CITIES WILL ACT ON GLOBAL WARMING
The pivotal role of cities in fighting global warming has been acknowledged in drafts, but the fair, ambitious and binding deal needed from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen is not yet assured.
I participated in the Copenhagen Mayors’ Summit this week with 80 city leaders from around the world to urge national leaders to commit to ambitious targets with the confidence that cities will deliver if supported. The deep cuts needed to avert dangerous global warming require low-carbon cities and action already underway can be accelerated.
The work needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will only get harder if we delay. Deep and fast cuts in the order of 25 to 40 per cent, as recommended by the UN IPCC, are needed to keep warming below 2 degrees. The growing scientific consensus suggests even this may be too little.
The hopes of the world rely on significant progress during the final day of COP15 negotiations. There are some signs of optimism that the 120 heads of state, the largest group gathered for these climate negotiations, may find the courage and political will to break the deadlock.
Our Mayors’ Summit communiqué, delivered on behalf of the 700 million city dwellers we represent, affirms that the battle against global warming will be won or lost in cities. Cities are home to over half the world’s population and responsible for 75 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
An inspiring Summit program has been provided by our host, Ritt Bjerregaard, Lord Mayor of Copenhagen. The centrepiece was city leaders reporting on innovative and practical action to reduce emissions, and I presented on our work creating and implementing Sustainable Sydney 2030. There is extraordinary consensus on what needs to be done.
We attended the high level opening of COP 15 at the Bella Centre,hearing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and COP15 President Connie Hedegaard. We met with Sir Nicholas Stern and were presented with new research supporting cities’ role addressing climate change. Our hosts launched the "Copenhagen Wheel", a hybrid bicycle that we hope to introduce to Sydney, and I drove an electric car in a parade of new models as part of our commitment to make this sustainable option a practical choice in Sydney. The opportunity to see practical solutions in action was inspiring, such as a site visit to the Western Harbour redevelopment in the Swedish city of Malmö, with a renewable energy system, district heating and cooling, and renewable biogas facility. Jan Gehl walked me around his home town to show me the practical results of his decades of work reclaiming Copenhagen for pedestrians and cyclists.The City of Copenhagen has set up a stage and huge illuminated globe in the city centre outside the Town Hall, with public art installations focused on climate change. The city has a celebratory feel with live outdoor concerts each night. Only in Copenhagen could you see thousands dancing outdoors in below zero temperatures with their bicycles parked nearby covered in snow!
At a magic Earth Hour in the Town Hall square on Wednesday evening, the Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and I addressed a crowd of around 6000 people amid swirling snow, surrounded by historic buildings. Earth Hour was launched in Sydney in 2007, the idea of WWF, supported by the City and Fairfax media group. In 2009, people from 88 countries and 4400 cities turned their lights off for one hour to send a powerful message to national leaders that they want action to address global warming.
As the week progressed, Community representatives have been increasingly locked out of the COP15 centre at a time when negotiations are stalling and delegates need to hear citizen’s voices. Community consultation initiated by the Danish Board of Technology, which was conducted simultaneously in 38 different countries with 4,400 randomly selected participants in September, found that 91% of people around the world want immediate and urgent action on climate change.
Despite the mounting tension and security difficulties, the sirens and the protests, it’s been inspiring to see thousands of cyclists braving the weather and commuting to work in the dark and the snow. Families on the streets with babies in prams mingle with the climate activists who’ve flocked here, many dressed as polar bears and pandas.
As the Mayor of Seattle reported, 1016 cities across the US committed to meet Kyoto protocol targets, going further than their federal government and paving the way for the their nation to go further. With or without binding national targets, the cities of the world will continue working to reduce emissions on a major scale.
Information: * Mayor’s Summit: www.kk.dk/climatesummitformayors.aspx.
** Update 11.30 am
Tim Flannery’s response to the Copenhagen deal.
Leading Australian environmental scientist Tim Flannery says he is happy with the outcome of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations.
World leaders failed to secure a binding agreement instead opting for a non-binding accord which relies on countries setting their own emissions targets.
Professor Flannery says while the current commitments are not enough to halt dangerous climate change, the outcome is an important first step.
"My overview would be in the absence of any shift in the American target we’re likely to be a few gigatonnes of carbon short of a satisfactory target for 2020," he said. "[It] doesn’t mean we won’t achieve it. The agreement as it looks at the moment is good, but not perfect."
The former Australian of the Year says that it will take a few days for the full implications of the accord to become apparent.
"I think that these sort of agreements in the details really only become more evident with time," he said. "Perhaps in the next few days we’ll get to see a little bit more of precisely what has been agreed, and what it means overall. [But] if I was to sum it up in a single phrase I’d say this has been a good, successful meeting. It’s only one step on the road but we are now really in the throes of tackling this very difficult problem and this meeting has been a very significant step forward. I wouldn’t like anyone to undersell what’s been achieved. I think it is very significant."
Professor Flannery said amid the commentary on whether or not the deal should have been binding, it was important not to lose sight of the gains made at the conference…