February 26, 2021 - From the February, 2021 issue

Cities Have Leading Role in Achieving A Carbon-Free Future—David Miller, Fmr. Toronto Mayor & C40 Chair

When the US withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord in 2017, cities around the world remained committed to upholding the agreement and taking local action to transition from carbon-based economies in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change.  In David Miller’s new book Solved: How the World’s Great Cities are Fixing the Climate Crisis, the former mayor of Toronto and C40’s Chairman- and now Director of International Diplomacy for C40 Cities, showcases how cities, even in the absence of national leadership, are equipped to take on climate change and have enacted policies and practices to move the needle on global emissions. TPR shares here, in Part 1, Miller’s remarks from a February 19 ULI Los Angeles webinar, which provide an overview of actions leading cities are taking, which, if replicated, can put the planet on a path to a carbon-free future. 

David Miller

“The good news, and what the book
 is about, is that there are powerful examples (from Cities)… which can be replicated at scale globally, and if they are, can help the world solve the climate crisis by getting on the needed path to halve global emissions by 2030.”—David Miller

David Miller: My role today is to speak a little bit to (the book’s )context, …. the book is an optimistic and hopeful book, I wrote it for a couple of reasons. One is, I don't believe that people are aware, generally, of the incredible and effective actions that cities are already taking to address the climate crisis, and secondly because much of the discussion about climate, including the environmental movement is about worry.

And I think there's a case for optimism that lies with city action, so I'll speak today a bit about my beliefs and why that matters. And, about some of the actions fairly succinctly, (that) the panelists (who follow) are actually implementing on the ground solutions in their cities …

The background for all of this is the incredible number of climate hazards.

It is unbelievable what we're seeing in terms of climate change. The argument is that the snow were seeing in Texas this week is the result of the warming of the arctic, whether or not we know that's the case, it's certainly the kind of disaster that is going to happen more and more and speaks to the real urgency of climate action on a global scale.

Now, the context for this…is that starting in about 2008 or 2009 the world's moved …from a predominantly rural to a world that is now predominantly urban…

So, we have an urban world, and from a climate perspective, it is also clear that the majority of our emissions come from urban areas. From an economic perspective, that's where the majority of our economy is as well.
In an urban world, urban solutions of course become more and more important. 

To give you a sense of some figures, most of the world's population, most of the world's GDP, most of the world's emissions, and two thirds the amount of energy is used by cities. That's where the people are, that's where the economy is, that's where the emissions are, and, from my perspective, that speaks to why it means that cities need to be where the solutions are as well. The good news, of course, is that that's where many of the solutions are happening, which is what the book is about.

So, in Paris in 2015 national governments agreed to a 2 degree target. I think everybody on this (ULI) call probably understands the intricacies of why this was a moment to celebrate because national governments actually agreed.
But of course, we all knew quietly that two degrees was not enough and relied on requiring nations to come back five years later to ratchet their ambitions and the fact that there was broad agreement around the necessity that to act on climate would empower action.

The 1.5 degree pathway, broadly speaking, says we need to peak emissions by 2020, and we need to more or less globally halve them by 2030 on a path to net zero by 2050

The good news is that mayors and the world's leading cities have agreed to do exactly that. Over 100 cities have committed to what C40 calls Deadline 2020—that is peaking emissions by 2020 on a path to more or less halving them by 2030 depending where you
are. There's more responsibility in the global north on a path to net zero by 2025 and many of them are underway. About 54 cities have those plans today, and a number of others have plans to almost reach that target.

This is in the context of national governments - two of which are on track to meet that goal. That's it! (The others),  including the United States and Canada,  are not on track, despite in Canada's case selecting a government basically on a climate platform a few years ago.

So, Deadline 2020, as I mentioned, determines that pathway, and COP 26, in conjunction with C40 is working under the direction of C40 Chair Mayor Garcetti to ensure that not just the C40 cities—the 97 of them that are on this pathway—but those thousand global cities are on pathways that meet the 1.5 degree target.


How do you do that? Well, the studies show not just that 70 percent of global emissions are attributable to cities. They are predominantly in four areas: how we generate our electricity, how we heat and cool our buildings, our transportation—and of course how we build our cities to create needs for transportation or opportunities not to have to use vehicle transportation—and how we manage our waste. The good news, and what the book
is about, is that there are powerful examples in each of those areas, which can be replicated at scale globally, and if they are, can help the world solve the climate crisis by getting on the needed path to halve global emissions by 2030.

 Let’s take energy, for example. Austin, Texas, is fascinating what it's doing with energy. A number of years ago it decided to essentially build a virtual power plant instead of building a new power plant, which at the time would have been coal or oil-fired. It paid people to insulate their houses through the electric utility, and since then, is going at this again through a significant solar program- to avoid building a polluting power plant Austin …

Los Angeles is taking significant steps, as well. And even in cities where they don't have direct control over the grid, they are either leading or fighting a clean energy revolution through their purchasing power, or in the case of Cape Town, South Africa, they actually sued the government to allow them to have a solar program in the city instead of buying electricity
from the coal fired plants in South Africa.

 There’s lots more to discuss here, but this is just a high-level look before we get into the conversation with the climate leaders on the panel to follow.

Buildings are a critical area. And buildings, perhaps for ULI they are sexy, but for most people (not so much), I have discovered that people don't realize the impact of the building sector on the greenhouse gas emissions coming from cities. In built up cities like New York,
and to some extent Toronto, buildings are the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases.

 A significant action that's being taken in Vancouver is a net zero building code that will require all new buildings to be net zero operationally by 2030. New York City has a building mandate, requiring dramatic energy retrofits to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings. Toronto, Melbourne, and Sydney, Australia, have better buildings partnerships, where the government is working with the private
 sector to dramatically reduce energy use in buildings. The steps these leading cities are taking can be replicated, and if they are, will give us a real chance to address climate change in the way that needs to be over the next decade,


There’s lots to discuss in transportation, but the leading examples are about electrifying transportation at scale.  Shenzhen, China’s entire bus fleet—16,000 buses —is electric today.
There are very good examples of this knowledge being used globally.
For example, when C40 started working on electrification of buses, there were a few dozen, there's now over 66,000 on the streets of major cities globally.
 This is in addition to the efforts around 15 Minute Cities, pedestrianization and densification, and cycling, all of which come together to create cities that either allow people to use their own power to get around or build a city where
you have clean electric transport that is not polluting and maintains excellent air quality.

Waste Management is also important. It's a lower level, probably 5-7 percent of  emissions but is extremely important, particularly in developing places like Africa. Across that, there’s very interesting program to regularize waste management and create good jobs
 from the informal sector that was highly polluting and created very significant health risks and methane escaping essentially directly to the atmosphere, which brings me to my final point.

To conclude: Our mayors cannot succeed and our cities cannot succeed in their climate action unless it both seems to be and is actually equitable.
So, the importance of issues like air quality, which often disproportionately impact low income neighborhoods. And in addition, the impacts of climate policy on a global north-south basis, including city-based policies, are extremely important. If people see their needs and the health needs of themselves and their families being met by climate action, they're going to support the mayors that drive that bold action. But if they don't see their health and economic needs being met, they're going to push back. It's very clear that the leading mayors understand this very direct link between equity, climate action, and jobs. If these kinds of policies in these four areas are done everywhere, we can make dramatic progress over the next decade. And that's important because we need to make dramatic progress over the next decade.


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.