[OPINION] Ushering in a new urban future centered on people and the planet

More than 70 mayors and a thousand representatives from the world’s most influential cities convened in Copenhagen in Denmark last month for the seventh C40 World Mayors Summit to define the “the future we want” and ultimately signal a paradigm shift of urban policy to address the climate emergency.

The global summit brought together leading climate voices like former United States Vice President Al Gore, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, along with champion mayors from leading global cities like Paris, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen.

The Philippines was represented by the only C40 member city in the Philippines, Quezon City, led by Mayor Joy Belmonte and her city delegation, as well as the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), led by Chairman Greg Garcia.

C40 is a global network of 94 of the world’s biggest and most influential cities driving climate action. Overall, these cities represent a quarter of the global economy. (READ: Aiming for zero: cities, companies ramp up climate goals)

Tagged as the most important climate-related event of the year, the global summit made headlines around the world as C40 mayors launched a Global Green New Deal. This new initiative aims to form a broad global coalition of city champions, businesses, youth movement leaders, and citizens working towards a just urban transition to eradicate carbon emissions by 2050.

This new deal will put people and the planet at the core of decision-making. It aims to globally and collectively redefine urban policy as we enter the 2020s, a crucial decade that will make or break the fight to keep global heating below the 1.5 degrees goal outlined in the Paris Agreement. (READ: Why the Philippines should declare a climate emergency)

The future we want

The Global Green New Deal offers an alternative urban vision marked by tremendous ambition and urgency. It envisions an urban future with zero carbon emissions and defines decarbonization pathways in key urban systems such as transportation, buildings, and waste while putting humans at the core of such a transition.

It also signals a shift of the global paradigm of progress in cities towards new parameters and standards with people and the planet at its core.

While the new deal defines several pathways to achieve a zero carbon future, 3 areas of transformation stand out. Urban policy should embrace (1) zero waste economies, (2) people-oriented mobility, and (3) clean energy for all.

First, cities need to rethink urban policy based on zero waste or circular economies. Progress should be defined not by how much is generated, but by how much waste is averted and diverted. This could go into the core of individual behavior where broader urban policy will play a key role. 

Rapid economic industrialization has not only depleted natural capital but also generated massive waste that is now choking canals, landfills, waterways, and oceans at large. This has led to adverse health impacts on humans as well as marine life.

Second, cities should facilitate and lead the transition towards people-oriented mobility. Cities have conventionally been designed to take in and move as many private cars as possible. With worsening traffic and pollution that we are experiencing in major capitals like Metro Manila, cities are now looking towards post-automobility. (READ: FAST FACTS: State of Metro Manila’s public transport system)

Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá in Colombia said, “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation.”

The new urban era should be defined by pedestrianized streets and sidewalks, bicycles, people-friendly planning, buses, mass transit systems, and other local transport solutions. This will allow more citizens to move and gain access to diverse transport options regardless of socioeconomic class, while making the air we breathe cleaner and cities less congested.

Finally, clean and renewable energy should drive power in cities. This goes to the core of energy generation by divesting from coal-fired power plants and ramping up solar, wind, and geothermal energy. (READ: Is renewable energy unreliable? and other questions about RE answered)

From the demand-side, cities can look into mainstreaming stronger energy conservation and efficiency standards across residential, government-owned, and commercial buildings which account for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions in cities globally. Sometimes, this could mean embracing innovative local solutions and building designs. (READ: Local developers return to Filipino roots with 'green' buildings, designs)

The Global Green New Deal offers an alternative vision of the urban future that confronts that world’s greatest global challenge, the climate crisis. It is a work in progress that will have to be articulated, (re)shaped and pursued collectively while putting the most climate-vulnerable sectors and communities at the core.

On the importance of working for a future that truly empowers people and the planet, I borrow the words of US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during her impassioned speech at the C40 Summit:

“At the present moment, solving the climate crisis is no longer a primarily scientific question. It is now a political one. The scientists have done much of their job and now it is the time for us to do ours. Just as they have created the technologies and identified the targets, we must create the political will. A Green New Deal centers the leadership of frontline communities from minors to farmers to indigenous communities, working in poor communities and urban communities alike. Not only because it is the right thing to do – it is. Nor because is it where we can find solutions – we can. But also because it is the winning political coalition that can empower change.” – Rappler.com

 

Marvin Lagonera (@marvinlagonera) is a millennial climate emergency activist. He is affiliated with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and is concurrently taking his Masters in Sustainable Urban Development at the University of Oxford. The views in this article are his own.