Cities matter. Spacing readers know that, but it should be argued more often in more places. The argument should be screamed from the rooftops at Parliament Hill and in Queens Park. A cities environmental organization, C40, is doing exactly that, though Toronto’s prominence in the organization is now in question; David Miller has stepped down as Chair of C40 and passed the baton on to New York Mayor Bloomburg. With Mayor Miller moving on to other things, Mayor Rob Ford will receive an invitation to carry on the work Miller did with C40 now that he’s taken office. It is his prerogative to accept or refuse.
C40’s overarching goal is to reduce cities’ greenhouse emissions to climate change. They take the knowledge of city mayors from around the world and bring them together to share that knowledge on how to make their cities more sustainable, healthy, and livable. The role of the mayor is to implement sustainable policies within his or her city as far as is constitutionally possible. Those ideas and policies are developed in Climate Summits with other mayors, international workshops, and initiatives that other cities can learn from. Support and advice from partnered organizations such as the Clinton Foundation and ARUP have created platforms where mayors can start thinking about how to improve their cities.
Take New York and Toronto, for instance. Both of these are dense cities with similar climates and similar urban problems. In PlaNYC, New York’s environmental manifesto, transportation is one of the key elements put forth to address climate change and improve the quality of life in the city. Similarly, in Toronto’s Change is in the Air document, improvements in transportation and infrastructure are among the potential solutions to the challenges of climate change. C40 provides a space where New York and Toront an exchange ideas and inspire each other. Cities all over the world are doing great things, but are silos of innovation. Those silos, though, can be bridged with a conversation.
There are no obligations, financial or otherwise, to joining C40 – only the opportunity to share experiences and have conversations that will contribute to better cities. The C40 meetings are unique from other international meetings in one significant way: their primary goal is delivery of strategies to reduce greenhouse emissions, not to debate whether climate change exists. Climate change is very real for cities, which contribute significantly to greenhouse emissions and which will feel the effects of runaway climate change. To have a group of political leaders come together and agree that something must be done is significant, to say the least.
The disappointments at COP15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, in regards to the “polluter pays” principle, are being addressed in C40. The Carbon Finance Capacity Building (CFCB) programme is designed to help emerging mega-cities access carbon financing and provide continuous onsite support. This is an important piece in terms of equity. The success of developed nations has often been on the backs of developing nations, and it is now our obligation to find ways to support their initiatives. Moreover, as cities in India and China grow larger and more modern, the earth’s capacity to mitigate additional pollutants and people may reach its capacity point.
Though its mayor is no longer the Chair, Toronto can continue to play a vital role in C40— if not for its own learning, than to share its learning as an alpha city with other cities that are still developing their environmental policies. Now we’ll just have to see if our new city council believes it as well.
Photo by Pavel Shiryaev