. Currently a group of 441 cities representing 15 per cent of people on the planet are taking concrete action to reduce their emissions, said Cadman, a Vancouver city councillor.

Cities like Vancouver, Mexico City, Hyderbad India, Osaka, Japan, and Bangkok have registered their efforts to reduce emissions on an official Cities Climate Registry. The idea is to raise the global level of ambition through taking measurable, reportable, verifiable local climate action. After only two years these cities have now found ways to reduce their collective CO2 emissions by 2.2 billion tons a year.

Cities are amongst the biggest source of emissions but equally important is their role in giving birth to a low-carbon global culture that we need to thrive, said Cadman.

"The green way of living will be fairer, more compact, create more jobs, reduce energy and other costs, and be more in harmony with nature and our own true natures. It's the opposite of where we are now where a few get rich."

The climate action by cities and subnational governments (regional and provincial) is finally being noticed at the UN climate talks that are dominated by national governments. Thursday, 21 November was "Cities Day," a first-of-its kind initiative that bundles numerous city-focused events.

"Cities are central in tackling climate change. They are proving grounds for our efforts in ensuring a low carbon future that benefits people and the planet," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the opening in Warsaw.

Now that cities are finally inside the UN tent, Cadman hopes their actions will help inspire generally fearful national governments to take ambitious action.

"That won't be enough however. Climate is simply not a priority of national governments. Cities and regional governments have to mobilize the public," he said.

This mobilization means working with civil society organizations, First Nations, business and especially young people.

"We have to work together to motivate national governments to help create a green future for all of us," Cadman told a packed audience on Cities Day.

Time is short. There are just two years before the new climate treaty is signed in Paris. That agreement needs to be the turning point.  We can't wait for a second chance to keep global temperatures below the 2C threshold.

"Everyone must be involved. Nothing else is more important."

This article was first published on DeSmog Canada.

Stephen Leahy is the senior science and environment correspondent at Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS) based in Rome and Montevideo. To continue this work at a time of severe cutbacks and closure of many media, Leahy launched Community Supported Journalism.

Photo: David Cadman. Credit: Dave Cournoyer/flickr

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