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Climate and the World’s Cities: A Week to Remember

Neal Peirce / Jun 08 2011

For Immediate Release Wednesday, June 8, 2011
© 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceSAO PAULO, June 4, 2011 — For the cities of the world, there’s rarely if ever been such a momentous single week.

Faced with the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change, the C40 organization of world’s large cities met in this Brazilian megacity to announce a set of landmark agreements. All the accords, said New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, current C40 chairman and the prime driver of its new initiatives, will be designed to undergird their struggle against rising seas and disruptive weather patterns — in a world in which cities as responsible, directly or indirectly, for up to 80 percent of global climate emissions.

“The leaders of C40 Cities — the world’s megacities — hold the future in their hands,” Bloomberg asserted.

As a first step, the three dozen C40 mayors confirmed a full merger with the Clinton Climate Initiative, assuring added funding for a centralized, high-grade professional staff as well as full-bore support from former President Bill Clinton, who flew to São Paulo to seal and celebrate the agreement. Staff operations are global, with current bases in London and New York.

Clinton said his Climate Initiative’s Cities Program has accomplished much in informal alliance with C40 since 2006 — for example working with Los Angeles on gas-powered buses and added bike lanes, and internationally on a total of 17 climate-positive developments in 10 cities on five continents helping “more than 1 million people live and work in communities with no greenhouse-gas emissions.” But “the truth is,” Clinton added, “it’s not enough– to save the future of the planet we also need good economics.”

Bloomberg underscored the urgency, noting the “rapid and accelerating” pace of urbanization “all around the planet.” With cities representing 50 percent of mankind today, headed for 60 percent by 2030, he said, “our response has to be collective and global.” Bloomberg said he was intent that C40, by taking assertive actions and then measuring impact, become “the world’s leading, most effective environmental organization.”

But the object isn’t to expand C40 membership indefinitely, said Rohit Aggarwalla, the first director of Bloomberg’s “PlaNYC” sustainable investment effort and now a leading figure in launching the new C40. Rather, he said, the new goal is to include each new world “megacity” of 10 million or more inhabitants that appears on the world stage, and in addition to include the globe’s top 25 metros in GDP — places that “punch above their weight economically.”

In a second major move at São Paulo, the World Bank’s president, Robert Zoellick, was on hand to announce his institution was terminating its historic practice of dealing exclusively with national governments. Now, he said, there will be “one-window access” for cities to tap the bank’s climate-related expertise, based on a new C40-bank agreement. Zoellick said the bank’s climate investment funds — which totaled $6.4 billion last year — might now enable cities to attract as much as $50 billion in private capital for their climate projects.

Critics say the climate protective investments needed globally are literally in the trillions, not billions. But at least a clear mechanisms is coming into focus.

The bank’s special interest, Zoellick noted, was projects to aid the urban poor. “Those who get most hammered by climate change are those in slums,” he said, citing such needs as new shelter for people whose homes were destroyed in the 2010 mudslides in Rio de Janeiro.

Clinton hailed the C40/World Bank accord as “terrifically important, giving credibility to climate projects to attract private capital.”

Third, with Zoellick looking on approvingly, Bloomberg signed a C40 agreement with ICLEI — the world’s primary organization working with some 1,200 cities of all sizes — to assure standardized reporting of greenhouse emissions. Vancouver city councilman David Cadman, ICLEI’s president, signed the agreement for the organization. The accord defines a single standard for measuring emissions across all localities, large and small. One point of its significance: it will provide a base measurement for cities’ climate protection fund applications to the World Bank.

This combine of C40, the Clinton Climate Initiative, ICLEI and the World Bank, said Bloomberg, not only draws together a big percentage of the world’s peoples but “has the brainpower that understands the damage that we are causing to our planet and what we can do. Mayors must answer if traffic is tied up, water or air aren’t clear. We can’t just talk of goals for the year 2050 like some American Congresspeople, federal and state governments do — they won’t even be alive then!”

Bloomberg added, quoting former Toronto Mayor David Miller: “While nations talk, cities act.”

The São Paulo meeting also heard of major city actions to demystify and standardize the chronically hazy numbers on cities’ climate conditions and the impact of corrective measures. The numbers matter because the C40 cities (now 59 in number), with a cumulative population of some 300 million, account for $10.6 trillion in global economic activity and 12 percent of worldwide greenhouse emissions.

One study, co-authored by C40 staff and the global engineering firm ARUP, found that C40 mayors currently oversee 4,734 climate change actions with 1,465 more currently under consideration.

