Take six cities from across the world, each addressing climate change with energy and commitment, each motivated and led by their mayor towards a sustainable shift. The Copenhagen Climate Summit for Mayors, hosted by the then Lord Mayor of Copenhagen Ritt Bjerregaard, was as near to thrilling business as the Copenhagen UN Climate Summit (UNFCCC COP 15) would allow. It was exciting to be in the company of powerful men and women who lead cities.
A key by-product of leadership is action, and cities are at the delivery end of climate action. There is always the need for a tangible result, manifested in real and observable change. Eighty of the world’s largest cities were present, 55 of them represented by their mayor or governor, and each had a story to tell of quantifiable change that their adopted policies had achieved in reducing the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. The results were born of hard, determined work, changing transport methods, retrofitting buildings, working towards creating local micro-societies, villages within cities, sourcing local produce and reforesting wastelands. Seventy per cent of the world’s populations live in cities; 70% of CO2 is released into the atmosphere by cities. Change cities, and you go a very long way towards solving climate change.
The Copenhagen Climate Summit for Mayors, organised by the city of Copenhagen and the C40 to take place alongside the UNFCCC COP 15, comprised three intense days of knowledge transfer, experiential exchange of methodology, looking at future objectives and planning. The C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) was originally started by former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone in 2005. It is now chaired by the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, and in Copenhagen it was exciting to witness just how powerful this initiative has become.
Twice during the three days we ventured out of Copenhagen City Hall as a group to visit the Bella Centre, the main stage of the Copenhagen UN Summit, to witness a high-level process that involved national governments locked within their own notions of political structure. Outside, thousands of young people were demanding their future, while inside endless debate raged on, with no result for change. Thankfully, the mayors and governors could retreat to City Hall, and continue planning real and measurable change and talk about actual delivery.
The success of the C40 city programme has come about because we can imagine the scale of a city. We can take pride in our own city achieving real change. We can identify with our ‘tribe’ delivering where it is almost impossible to imagine global change, and identify with a movement that, by necessity, must take in all 6bn people living on our planet. Personally, I can take pride in the fact that London might be a leader in climate change, or New York, Hong Kong, Mexico City, São Paulo, Jakarta or Toronto. There is no need to look for shared global economic or social values, or a political norm, but only to know that each city has to bring to the table its own way of reducing CO2.