The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group needs to expand, according to mayor of Rio de Janeiro Eduardo Paes. And by doing so, he claims, it can change the course of history.
Subsequent to chairing the C40 mayor’s meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at which city authorities agreed to significantly increase fleets of fuel efficient buses, Paes is travelling to China in an attempt to get five more Chinese cities; Tianjin, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Xian to join the C40 – a network of cities created in 2005 by then mayor of London Ken Livingstone to coordinate joint action on reducing urban greenhouse gas emissions.
The C40 currently consists of 75 cities. But only five (Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan) are from China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and likely to be one of the main protagonists at the next round of UN climate negotiations (COP 21) in Paris in December.
Paes hopes that by including more city authorities from places like Tianjin, one of the most congested cities in the world, it will encourage action to combat the sources of GHG emissions at the subnational level and increase the chances of a global agreement that will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Latin American mayors signed two protocols at the meeting in Buenos Aires. The first creates a platform for measuring each city’s GHG emissions and monitoring their reduction goals. The second agreement states that buses powered by traditional fuels such as diesel will be replaced by others that use clean technologies, such as electricity.
"By 2020 we will acquire more than 40,000 buses that use clean technology," said Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, "this represents a reduction of 435,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year."
The need to make urban spaces more habitable by building a "clean" public transport network is increasingly urgent as two thirds of the planet’s population will live in cities by 2050.
The Road to Paris
2014 was the warmest year ever and even climate change sceptics have to acknowledge that the last three decades were the hottest in the history of humankind, declared former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a special guest at the meeting in Buenos Aires.
Until last year, the US and China, which together account for more than 50% of the world's greenhouse emissions, had shown little evidence of constructively engaging with international climate negotiations.
But expectations for COP 21 have increased since China and the US signed an agreement to reduce GHGs at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing last October.
Yesterday, the US reaffirmed the pledge made at the APEC summit to reduce 2005 levels of GHG emissions by 26-28% by 2030 as it formally submitted to the UN the steps it will take to help limit global warming to 2 degrees – known as its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, or INDC.
Last week, Mexico was applauded for submitting an “ambitious” INDC and becoming the first ‘developing’ country to do so. Mexico will cap levels of GHG and other emissions in 2026, thereafter reducing 2013 levels by 25% by 2030 irrespective of levels of growth.
Calderón was optimistic about the negotiation process, suggesting that the APEC deal was an important building block, "if we combine this initiative with the steps taken by large cities to reduce pollution, expectations for the future are more positive than they used to be."
Paes agrees that city authorities, and not just the national authorities of high-emitting countries, should not be overlooked as important players in efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Around half of China's 1.3bn population now live in cities but two of the five largest, Guangzhou and Tianjin, are not represented at the C40.
"We represent 500 million people, and a quarter of the global gross domestic product (GDP)," Paes said, with his aides adding that Chinese technology can facilitate the transition to cleaner cities.
“China is at the forefront of green technology,” said Rodrigo Rosa, Special Adviser to Mayor Paes, “everything involving high technology today has the participation of some Chinese company."
According to Paes, the mayors will hold a parallel event during COP 21. One of the group's demands is direct access to funding in order to implement its environmental programs.
There was consensus among the mayors that the main obstacle to climate finance was obtaining the approval from national governments for loans to modernize technology, especially in the area of urban transport.
"The Latin American mayors' agreement to monitor greenhouse gas emissions and modernize urban transport is a fundamental step towards the goal that world leaders will negotiate in Paris," said Calderón.
With eight months left before the climate conference, mayors of 75 of the world's megacities are campaigning to press governments to adopt practical measures for combating pollution, despite economic, ideological, and cultural differences.
But deciding who should do what has been a cause of disagreement over the last 20 years. It is expected that there will be a deal at COP 21, but its scope and ambition remain key doubts.
As a wave of countries submit their INDCs to the UN, the heads of major cities are trying to demonstrate that sustainable urban development is a crucial part of the process.