Michael Bloomberg is a former three-term mayor of New York and the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. Gregor Robertson is mayor of Vancouver.
As the largest country in the Western Hemisphere, Canada has a special role to play in tackling the threat of global climate change. Canadian cities, which are on the front lines of this battle, must help lead the way.
In recent years, destructive floods have caused billions of dollars in damage to Toronto and Calgary, and this summer saw a record number of forest fires in British Columbia, resulting in air-quality advisories in Vancouver. While it may be impossible to tie any one weather event to climate change, it's also impossible to deny that the impacts of climate change can cause serious economic and environmental damage to cities.
Fortunately, cities can provide many of the answers to climate-related disasters by adopting policies and making investments that both reduce climate pollution and mitigate climate-related risks. While news-media attention tends to focus on the partisan debates about national policies, cities are playing a leading role in confronting this challenge.
Around the world, mayors are tackling climate change by sharing ideas and strategies that lead to action. Last year, the United Nations (with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies) launched a global initiative called the Compact of Mayors. Cities that join agree to transparent reporting of their actions on climate change and commit to using a common measuring stick to determine how much progress they are making. This allows their citizens to hold them accountable for reaching their goals – and compare how their city stacks up against others.
Over the past year, 197 cities from 53 countries have joined the compact. President Barack Obama has set a goal of having 100 U.S. cities commit to the compact. Canadian cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Windsor, Ont., have signed on to the Compact of Mayors, building momentum for further climate action in Canada. We hope many more Canadian cities will join.
The fact is, when it comes to a city's energy and environmental choices, most mayors aren't waiting for their provincial or national governments to take action. Per-capita carbon emissions in Canadian cities have fallen 20 per cent over the past 25 years. Cities have direct control over 40 per cent to 50 per cent of Canada's emissions and, across the country, we're seeing cities taking the lead and proving that they are the most innovative and decisive level of government.
In Vancouver, city council has approved a bold target of shifting to 100-per-cent renewable energy throughout the city, which is now driving innovation in everything from adoption of electric-vehicle technology to using low-carbon district energy to heat and cool new residential developments. Edmonton recently approved a strategy to improve energy efficiency in city buildings, increase renewable energy, explore district energy systems and power more city operations with clean electricity. Montreal has an aggressive target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and an electric-vehicle charging network that supports its strong uptake of electric vehicles.
These actions not only reduce climate pollution and improve the local environment, they create economic benefits, enhance community resilience and provide countless health benefits for residents.
The Compact of Mayors is just one example of the collaboration being taken by governments around the world to address climate change. Ontario and Quebec are moving toward cap-and-trade programs, and British Columbia is building on the success of its carbon tax with a new "Climate Leadership Plan." In recent weeks we've seen major announcements from China and the United States to reduce their pollution and invest in clean energy. The urgency of climate change is undeniable, but fortunately we are seeing positive momentum as we head into December's international climate summit in Paris.
Climate change is a global challenge, and the more that cities around the world work together and learn from one another, the more progress we'll be able to make – and the more national governments will feel pressure to act. Our hope is that more Canadian cities will step forward to join the Compact of Mayors and commit to raising the bar on tracking their progress on climate change. Although the issue has received little attention during the federal election campaign, the next government will need to work with cities across the country if Canada is to meet international climate-change goals.
No single action will solve the climate crisis. It will take steady change, across all sectors and in cities large and small, in every country, to get where we need to be. The solutions are within our grasp, and now we need the leadership to see them through. As we're seeing through the Compact of Mayors, cities in Canada and around the world are stepping up to support one another and provide the leadership needed to meet the climate-change crisis.