Confronting ‘climate emergency’

Megan Rowling –

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.
But 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 councillor 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 told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Several months before the emergency declaration, Bristol had invited proposals from businesses to team up with the city on clean energy and green infrastructure projects worth about £1 billion ($1.3 billion).
The city expects to choose a partner for the “City Leap” programme 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 per cent 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, heatwaves 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”.
But 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 Resilient Cities Catalyst, a nonprofit consultancy.
In countries such as the United States, such declarations can focus attention, unlock resources and help cut through red tape, said the former head of the 100 Resilient Cities network.
But to radically shrink a city’s carbon footprint will take sustained effort “over a couple of political cycles”, he noted.
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.
“If it’s just mayors with small coalitions pounding the table, that feels like hollow political statements,” he added.

WILLING AND ABLE?
In January, Barcelona city hall declared a climate emergency — but only after holding a series of public consultations in the preceding three months, involving representatives of about 200 organisations, to thrash out a comprehensive action plan.
The document contains more than 100 measures to enable the city to meet a tighter target of cutting its emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and also to help residents adapt to climate change impacts, backed with 563 million euros ($623 million) of public money.
The actions include reducing private cars on Barcelona’s roads, making residential buildings energy efficient, producing more renewable energy, increasing doorstep waste collection and recycling, and adding green space, especially around schools.
“We decided not to make a declaration of intention with an empty result or just long-term promises,” said councillor Eloi Badia, who is leading the work.
The announcement came right after the introduction of the city’s low-emissions zone, which aims to curb vehicle pollution.
But the extent to which the left-wing city government has brought big business along with it remains unclear.
Both the Spanish city’s port and airport have pushed back against proposals aimed at lowering their emissions, such as cutting some short-haul flights. They have also defended their existing efforts to tackle climate change.
In Milan, meanwhile, police last Sunday handed out several hundred fines to people who ignored a one-day ban on most cars, a test move aimed at tackling the Italian city’s notorious smog.
Ahead of that emergency measure, Gloria Zavatta, CEO of the Milan Agency for Mobility and the Environment (AMAT), said getting residents onside was a tough task.
“Every time you ask people to change their habits and leave their car at home, they don’t think about their health — they are thinking about the easy way to get to work,” she said.
Raising awareness among inhabitants about the health and other benefits of cutting down private car use and the air pollution it generates will be an important part of the “air and climate” plan the city is now putting together. — Reuters