Global Cities Agree to Cut Carbon Emissions

November 23, 2010

On Sunday delegates from about 135 cities, including some of the world’s largest urban areas, signed an agreement to take tangible steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions and fight global warming.  The Mexico City Pact, named for the host city of this month’s World Mayors Summit on Climate, commits signatory local governments to setting goals for reducing emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and other activities that contribute to global warming, and to monitor results to ensure accountability.  Local officials hope the pact will stand as an example of how governments can work together to reduce global warming.

Mexico City, where the new agreement was forged, is already taking steps to reduce its own carbon footprint.  Mexico City is implementing a fifteen-year Green Plan, the goals of which include reducing greenhouse gas emissions 12% between 2008 and 2012.  Though Mexico City has become known as one of the most polluted cities in the Western Hemisphere, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard hopes the Green Plan will eventually transform it into a leader in local sustainability.  Steps the city plans to take to cut back on pollution and protect natural resources include promoting alternative transportation, preserving natural areas within the local government’s jurisdiction, and harnessing methane gas forming from a landfill to produce electricity.

Other local governments are also taking action to reduce carbon emissions, even as policymakers at the national level fail to agree on a treaty to curb global warming.  More than one thousand cities in the United States are signatories to the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and have agreed to reduce global warming pollution at the local level.  In other countries local governments are also taking the lead on climate initiatives.  Major cities from around the world that signed the Mexico City Pact include Paris, France; Johannesburg, South Africa; Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina, and many others. 

Because urban areas are major consumers of energy, city governments have real power to affect global carbon emission levels by acting locally.  Collectively cities emit about 60% of the world’s annual greenhouse emissions while accounting for 80% of global energy demand.  As large numbers of people in the developing world move from rural areas into cities, the importance of local governments in fighting global warming is only likely to increase over time. 

Well-planned cities can help people live a low-carbon lifestyle while achieving a high quality of life, partly by providing public transportation options and situating homes close to stores and public services so as to make driving unnecessary.  However as any resident of the US suburbs knows, poorly planned or sprawling cities make reliance on the automobile all but inevitable while increasing residents’ dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.  With cities continuing to expand, local government leaders have an opportunity to try to grow in as environmentally responsible a manner as possible. 

Local government leaders plan to present the Mexico City Pact at the international climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico which begin at the end of this month.  Though few observers expect the Cancun climate summit to produce a legally binding international climate treaty, signatories to the Mexico City Pact hope action from local governments will help spur major economies to take steps of their own that reduce global warming pollution.  In addition to committing local governments to reduce their own carbon footprint, the pact contains language urging national governments to agree on a global treaty to protect the climate. 

So far countries like the United States and China have found it difficult to agree on binding targets to cut worldwide greenhouse emissions.  But the coming together of cities from around the world that signed that Mexico City Pact shows cooperation to protect the climate that spans cultural and political boundaries is possible.  When world leaders do finally agree on an international climate deal, they will have slightly less work cut out for them thanks to the efforts of local governments intent on shrinking their carbon footprints now. 

Photo credit: Tjeerd Wiersma

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