A second report came from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), best known for its detailed analyses of the world’s 500 largest corporations’ climate protection actions. CDP found the C40’s large city governments are keeping pace with the top companies in measuring and disclosing their greenhouse gas emissions.

“City governments,” noted Paul Dickinson of CDP, “sit at a critical climate change nexus. They are responsible for large amounts of greenhouse infrastructure. They’re immensely vulnerable to the damaging effects of warming temperatures, sea level rise, and increased occurrences of catastrophic storm events.”

The challenges are immense. São Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab cited the “uncontrollable growth” of his city of 11 million, with its vast network of clogged roadways, insufficient parks, 3 million inhabitants living in precarious settlements, and escalating demands for water, power and sanitization.

But work’s underway, Kassab insisted, to expand São Paulo’s parks, extend the limited subway system, to move to high-capacity buses, to capture the gases from 16 tons of daily waste and turn then into electric power. “The frustration,” he said, “is in not being able to do more. We will fight — kill one lion a day!”

Addis Adaba Mayor Kuma Demeksa cited one amazing accomplishment– a successful effort, recruiting thousands of youth, to plant two new trees (famous for their urban cooling effect) for every resident of the city.

Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle said he’d been inspired by witnessing the economically successful energy retrofit of the Empire State Building in New York, returning home on a campaign to “unlock” his local banks’ lending power to refurbish 1,200 ’60s- and ’70s-era commercial buildings. The Melbourne campaign has scored a range of successes, including a new asset base for the banks, a better working environment for workers in the revamped buildings, and claimed dividends of $2 billion of new economic activity and the creation of some 1,000 high-end jobs.

One intriguing Melbourne innovation: offering fare-free rides on public transit vehicles up to 7 every morning. The object: to shift more riders from private cars to transit, even while expanding use of the transit vehicles at ride-light early hours of the day.

Other mayors talked of retrofitting of buildings — often with deep long-term energy savings — through steps ranging from improved insulation to double/triple glazing to switching to LED lighting. Cities across the continents, they reported, are installing bike lanes. On the transit side, buses are being converted to natural gas fuel or hybrid electric systems.

The clear intent of C40’s expanded operations and professionalism is to carry the word of climate innovations to cities worldwide — to learn how the new efforts are functioning, the actual results of new investments, and then keep careful score to inform the “state of the art.”

Bloomberg reminded the São Paulo attendees of one of his most popular sayings: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

The original C40 member cities are Addis Ababa, Athens, Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Caracas, Chicago, Dhaka, Hanoi, Houston, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Karachi, Lagos, Lima, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, New Delhi, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto and Warsaw. Affiliate cities are Amsterdam, Austin, Barcelona, Basel, Changwon, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Heidelberg, Ho Chi Minh City, Milan, New Orleans, Portland, Rotterdam, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santiago de Chile, Seattle, Stockholm and Yokohama.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp.,, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375,


  1. Posted June 8, 2011 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    In India a group of organizations and cities are working together on issue on Cities and Climate Change Chetan

  2. Graeme
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Thank you Neal. It is great to hear of positive developments and solutions like this – the news/entertainment business is so busy covering the dramatic extreme weather events that it often feels like we are all just rubber-necking as our own ship sinks.

  3. Pamela Collett
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Excellent initiatives by the cities. Now, people everywhere need to be educated, induced, cajoled to change. For example, cars with one person only either cannot use the San Francisco Bay Area bridges or must pay an exorbitant toll. Bay Area Rapid Transit should change their no bikes during rush hour and make it possible for MORE bikes during rush hour. Local government agencies can do a lot. Just look around you.

  4. Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I read with great interest the article on “Climate and the World’s Cities: A Week to Remember. My name is Chester R. Jourdan, Jr., Executive Director, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission ( in Columbus, Ohio. We are reaching out across the world to promote an event we are co-hosting in Columbus called EcoSummit 2012 ( which is a collaborative partnership between the MORPC, the Ohio State University (OSU), the University of California at Riverside (UCR), the City of Columbus, the Ecological Society of America, INTECOL, The Society for Ecological Restoration, and Elsevier (Amsterdam) entitled “The 4th International EcoSummit on Ecological Sustainability: Resorting the Planet’s Ecosystem Services” (30 September – 5 October, 2012). We are expecting over 2,000 of the leading researchers, academics, practitioners, government officials, and private sector interests from over 75 countries to be in Columbus for a week exploring innovative science-based strategies and solutions that are regionally, socially, economically and culturally acceptable to create, manage, and restore our ecosystems with a focus on ecosystem management, environmental governance, water, global food security, pharmaceutical services of the ecosystem, economic prosperity, regional collaboration, sustainable development, environmental justice, corporate social responsibility, commercialization of university research and sustainable technologies. EcoSummit 2012 was last held in Beijing, China.

