C40 Cities' Aggarwala says local governments can lead the way on climate action

Can local governments use their political power to garner action on climate change? During today's OnPoint, Rohit Aggarwala, special adviser to the chair of the C40 Cities Group, discusses the group's efforts to bring together the world's largest cities on climate initiatives. He also explains how the C40 is working with the World Bank to provide financing to cities to reduce emissions.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Dr. Rohit Aggarwala, special advisor to the chair of the C40s cities group. Dr. Aggarwala, thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Doctor, you work with the C40 group, which was created to harness the political power in cities to garner some action on climate change. How is the C40 initiative different from some of the other regional and state programs that we see on climate change?

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: So, the C 40 Cities Climate Leadership Group was founded in 2005 by Mayor Ken Livingstone and I think a couple of things make it unique, although we work very closely with a number of other organizations of course. The first is that it's focused on megacities around the world and the belief in that is that London and Tokyo and Johannesburg and Jakarta, by the virtue of the fact that they are large cities, often the centers of finance for their cities or for their nations, the centers of media, etc., they actually have very similar problems that smaller cities might not share or that large cities and small cities have to do differently. The second is that it is multinational. And so one of the things we find is that there are sometimes counterintuitive things that cities are working on together. To say that New York and London are doing a similar policy on something, nobody would be surprised. But one of our partnerships involves Rotterdam, New Orleans, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. What they have in common is they're all river delta cities that are facing sea level rise around their ports and, at the end of the day, hydraulics doesn't care if you're an American city, a rich city, or a poor city. You have to deal with it the same way. So that's one. Focus on megacities, broadly international and counterintuitive. And then I think the other is that we're not just an advocacy group. We really are a peer learning network, where city officials get together and exchange notes. And now, with our deeper partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative that will be more fully integrated into the activities of the C40, we'll be able to provide direct assistance to those things that city officials are working on.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what percentage of total global emissions are C40 cities responsible for?

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: We think it's just under 10 percent of the globe. The C40 cities are 18 percent of global GDP. So that tells you that on an output basis cities are more efficient. Or I think a little less than 10 percent in population, probably around eight or 7 percent, and what that tells you is that in developing countries, most of the time, cities are the main source of carbon emissions, because that's where the wealth is, that's where the cars are, that's where the heavy industry is. In the developed world, of course, it's the other way around. The cities are usually the most efficient places because they have density and transit and smaller homes and, in fact, usually less industry.

Monica Trauzzi: Just how powerful are the world mayors? How are they able to affect climate change?

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: Well, I think one of the things that makes the C40 such a useful and powerful organization is the fact that mayors are, in fact, on the cutting edge of the fight against climate change. Transportation, mayors control the streets in most of their cities. Half of our mayors control their transit system. Most mayors have either direct control or significant control over planning decisions. So if you want to talk about compact cities or transit oriented development, that's not done at the national level, that's not done at the state or regional level, that's done at the city level. Thinking about building codes, most of our -- especially outside Europe, most cities have at least some influence over the standards to which their buildings are built. So there's no American building code. There isn't really a New York state building code that applies to New York City. It's the New York City building code. So, if you want to require green buildings in New York, you go to the city Council and the mayor. Water systems are, generally speaking, municipal functions and in most every city, solid waste, at least from the residential sector, is the mayor's job. So, at the end of the day, waste, water, energy consumption and buildings and transportation policy, those are the jobs of mayors in cities.

Monica Trauzzi: So, when you're talking about all these different cities from around the world, how do you get everyone on the same page in terms of standards, how to measure emissions, essentially speaking, the same climate language?

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: Well, part of it is getting together and exchanging notes in, as I said, some of those counterintuitive ways or counterintuitive connections. But what I think we see recently that might not have been true four or five years ago, what was certainly visible at the C40 mayoral summit in São Paulo last month was that the cities themselves are seeking this. The cities want to understand from each other how they stack up, not because of ranking, rankings are not actually useful at all. It doesn't help anybody to tell you that New York is a denser city than Los Angeles. We knew that what's useful is when you can get into the details and actually understand, oh, a per mile traveled basis or given the same land-use patterns or what have you. So cities are looking for better data. We partnered with the Carbon Disclosure Project last year to make the CDP's new cities tool available to all C40 cities and the C40 steering committee and the chair. Then mayor of Toronto David Miller put out a request to all of the C40 cities to use the CDP tool voluntarily to disclose their emissions. We -- in fact I was blown away, we were hoping for 50 percent. We got 76 percent of the C40 participating in 18 affiliate cities to comply with that. So we actually, for the first time, have data that spans across all C40 cities. One of the initiatives we also talked about a great deal in São Paulo was an agreement that we signed with ICLEI, cities for local government -- or Local Governments for Sustainability, pardon me, to work together, committing the two organizations to work together over the course of this year to create, for the first time, a global standard for how to report municipal and community wide emissions for a large city. Right at the moment one of the problems is ICLEI has a standard, the World Bank has a standard, the European Union Community of Mayors has a separate standard. C40 has no standard. We just want them all to get standardized and ICLEI agrees, the World Bank agrees. They're actually not that far apart once you do the research, which we did last summer in conjunction with the World Bank. And so we're going to work together to harmonize those a year from now. You'll know that when a city puts out -- at least a C40 city puts out its carbon inventory, it's apples to apples when you compare it to another city's.

Monica Trauzzi: So how are you expecting the C40 to play into next year's Rio +20 meeting?

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: Well, so in fact, when we were in Brazil, the mayor of Rio invited Mayor Bloomberg as chair of C40 and the C42 to play a formal role, at the very least as an official side event. I think directly we're still figuring out, and, again, in conjunction with ICLEI, which is obviously the official lead for local governments at Rio +20, exactly what the right role of the mayors of megacities ought to be. I don't think we know that yet. What we do know is two things. One is that mayors, even more than they are in the United States, mayors are often significant figures in national government or at least on the national political scene of their countries. And so they can sway the discussion in their countries. You see lots of examples where the mayor of São Paulo is cited as having had an impact on Brazil's national policy. You see that in other places as well. So I think having mayors speak out about what ought to happen at Rio +20 is important. But even more so it's the fact that mayors are already delivering the goods. And what we saw in another report that we put out in São Paulo called Climate Action in Megacities, was the fact that over the last five years the C40 cities have undertaken, not planned, not hoped for, have undertaken 4734 separate initiatives to improve -- to protect ourselves against climate either through adaptation or mitigation.

Monica Trauzzi: Impressive numbers. We'll end it there.

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: All right.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

Dr. Rohit Aggarwala: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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