How many mayors does it take to change a lightbulb? If it’s a clean-burning LED bulb, then that’ll be 37, which is the number of mayors confirmed to attend the C40 Cities climate change summit.
It all began in 2005, when Ken Livingstone, then mayor of London, organised a meeting of leaders from 18 world cities to discuss solutions for climate change. That meeting morphed into the Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, an ecological think tank of sorts that now operates in partnership with ex-US president Bill Clinton’s foundation, and encompasses 40 cities. The group’s biannual caucus – the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit – will be held in São Paulo from 31 May to 3 June 2011. Michael Bloomberg, current chair of the summit and the mayor of New York City, is attending along with mayors from cities as disparate as Jakarta, Copenhagen and Addis Ababa, to formulate initiatives and share expertise and ideas about how they can work to improve the environment in socially and economically sustainable ways.
Cities in action
According to C40, cities house only half of the Earth’s population, but produce 80 per cent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. The big idea, then, is to reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2050 in participating cities. This means enacting policies and projects that increase energy efficiency, use resources effectively and result in the production and use of clean energy. Even before joining the C40, some of the cities had begun to show some commitment to a more sustainable future: Melbourne’s solar energy installation – the largest in the Southern Hemisphere – has cut carbon emissions by 1,314 tonnes since 2003; Bogotá’s bus rapid transport system, opened in the year 2000, reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the Colombian capital by 40 per cent; and Copenhagen has been using waste to generate heat since the ’80s, with 97 per cent of the city’s buildings warmed in winter by refuse incineration. The C40’s mission is to make sure these cities act in concert with one another.
Traffic-choked São Paulo might seem an unconventional choice for hosting a climate change summit; but it’s the challenge of solving these issues that makes the city an important element in the fight against catastrophic climate change. ‘What São Paulo has to show may seem limited – very few parks, a huge fleet of cars’, says Hélio Mattar, the president of Akatu, an NGO that promotes conscientious consumption. ‘But we’ve got solar water heating for low-income families, we’ve got hydro-electric power, we’ve got low-cost ethanol. We have a lot we can share with other cities.’
In addition to slow-but-steady expansion of the city’s metrô system, the municipal and state governments have joined forces on sustainability projects including recycling and waste disposal, water-saving initiatives, expansion of parks and green spaces in the region, and ecological awareness programmes in schools. Still, with 20 million people in the metropolitan area, over 7 million pollutant-spewing vehicles on the city’s roads as of March 2011, and severely inadequate public transport, the road to greener pastures can look entirely uphill and perilously winding.
It is, as they say, complicated.