As Australia copes with another summer of 'protracted drought and persistent warmth' public discussion in the city and the bush is turning more frequently to where responsibility lies for action, and the role of government at all levels.
Increasing, the government presence being felt in climate change action is not that of the traditional nation states but of local cities. In the face of the often very immediate, and mounting, effects of climate change, local governments are stepping into the breach internationally.
According to a recent report from Canadian urban specialist Robert Muggah, the scale of cities engaging in international climate diplomacy is ‘breathtaking’. So are the results.
Muggah reports that in 2017 nearly 7,500 cities, representing over 681 million people, committed to a global pact on climate and energy. The collective goal is to meet, and eventually exceed, the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement targets. With at least 8000 cities across the world relying on solar power and hundreds of cities, like Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast, entirely powered by solar, that goal looks more attainable by the day.
The move by cities on to the world policy-making stage has a difficult history. Traditionally international bodies such as the UN and the World Bank have declined to deal with cities, preferring instead to work with nation states. This effectively relegated cities to passive advocacy via national government. With the increasing urgency for action on climate change, and the lived experience of climate change affecting greater numbers of the citizenry every season, cities are standing up to the old order. And from London to Madrid to Hong Kong they are being heard.
When the UN specifically advocated for ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities’, in its Sustainable Development Goals it effectively elevated the role of city governments. Meanwhile the 2016 Habitat III Conference, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, acknowledged the rights of city residents and the central place of cities in achieving global development objectives.
In less than three hundred years the population of the planet has shifted from just 1 per cent of people living in cities to more than 50 per cent today. By the middle of this century it is projected that more than two thirds of the world’s population will be urban dwellers. The economic power of cities is responsible for 80 per cent of global GDP – however this concentration of population and commerce also means that cities are enormous sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
The Focused Acceleration report from research consultancy McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment, which helps cities target the highest impact strategies based on size and development, suggests cities alone can achieve almost half the needed emissions reductions to meet the Paris Agreement – if they focus. The report also acknowledged the challenges faced by cities backing their commitment to tackling climate change with increasingly stretched resources and competing priorities.
Through movements such as 100 Resilient Cities and, more locally, the Cities Power Partnership, Australian cities are placing themselves at the forefront of one of the most pressing issues of our time. Local leaders are emerging with a passion for fostering a sustainable future for their communities and, in turn, all communities.
In Australia last year over 300 pledges were made by cities around the country to support communities move toward a clean energy future through practical projects. While councils seem more than ready to tackle climate change issues at a local level, using mechanisms such as emissions reduction targets, they continue to be hampered by poor funding. Alix Pearce, Director of the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership, has five must do recommendations for local councils to tackle climate change – ranging from
There is indeed a tide in the affairs of men and it is the heroes of local government that have taken the initiative and are increasingly in the vanguard of world beating, climate saving action.