Climate Change Conference

Bold mayors are remaking the climate in the city century

From Rio to Vancouver passing from Paris, cities at COP21 are demonstrating their commitment to fighting climate change and improving quality of life.

Will this week bring an agreement to keep the world from tipping into irreconcilable climate change? Perhaps, but regardless of the headlines from COP21, something very important is happening. Some of the biggest gains for the environment are happening on the streets of urban areas the world over. Cities at COP21 and beyond are already taking action to change our climate future.

The City Century

We’re entering a time that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg calls “the city century,” when three out of every four people on Earth will live in a city. Their leaders have the power to make huge changes in how millions of people interact with the environment, a pressing issue given also that many major urban areas are coastal and the impacts of rising seas are immediate and serious for them.


Making the city century count

Whether developing bike shares, planting trees to help clean the air, developing parks and other green spaces that help cities manage stormwater, planning for changes in sea level or ensuring access to nature (indoor and out) to improve people’s lives, small changes in urban areas matter. Cities are competing to attract residents by becoming greener, more sustainable places where the next generation wants to live. As Michael Bloomberg said, “no longer do mayors see the economy and the environment primarily as conflicting priorities”.


sting andy summers riding velib
Musicians Sting and Andy Summers of the band The Police riding bicycles rented from Paris’s bike-sharing service, Velib © Julien Hekimian/Getty Images


Prior COP meetings led to the Compact of Mayors, a coalition of more than 100 cities whose leaders have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pursue solutions for climate resilience and track and report their progress with full transparency. Collectively, these municipalities are on the way to delivering half the world’s emissions reductions by 2020, and recently Rio de Janiero became the first city to be fully compliant with the Compact’s goals.


Thousands of tonnes of carbon are saved each year by shifting urban commutes from cars to bicycles. Paris created the bike-sharing service Velib in 2007, London and Washington DC followed in 2010. Boston launched Hubway in 2011 and since then has tracked some 2 million rides, offsetting more than 80 tonnes of CO2. Today there are more than 700 bike sharing programmes operating in cities all over the world, trumpeting similar results.


“Cities are climate leaders, they are in the best position to effect real change. The actions we take at a local level will have a global impact and, by improving our city, we will be helping create a better world for today’s urban citizens and generations to come,” in the words of Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. Though we can’t all be in Paris at COP21 we can all head down to city hall to share our concerns with our mayors and city councilors, asking our community leaders to show us their plans for addressing climate change before we vote for them.

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