Mayors call for local action and women leadership on climate change

A view of Cape Town in South Africa. Photo by: Wendy / CC BY-NC-ND

Cities must take the lead on climate change rather than relying on federal governments to tackle rising oceans, extreme weather and other impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, say mayors from across the globe.

A coalition of mayors from major cities around the world — united under the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group — made this case for local, immediate action on climate change yesterday in New York, at the inaugural Women4Climate conference. The half-day forum, which drew Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, the chair of C40, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, among other mayors, served as a platform to offer solutions and bridge partnerships.

Yet the ethos of President Donald Trump, and the likely roll-out of an executive order that will roll back climate change policies, cast a shadow over the event, driving at the sense of urgency in confronting climate change.

“The fact is, addressing the cause of climate change is one of our greatest opportunities to save lives because carbon emissions and air pollution go hand in hand with public health and that is what drew me to the fight against climate change,” said Bloomberg, who now serves as the U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change.

“For the doubters, nobody knows for sure what the the future holds, but as a rational thing, you take prophylactic measures. We can’t play that game with the Earth when our entire future is at stake.”

Over 70 percent of cities are already facing the impacts of climate change, according to C40. Ninety percent of urban areas are coastal, placing them at increased risk for storm surge and destruction from sea level rise. Meanwhile, more than 2,500 cities have put forward plans to cut emissions since 2014.

For many cities, the risks extend well beyond their coastlines. Cape Town is now facing the worst drought it has experienced in more than 100 years, and its potable water sources will last only 120 days, its mayor, Patricia De Lille, explained to Devex. Climate change is manifesting itself in Cape Town, she told the audience earlier in the day, whether or not Trump believes it is real.

“We had to come up with a contingency plan, but also a massive education drive for our water usage … You can only save water while you still have water. So we have now looked at how can we also create an opportunity out of the drought and we created thousands of jobs [for] plumbers to fix all of the leaks,” she said. “Our leaks have been reduced by 15 percent and we have employed young people to go out and promote water savings.”

The water preservation strategy plays into Cape Town’s goal of having 20 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2020, she says. De Lille explained the importance of relying on mayors and generating local resources and initiatives in our conversation.

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Women leaders have a clear role to play in taking on climate change. Numerous studies have shown women in the developing world face greater risks and burdens from its impacts, while in the developed world, they are more likely to view it as a priority issue. When there are more women running for office and serving as elected officials, climate change is more likely to rise to the top of the political agenda, said Gisel Kordestani, the co-founder of the political participation group Crowdpac.

“It would be the biggest needle that moves,” she said of increased female political leadership.

The forum took place during the first week on the sidelines of the Commission of the Status of Women at the United Nations. Several new initiatives were also announced at the Women4Climate event, including a new global mentorship program for young women in C40 cities; research on gender, cities and climate; and an annual challenge to award women researchers and entrepreneurs on climate and sustainability innovations.

Together, the 15 women mayors of the cities in the C40 network represent over 100 million citizens and over $4 trillion in GDP, according to the group.

Over six weeks, Devex and our partners will explore what it takes to build a successful smart city, how climate resilient and environmentally friendly infrastructure and technologies are being implemented, and how actors in the global development community are working together toward common goals and engaging local communities in an inclusive way. Join us as we examine what it takes to create our smart cities of the future by tagging #SmartCities and @Devex.

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.