Recent failures with international negotiations on Climate Change, especially the outcome of COP15, reinforce the lack of enthusiasm for sustainability among policymakers around the world. However increasing extreme weather incidents clearly show that we cannot afford to wait after international policy agreement to take action.
When international agreements are sterile how to turn a matter of scientific urgency into action?
Critics tend to agree on the potential role of local authorities/Cities to tackle Climate Change. In fact local authorities/Cities are a part of the problem and part of the solution. On one hand, urban areas host more than 50% of the world population and contribute to 2/3 of the CO2 emissions. On the other hand, policy makers have a strong imperative to act because urban areas are particularly vulnerable to Climate Change. For example, largest cities are mostly located on coastal and within river delta, which are areas highly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Local authorities are a key player because they are at the right policy level to understand local vulnerabilities and societal desirability. Climate Change is a thorny issue as it has complex and uncertain effects and so it is difficult to know in advance the best action plan to adopt. That is why social value and urban cultural value are paramount to make progress towards risk management as they give thresholds and indicators to steer policies. In this regards, local authorities are at the right policy level to understand these local vulnerabilities and societal desirability. In case of a flood incident, the City can directly interact with different services (emergency services, water utilities etc) and actors (dwellers, companies, NGOS etc) to make them work together. In fact, direct interactions are just the kind of thing that Cities are potentially good at capturing. In contrast, National Government inherently opt for strategic emergency planning leading to a rather long decision making process. In fact, studies (UKCIP, ICLEI) show evidence where Climate Change Action Plans tend to be more effective with local authorities because the focus is not only on environmental boundaries but also are at the right level to apprehend societal desirability.
As shown above, acting towards Climate Change requires reacting to cope with emergencies. However, the paper argues that planning in advance is as much as essential and local governments are the relevant agent for action in this matter. A strong argument to make cities leaders towards a low carbon future is that while being a hotspot of innovation they are also the primarily decision maker for planning. In other words they are places where solutions are developed and therefore comparatively quicker to put these on tracks. A strong case is made with sustainable transportation urban planning to deal with Climate Change issues. The rent-a-bike projects become increasingly famous and started with a low-tech scheme in a French town La Rochelle in 1974. Copenhagen launched a big automated project in 1995, but the most successful case is the Velib in Paris with 20,000 bikes available. The beauty with a Bike hire scheme is that it contributes to raise awareness and change motorist behaviour even in the most reluctant Cities. For example, Mexico City suffers from air pollution and is known for its bad drivers’ behaviour. Nonetheless, the City has launched a pay-as you-go bike scheme called “Ecobici” which is effectively working. Local Authorities are therefore delivering results towards Climate Change issues since they significantly contribute to adapt their air quality management while at the same time cutting down on CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, at the time no specific orders or incentives are allocated to local authorities who often acts on a voluntarily basis.
In the light of what has been highlighted in this paper, a pressing question needs to be raised. In a scenario where Local Governments are given more power to act, is then the Climate Change policy making problem solved? The paper points out that international negotiation about Climate Change has something more fundamental involved with. Despite a common disappointment it is important to understand that any local action without an international common sense is an illusion. Cities initiatives are enormously effective but not sufficient to be internationally sustainable and accordingly ensuring a fair share for future generation.