I've been discussing in several posts in recent months the possible role of big cities in tackling global problems such as climate change (Global federalism, Sept 06; Given enough local minds, October 06; The new assertiveness of cities, December 06). The basic idea: If cities start acting as global actors towards sustainability, new mobility solutions and traffic strategies, clean energy, water resources management, etc, when you add it all up there could be significant progress even without national policies and international treaties.
Now comes Bill Clinton and says:
"Climate change is a global problem that requires local action".
He said that the other day in New York presenting an initiative, prompted by the Clinton Foundation, that involves 15 of the world's biggest cities (NY, Chicago, Houston, Toronto, Mexico City, London, Berlin, Delhi, Karachi, Tokyo, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Bangkok, Johannesburg and Melbourne), five banks (Citibank, UBS, DeutscheBank, ABN Amro and JP Morgan) and companies and other groups, to push the modernization of aging buildings. Under the plan, explains the Herald Tribune:
participating banks would provide up to $1 billion each in loans that cities or private landlords would use to upgrade energy-hungry heating, cooling and lighting systems in older buildings. The loans and interest would be paid back with savings accrued through reduced energy costs.
It's just a starting point, of course, but in densely populated cities, particularly old ones, buildings are the dominant source of greenhouse gases, and therefore the potential for energy-saving retrofits is significant. In fast-growing newer cities, of course, the focus should be on increasing the efficiency of new buildings. With this step, mayors are demonstrating that they are ahead of most national governments in addressing the urgency of climate change.
The NY Times, in an editorial titled Can cities save the Earth?, comments:
It may be that the mayors, aware their powers end at the city limits, are more willing than holders of higher offices to take to innovation. When Mayor Clover Moore of Sydney asks residents to turn off lights for an hour, the city goes dark. Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago is distributing rooftop rain barrels, and already pipes 55 million gallons of rainwater into Lake Michigan every year. Toronto discounts electricity for citizens who conserve.
Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London and organizer of the group, bucked public opinion when he imposed a hefty fee (now about $16) to drive on London’s busiest streets. The result was increased productivity for businesses, enhanced public transportation — paid for with fee revenues — and streets that flow so freely, buses sometimes pull over lest they run too far ahead of schedule.