The world’s most polluting countries aren’t acting quickly enough to cut emissions, and at the recent UN Climate Summit, the two largest polluters—China and the U.S.—didn’t make any new promises to tackle climate change. But cities around the globe are moving faster. Now, a group of mayors of megacities, from Paris to Mexico City, is stepping into the void of leadership and calling for a Global Green New Deal.
“It’s necessary because we’re in a climate emergency,” says David Miller, the former mayor of Toronto, who now serves as the regional director for North America for the C40 Cities network, a coalition of 94 megacities focused on driving urban action on climate solutions. At a meeting today in Copenhagen, the mayors announced that they recognize that global climate emergency. They also endorsed a new commitment to reach peak emissions by next year, cut global emissions in half by 2030, and be carbon neutral by 2050. It’s the speed of progress necessary to keep the world from heating up more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, a critical goal to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.
“It’s very clear from the science, that international actions are not doing nearly enough to even reach the targets from the Paris accord—and we know from science even [the Paris targets] were not enough,” Miller says. “And unfortunately, for various geopolitical reasons, national governments are really hamstrung in building an international consensus. So it’s necessary for mayors to build on their very strong track record of action.”
Thirty of the cities in the coalition have already “peaked” emissions, meaning that their total emissions are falling instead of growing. New York City’s emissions peaked in 2005 and are now 14% below that peak, with emissions cuts driven in part by energy efficiency in buildings. San Francisco peaked in 2000 and now is 31% below its peak, in part because of a shift to more renewable electricity. Copenhagen, which plans to become carbon neutral by 2025, reached peak emissions in 1991. “From a U.S. perspective, the fact that New York and San Francisco are this far ahead puts a complete lie to any argument that you can’t have a successful economy and deal with your ecological and environmental challenges,” says Miller.
The Global Green New Deal, like the version proposed in the U.S. and versions adopted in Los Angeles and New York City, emphasizes that any plans to cut emissions have to happen in a way that’s fair and equitable. “That’s really an important part of climate change, because it’s inherently unfair,” says Miller. “And to do that, you need to build a powerful coalition.” The group is now working to collaborate with businesses and other governments to help them adopt the same goals. A new knowledge hub, for example, will help the group share information about how to cut emissions with cities of all sizes. The success that cities have had so far, Miller says, demonstrates that there’s hope at a time when many people see the climate crisis as overwhelming. It shows that “we can address climate change while living in a society that everyone has a place and can achieve some chance of economic success in life,” he says. “And it’s really important that people see that that’s possible.”