During a recently concluded global climate summit in San Francisco, mayors from around the world, including Dhaka Mayor Md Sayeed Khokon, gathered to announce the progress cities are making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
“This is the first time I am attending such a summit," Mayor Khokon said at the event held on Sept. 13 as part of the Global Climate Action Summit, a gathering in which city and state leaders, businesses and international organizations committed to more ambitious action to combat climate change.
"I am really inspired by the efforts of city mayors," Khokon added.
As nations grapple with how to combat climate change, the event was a chance for cities to show they are taking a lead.
Twenty-seven cities saw their greenhouse gas emissions reach their highest point before 2012, the latest year from which such data is available, and many more cities worldwide are on track to curb their emissions by 2020, according to an analysis by C40 Cities, a network run by city leaders working to address climate change. One-third of the cities in the C40 network have seen their greenhouse gas emissions fall over a five-year period, achieving at least a 10 percent reduction in their peak emissions, the analysis showed. Combined, those cities account for 54 million people and $6 trillion in gross domestic product.
“It is an incredible achievement for these 27 cities, including Paris, to have peaked their emissions,” said Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris and chair of C40, which connects more than 90 megacities representing more than 650 million people and one-quarter of the global economy. “As the greatest custodians of the Paris Agreement, mayors of the world’s great cities have once again shown that cities are getting the job done.”
Mayors in the C40 Cities network pose for a photo at the recently concluded Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) / Credit: Catherine Cai
They're doing so amid myriad challenges.
“Within an area of just 42 square kilometers, we have 12.5 million inhabitants in Dhaka," said Mayor Khokon. "Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters – floods, storms, cyclones – which in turn is forcing people to migrate from rural areas to Dhaka city.
“They then have no jobs and it becomes a big challenge for us to take care of these people who are homeless, unemployed, and living a very hard life,” the mayor continued.
Under the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate change accord, nations voluntarily committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. To realize that goal, cities in Europe, North America and Australia must curb their emissions by no later than 2020, with all cities globally reaching the same milestone by around 2030.
According to research conducted by C40, the main ways cities can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions are by transitioning to low-carbon, renewable energy, such as wind and solar; optimizing energy use in buildings; providing cleaner, more affordable alternatives to personal cars; reducing waste; and increasing recycling rates.
Cities have the ability to bring down their emissions through “bold climate action” and investment in sustainable infrastructure and policies, the C40 analysis revealed. It also outlined the important role of collaboration between national and regional governments and businesses operating within cities.
To date, mayors of more than 60 C40 cities have publicly committed to developing and implementing climate action plans by 2020 that go beyond commitments made by their national governments. Such plans could see many more cities reach peak emissions in the years ahead and become emissions neutral by no later than 2050.
“Dhaka South City Corporation is taking a lot of initiatives to meet the challenge posed by climate change,” Mayor Khokon said. “We have constructed several six-story buildings to rehabilitate climate displaced people. We have also developed 70 landfills and 24 stations to manage waste. We are encouraging rooftop gardening by managing holding tax incentives."
Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation, Md Sayeed Khokon, speaking at GCAS 2018 / Credit: Catherine Cai
London Breed, mayor of San Francisco, said that even as the federal government under US President Donald Trump rolls back critical environmental protections, San Francisco continues to lead in the fight against climate change.
“Our greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2000,” she said. “Since then, we have successfully reduced emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels.
"We grew our economy by 111 percent and increased our population by 20 percent,” Breed continued. “But to fully realize the ambitions of the Paris Climate Accord, we must continue to make bold commitments and accelerate actions that reduce emissions and move us towards a clean energy future."
Lord Mayor Clover Moore of Sydney said greenhouse gas emissions in his city peaked in 2007 and have declined every year since – despite the economy expanding by 37 percent, an indication climate-friendly policies are not bad for the economy.
“We have one of the largest rooftop solar programs in Australia, we converted our streetlights to LED, and we are working with industry leaders to reduce their emissions,” Moore said. “As the first government in Australia to be certified carbon neutral, our achievements show the impact that can be had at a city level despite shocking inaction from state and national governments.”
Moore said Sydney was able to achieve its targets because it developed a long-term plan with ambitious targets and stuck to that plan for over a decade. Milan took a similar path.
"This is the result of no revolution, but of a steady evolution in the life of our city,” said Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala. “We see a continuous advancement, which spans more than 20 years and progressively led to one in every seven citizens using shared cars or bikes, and to 60 percent of quality separation in waste collection."
The event concluded with a call to action for all mayors to reduce their cities carbon footprint.
This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation