The worst flooding in Pakistan’s history. Unprecedented wildfires in Europe. Crop failure in Africa. Flooding and drought in the United States. Greenland’s glaciers melting at an accelerated rate. These are all just the beginning of what the planet will look like.
All of the above were predicted by climate scientists, but they’re happening much faster than expected. Events are happening now that were predicted to happen a decade from now or even further into the future.
The scale and cost of these man-made disasters are virtually impossible to calculate, far exceeding the investment needed to ensure the prompt action required to mitigate the risk. However, these incalculable costs clearly emphasize the urgency of acting today.
What can we do? According to scientists, to have any hope of mitigating the impact on people and the planet, we need to keep the global rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less — and we’re very nearly at this threshold. It means that the world has to collectively halve its emissions by 2030 and be on the path to net zero by 2050. Can we reach these targets? Technically yes, but only if we can build and use our collective will to do so.
Thankfully, that political will is present in many of the world’s great cities. At C40 Cities (a leading global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s largest cities taking urgent action to tackle the climate crisis), stringent membership standards are in place that outline the level of political will required to achieve meaningful progress on the climate crisis. Nearly two-thirds of C40 members have already published climate plans and instigated actions that will help reach this global target. Last year at COP26 in Glasgow, the then Chair of C40 and the current Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, announced that over 1,000 cities had signed on to the Cities Race to Zero campaign, pledging to meet the same high membership standards set by C40 Cities.
The majority of the world’s population today resides in cities, most of the world’s economy stems from cities, and most of the world’s greenhouse gases are emitted within cities. By addressing emissions from buildings, transportation, energy generation, and waste, mayors and the city governments they lead can make a significant difference in rapidly reducing our collective reliance on fossil fuels.
For example, Vancouver is showing how to create a path to zero emission new buildings by 2030 by developing some of North America’s most ambitious building codes.
Montreal is decarbonizing new buildings even sooner by setting a zero-emission standard for new buildings by 2025 in partnership with Hydro Quebec. The city is also working to ensure its existing municipal buildings are net zero by 2030 and all existing buildings are carbon neutral by 2040. Emissions generated in Toronto are now over 30 per cent lower than they were in 1990, despite the economic boom and population growth of the last 20 years.
Cities are also lowering emissions by focusing on the transportation sector. Expanding access to public transport and supporting densification that allows for easier walking and cycling (an idea often referred to as the “15-minute city”) are happening at pace in places as far apart as Barcelona and Buenos Aires. And there are amazing examples of cities decarbonizing their energy grids, such as Melbourne and Australia. Although Melbourne doesn’t have legal responsibility for generating electricity, it has used the convening power of the mayor and its own purchasing power to help drive a transition to clean power. There are equally impressive examples of climate leadership in places as diverse as Accra, which is leading on important work to reduce methane emissions from waste and in Shenzhen, which is close to completing the electrification of its public transport and taxi network.
There’s one element that’s common to all these examples, and that’s city governments acting with the urgency that the science on the climate crisis demands. Collectively, businesses, public institutions, and national governments need to do the same.