Wed, Feb 12, 2020 - Page 9 News List

Cities experiment with big ideas to confront ‘climate emergency’

By Megan Rowling  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, BARCELONA, Spain

Green-leaning Bristol in late 2018 became the first British city to declare a “climate emergency.” As part of that move, it announced an ambitious, stepped-up target to cut its planet-warming emissions to net zero by 2030.

Unusually, the goal covers not only emissions from electricity, gas and transport fuel used in the city, but also emissions generated in producing the goods and services consumed there — even if that happened elsewhere.

However, work to shift the port city in southwest England onto a cleaner path had begun far earlier, even before Bristol’s initial 2015 decision to become carbon-neutral by 2050, said Kye Dudd, a Labour councilor who leads work on transport and energy.

“The challenge of 2030 was not what do we do about it. In Bristol, it was how do we accelerate what we are doing,” he said.

Several months before the emergency declaration, Bristol had invited proposals from businesses to team up with the city on about £1 billion (US$1.29 billion) of clean energy and green infrastructure projects. The city expects to choose a partner for the “City Leap” program by the end of this summer.

Together, city officials hope, they can develop more solar and wind power capacity, expand the district heating network, and roll out smart energy and battery technology, for starters.

Dudd said the initiative had to involve both government and business, as the shift was too big for the council to manage alone — but the city also wanted to ensure local communities would benefit from new skills and revenues through its 50 percent stake in the joint venture.

“A lot of people are watching this and want to know if it will work,” he said. “Other local authorities don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”

Around the world, front-runner cities are testing new ways to cut their emissions faster and protect residents from floods, heat waves and rising sea levels, while improving their quality of life in the bargain.

According to advocacy group The Climate Mobilization, which is trying to persuade governments to respond urgently to climate change, more than 1,300 local governments in about 25 countries have now declared a “climate emergency.”

However, in many cases, translating that into concrete action is an uphill struggle, not least because it requires a wholesale shake-up of established methods of working, climate experts say.

“Emergency declarations, if they are real, can be very powerful tools, depending on the kind of governance and legal framework you’re in,” said Michael Berkowitz, a founding principal of nonprofit consultancy Resilient Cities Catalyst.

In countries such as the US, such declarations can focus attention, unlock resources and help cut through red tape, but to radically shrink a city’s carbon footprint would take sustained effort “over a couple of political cycles,” the former head of the 100 Resilient Cities network said.

For instance, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a Labour politician, has pushed on with cleaner transport policies started by his Conservative predecessor, Boris Johnson, now Britain’s prime minister, including low emission zones and cycling infrastructure, Berkowitz said.

Another way to protect green policies is for local governments to involve businesses and civil society groups as equal partners in the push to tackle climate change, he said, citing the port city of Rotterdam as a good example.

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