Cities pushing forward in battle to mitigate climate change

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011
C40 Sao Paolo Summit

Every two years the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group convenes a major conference that brings together mayors, their senior staff and business leaders from major cities around the world. Through a comprehensive programme of interactive sessions, delegates learn from each other's experience, share best practices and identify collaborative projects.

Perhaps recognising that without substantial participation from China, combating climate change would be impossible, the the C40 invited several observing cities from China to attend the this year's summit. Civic Exchange was specifically involved in bringing Chinese delegations to Brazil.

The host for the fourth C40 Summit, held from 31 May to 2 June, was Sao Paulo, a Brazilian city of more than 11 million residents covering over 1,500 km², which faces many of the challenges confronting cities in this era of low-carbon development.

The four city delegations from China, consisting of 20 senior officials, brought a new dynamic to the C40. The Hong Kong SAR Government sent a delegation of four headed by Edward Yau, Secretary for the Environment; observing city Chengdu Municipal Government sent Vice Mayor and Vice Party Secretary Huang Jianfa together with five delegates; Changsha Municipal Government's Vice Mayor Chen Xianchun headed a delegation of four people; and Shanghai assigned its government advisory body Shanghai Municipal Development and Reform Commission's Deputy Director-General, together with other five delegates.

The China dimension

After successfully hosting the C40 Forum in Hong Kong last November, the HKSAR government has been invited to join the C40 Steering Committee. In Sao Paulo, Secretary for the Environment Yau chaired the Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings session, a continuation of one of the two themes at the C40 HK Forum.

For Chinese officials travelling from the other side of the globe to Sao Paulo, the summit was inspiring. Chengdu Vice Party Secretary Huang Jianfa: "It is rich and interesting in content. I am glad to have this opportunity to learn from fellow mayors what they are doing to meet climate challenges in their respective cities. They are inspirational".

Sending a municipal official with a party position is unusual. By doing so Chengdu showed the world the municipal government's determination and commitment to go green.

Likewise, it was eye-opening for foreign officials to the presentation of a Chinese city case study. Changsha Vice Mayor Chen Xianchun's talk on landfill and energy generation attracted audiences who had little understanding about China. They were impressed to see how Changsha was able to take control right from the outset to centralise waste collection from both urban and rural areas and then systematically convert it into electricity.

To acknowledge this historical move by the C40 its chairman, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, set aside a specific time to meet the Chinese delegations between the two plenary sessions. Just like the changing climate, the meeting went ahead in under unexpected circumstances.

The Chinese delegates, Mayor Bloomberg and C40 senior management were quickly surrounded by media and other delegates at the centre of the summit stage. A meeting intended to be private took take place under the spotlights. Seeming unperturbed, Bloomberg emphasised the importance of Chinese cities to the success of C40's climate actions, while Chinese delegates expressed their willingness to join hands with C40 to develop more sustainably.

The city officials certainly demonstrated their adaptability and in the end, all parties were happy because they had delivered their messages to each other and got what they had hoped for out of the meeting. They certainly realised "cities act" by talking and walking faster.

From a broader global perspective, the Sao Paulo summit achieved three important objectives:

  • A ground-breaking partnership with the World Bank

This unique partnership will help solve many of the problems that cities face in obtaining financing for climate-related projects, both from the World Bank and other lenders. It will also make it easier for C40 cities to access the resources of the World Bank.

  • Working with ICLEI to establish an accounting standard community GHG emissions

Realizing that measurement is the key to management of greenhouse gases, this initiative between the C40 and ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability goes far to establishing a global standard on accounting for and reporting community-scale greenhouse gas emissions, which can be used across multiple platforms for comparison and results tracking. The standard will be released in time for UNFCCC COP 17 this November in Durban, South Africa.

  • A communiqué for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

This highlighted the importance of urban strategies in adapting to climate change and mitigating its impact, in order to further drive lessons from the C40 summit and encourage political commitment to sustainable urban development.

"Nations talk, cities act". But how far can cities walk? How fast can cities act? And how long will it take?

We hope it is not, as commonly phrased in Brazil, a problem for "Amanhã" - or tomorrow. It would be comforting for all of us to see a greener and more sustainable life arriving Amanhã.

Is this too tall an order for the C40 Cities to deliver?

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