    Dr. Bill Mitsch (OSU), Dr. Joseph Fiksel (OSU), Dr. Rattan Lal (OSU), Dr. Bhavik Bakshi (OSU), Dr. Larry Li (UCR), and I have meet with and are in conversations with the Assembly of European Regions, the European Union, the Network of European Metropolitan Regions and Areas, the Olomouc Region in the Czech Republic, MASDAR (Abu Dhabi), the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Appalachian Regional Commission, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the White House Office on Environmental Quality, Sister Cities International, the Regional Plan Association in New York City, the Nature Conservancy, the United States Department of Energy, the United States Department of Agriculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency, The Australian National University, Wageningen University in The Netherlands, University of Groningen American Studies program, The Leibniz Institute of Ecological and Regional Development in Dresden, University of Copenhagen, Indian Agriculture Research Institute in New Delhi, Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, East China Normal University in Shanghai, University of Tartu in Estonia, Martin-Luther University Halle Wittenberm and Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, French National Research Institute for Agronomy in France, the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, University of Lodz in Poland, Ministry of Economic and Labour in Hamburg, East Asian Federation of Ecological Societies, Ecological Society of China, European Ecological Federation, the National Association of Regional Councils, the National Association of Development Organizations, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris, the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the IPPUR in Rio de Janeiro, the Heinrich Bell Foundation, Peking University, the Institute for Social-Ecological Research in Frankfurt, General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the German American Chamber of Commerce, and the United States Chamber of Commerce to name just a few.

    With the help of Ohio State University President Dr. Gordon Gee and Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean Bobby Moser we are also reaching out to Dominican Republic President Fernandez, Iceland President Grimmson, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber (Abu Dhabi), GE Chairman and CEO Immelt, Boeing President/CEO McNerney and many others to be keynote speakers at EcoSummit 2012. We’re excited about the potential opportunity to bring in these International Heads of State and Corporate CEOs. We’re also reaching out to entities like American Electric & Power (Columbus), Battelle (Columbus), Limited Brands (Columbus), Nationwide Insurance (Columbus), Columbia Gas (Columbus), Scotts Miracle-Gro (Marysville), Honda (Marysville), Cardinal Health (Dublin), MASDAR (Abu Dhabi) and Tata (India). We have been talking with Dr. RK Pachauri (TERI) about the potential role that TERI and Tata could play in EcoSummit 2012. I meet with Dr. Pachauri earlier this year while I was in India. We’ve also been in conversations with officials at MASDAR about their potential role in EcoSummit 2012.

    Areas of focus that have emerged recently are Ecosystem Economics, Urban Ecosystems, Preserving the Pharmaceutical Services of the Ecosystem and Global Food Security. Dr. Rattan Lal (OSU), Dr. Kalidas Shetty (University of Mass) and Dr. Rick Foster (MSU) are working with us on pulling together an international panel of experts to address/talk about global food security.

    We’re also working to bring E.O. Wilson, Jarred Diamond, Elinor Ostrom, Sven Jorgensen, Simon Levin, Wangai Maathai, Lester Brown, Jeffrey Sachs, and many, many others. Along with Ohio Governor John Kasich and various state agencies, we’re inviting the heads of various United States Federal Agencies to participate as well. We’ve been working with United States Senator Sherrod Brown’s office and United States Senator Rob Portman’s office. We’re inviting U.S. State Department Secretary Hillary Clinton to be one of the keynote speakers. We are also reaching out to the G40 and the World Bank as well.

    For additional information, I can be contacted via e-mail at or via phone at 614 233 4102.

    Thank you very much.

  5. Albert Lopez
    Posted June 12, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s great to see progressive politicians stepping up to the plate to champion a cause that up till now was not so sexy. I work in local gov’t and can tell you that the biggest challenge will be to get away from “business as usual” – it can’t be done without support and incentives, otherwise it’ll be the same ol’ “it doesn’t pencil out” argument with all too willing leaders with their head in the sand. It would be great to package the best practices and show where and how they are being implemented so others can follow. Great to hear ICLEI is making international headlines.