The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world


How mayors can learn strategically on climate change: C40 Cities

The clear strategies employed by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group to exchange lessons and best practices on climate change action between mayors provide a great lesson in knowing what one can really achieve, in order to fully achieve it.

Kerwin Datu

Cities: Jakarta, Johannesburg, London

Topics: National governance, City politics, Climate change, Global cities

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is a group of 40 large cities around the world who coordinate on programmes to reduce carbon emissions in urban areas.

The C40 was initially convened in 2005 by the former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on the realisation that since urban areas produce 80% of carbon emissions, cities are at the forefront of our struggle against climate change. It came to greater international prominence in December 2009, when it held a summit in Copenhagen to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Largely supported by the Clinton Foundation, its major programme to date has been to retrofit government-owned buildings to minimise energy consumption, offsetting the cost of finance against the savings made in energy costs.

The most striking thing when talking about the C40 Cities with its Executive Director, Simon Reddy, is how nimble and strategic its activities are. Reddy is very firm that the C40 has no intention of growing its membership, and no intention of expanding its remit beyond clear gains on climate change, at least not for some years. By not diluting its activities, it is able to focus its energies on unblocking major barriers to climate change action, and in the long run perhaps achieve more real reductions in emissions than many other exchange and awareness programmes in the field.

It is remarkable to note how much can be done by so few people when the strategy is clear. The C40 secretariat comprises two: Simon Reddy and Felicity Irwin. In simple terms, their work consists of organising four workshops per year on well-chosen themes. In March the C40 mayors met in London to discuss waste management and the conversion of waste into an energy source. This month they meet in Berlin to learn about community energy planning and decentralised energy generation. In October, they will study how to adapt to flooding, heat waves and other consequences of climate change in Rotterdam. And in December they will trade lessons on retrofitting buildings and electric vehicles in Hong Kong.

The C40 focus on these workshops because they have decided it is the single best way to make sure senior officials effect change in their own cities. "Cities are really good at coming up with solutions for climate change," says Reddy, "but they're really bad at telling each other how they do it." City officials "aren't very good at reading newspapers, they're much better at hearing about new programmes from senior officials who have gone off to workshops."

The workshops unblock a second barrier — the translation of programmes from one city context to another. City officials assume too quickly that a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project in Bogotá or a congestion charging system in Stockholm won't work in their city because of small political differences. Bringing officials face-to-face with their counterparts who have gone through all the steps allows them to interrogate the decision-making processes and the political hurdles. They can ask what mistakes were made, and learn about rejected alternatives that might work for them. Johannesburg might not be establishing a BRT had it only seen Bogotá's example, but having seen it implemented in Jakarta and São Paulo as well made it much easier.

The workshops give the mayors a sense of empowerment, a sense that they are participating in a forum for world leadership, which instills a friendly competitiveness. They take the weight off Reddy and Irwin, with the mayors able to liaise directly thereafter on specific projects.

They also allow mayors to act together in procuring contracts for buses or energy services. By being able to put to private sector companies arguments such as, 'we have 40 of the world's largest cities who all want hybrid buses,' they are able to move the market towards innovation and sustainable technology.

One problem facing the group is that different cities implement their goals at different rates. Is it a lack of political will that separates the performers from the underachievers, or a lack of financial means. "It's definitely an economic divide, not a commitment divide," is Reddy's reply; "finance is one of our sticking points." The mayor of Jakarta, for example, is very committed, but can only implement much smaller programmes than the mayor of London.

Another problem is that they must work within the powers and the budgetary allocations given city leaders by their national governments. There is much more cities could do if they had the statutory mandate and the finances. This was the C40's message to national governments in Copenhagen last year: "engage, empower, resource". Engage with city leaders on climate change action, since so many cities have answers ready to be implemented at a national scale. Empower cities with greater authority over sectors responsible for emissions. And resource them with the finances, or the power to raise funds, for these programmes to reach their full potential.


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