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Cities are where the future happens first. An open letter by the mayors of Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and Cape Town

The mayors of four megacities have their say about the future in a letter that perfectly summarises how cities can play a crucial role in fighting climate change and creating a greener world.

 By Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris
Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney
Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo
Patricia de Lille, Mayor of Cape Town

The next four years will be crucial in determining if the world can avoid the worst impacts of climate change, keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees. As the United States inaugurates a President who has called climate change a hoax, European leaders are distracted by Brexit and the rise of populist movements across the continent, and China adjusts to the prospect of providing global leadership on climate change, it is now cities and businesses that are delivering the boldest ideas and most ambitious plans for a sustainable low carbon future.

olso car free
Oslo will be first city to ban cars from the city centre starting from 2019

The message coming from city halls and boardrooms around the world is clear. The urgency of the climate crisis and the economic potential for businesses and cities in shifting towards a greener future are too well established to be rolled back by forces of isolationism at a national level.

The private sector is acting swiftly and seriously, with massive investments in the next generation of low carbon technology and shifting to renewables. 365 of America’s largest companies recently wrote to President Trump reaffirming their “deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement”. Chinese companies recently supplied the city of Shenzhen with the world’s largest fleet of electric buses. In 2015 global investments in renewable energy reached 286 billion dollars and for the first time more than half of all added power generation capacity came from renewables.

Cities come together to face the challenges ahead

Mayors, too, have forged ahead with delivering and implementing climate change solutions through organisations such as C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. Crucially, they understand the scale of the challenge ahead. The world’s megacities must peak emissions by 2020 and must cut per capita emissions from over five tonnes of CO2 to around three tonnes by 2030.

The scale of the challenge is vast and urgent. The transformation needed will require 375 billion dollars of investment in sustainable infrastructure in 90 of the world’s most important cities. Fortunately, our efforts to tackle climate change also present incredible opportunities. The projects that are set to cut emissions, clean the air that we breathe and build low carbon infrastructure will also improve public health, encourage social inclusion and create jobs.

bike lanes
Cycling has clear health benefits and by not using cars cyclists avoid emitting 1,190 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Take the example of bicycle-friendly cities. The health benefits of cycling are clear, as citizens who cycle instead of driving live up to four months longer. In Mexico City alone healthcare savings could total more than 65 million dollars thanks to bike lanes. By not using their cars, cyclists of this city avoid emitting nearly 1,190 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. That is equivalent to almost 4.2 million kilometres driven by car.

This is why cities and businesses are working together as never before. Through networks like C40 and We Mean Business, city leaders and businesses are examining the data and committing to serious, science based targets to reduce emissions and cut their environmental impact.

Cities are where the future happens first. It has been the same throughout history and it is true once again as we face the unprecedented threat of climate change. If we can’t rely on the leadership of nations, then mayors, chief executives, scientists, entrepreneurs and citizens will bear the burden instead. Because the consequences of failure are too dire and the opportunities for us to succeed are simply too great.

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