This morning’s proceedings at the New
York Climate Summit were a good way to start the day: full of hope and optimism.
Rather than getting frustrated at the seeming inability of the world’s national
governments to do anything about climate change, the assembled mayors and other
municipal officials seemed convinced that, collectively, they were willing and
able to take on a large part of the challenge themselves.
New York’s Dan Doctoroff kicked it off, explaining how his
started by looking how to solve problems related to energy usage, congestion,
transportation, livable streets, and generally the ability of the city to survive
an expected influx of 1 million new inhabitants. It turned out, he said, that
nearly all of the ways to address these issues — and save money at the same
time — involved "going green".
London’s Ken Livingstone then said that cities produce 3/4
of global carbon emissions, which means that cities can and should take the
lead in terms of tackling climate change issues. "It is in cities that
the battle to tackle climate change will be won or lost," he said, calling
for a democracy in terms of carbon emissions: those who emit too much now must
drastically reduce their emissions, while developing cities with much lower
per-capita emissions "should plan for stabilizing their emissions in the
Interestingly, municipal governments don’t only seem to be well ahead of federal
governments on this issue; they’re also playing a crucial role in encouraging
the businesses and residents of their cities to get up to speed as well. Richard
Daley of Chicago knows that developers and unions are not exactly famous
for being green; he said that he’s now implemented a system whereby they can
get their construction permits much more easily if they’re constructing green
David Miller of Toronto was a fount of statistics: Greenhouse
gas emissions attributable to the municipal government have been reduced by
40% since 1990, he said, largely thanks to a profitable initiative which captures
methane from landfills. He also said that if 20% of the buildings in Toronto
which could have green roofs actually had them, then summertime temperatures
in the city would be reduced by 2%.
That’s not the only way to reduce energy consumption, either. Everywhere else
in the province of Ontario, summer electricity consumption went up last year;
in Toronto it went down, thanks to a plan whereby if you reduced your consumption
by 10%, then you’d get a 10% discount on your next electricity bill.
The cities can’t do everything. George David, the CEO of UTC,
noted that only 9 of the 50 US states have legislation which facilitates net
metering. (That’s the system whereby your electricity meter can run backwards
if you put electricity back into the grid.) Some involvement from the state
and federal level is definitely necessary. But the general feeling was that
all the cities were asking was that the state and federal politicians simply
get out of the way, and let them do their thing.
Right now, we’re at the easy bit of reducing our carbon footprints: the point
at which doing so can actually make money. I look forward to a future where
living in a green city is a point of pride for all city dwellers, rather than
just ones in places like Germany and Toronto. Right now, the New York mindset
isn’t particularly green. But all that means is that it’s easier for New York
to reduce its carbon emissions than for European cities — which start from
a much lower level — to reduce theirs. Today’s a day for optimism.