In a time of uncertainty mayors can fix our environment
London Mayor Sadiq Khan meeting with John Kerry (Photo courtesy U.S Embassy London (Creative Commons)
While the current political climate doesn’t appear too good for our environment, politicians at the local level can help. But they need all the support they can get.
Ban Ki-moon explained last Tuesday that despite Trump, climate change is ‘unstoppable’. The thought of that statement left me feeling unnerved, particularly considering the increasing popularity of climate-skeptic politicians. Not only has Trump appointed well-known climate skeptic Myrol Beren to lead the EPA transition, but he also plans to cancel the US COP 21 climate pledge.
The rise of anti-environmental politicians doesn’t just exist in the States. After Brexit, we’ve sent the rise of far-right groups such as One Nation in Australia and the National Front in France, who are giving voice to outspoken climate skeptics, who seemingly have no respect for modern science.
While things appear - at least - incredibly negative for the planet, let’s just remember that our world isn’t controlled by any single group, let alone any single person. In democratic countries, decisions are influenced by international affairs, big business, religious groups, and of course, the other politicians who operate across a range of geographic scales.
New York City's new bike lane network is taking cars off the streets (Photo courtesy Gary Howe (Creative Commons))
With over 50% of the world’s population now living in cities, the last century has seen city Mayors gaining increasing power. A 2013 study found that the New York City metropolitan region accounted for almost 9% of US GDP, making its economy almost a large as the entire country of Australia. Here in the UK, London’s economic output is an astonishingly over 17% of the national economy. But aside from the numbers, unlike federal politicians, Mayors actually have practical control over their political jurisdictions.
Does anyone remember when the United States government ‘shut down’ in 2013? Few remember, because the impacts were so – well - minimal. If on the other hand, the governing powers of a major city were to shut down, we would see chaos. Infrastructure would crumble, rubbish collection would cease, and property development would come to a halt. Clearly, local politicians have control that those at the federal level don’t.
Thankfully mayors across this beautiful planet of ours are not are more practical than those in federal politics. Through the use of planning powers and business and community networks, we are seeing local politicians ban fracking, mobilize resources of green and tech firms, foster disruptive innovation, and crack down on greenhouse gas emitters. And that’s just the beginning.
In Sydney, Lord Mayor Clover Moore is lowering climate emissions through the implementation of a segregated cycling network and new building regulations; recently elected Sadiq Khan in London has pledged to keep high polluting vehicles out of the capital, in turn increasing demand for cleaner, alternative methods of transport; and across Scandinavia, we’re seeing cities like Copenhagen and Olso commit to becoming Greenhouse Neutral by 2050 through a myriad of policy reforms and investments. Local politicians are already achieving what their federal counterparts can’t.
Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore (photo courtesy Kate Auburn (Creative Commons))
On top of all this, the mayors of this world are talking to one-another in a way that those at the national level seldom do. The C40 Cities Summit sees the world’s city leaders come together annually to discuss practical solutions to improve our planet. Unlike failing international climate agreements, this summit has already seen real commitment and progress in reducing emissions.
As disheartened as I feel about federal politics, I remind myself that the nation-state is little more than symbolic in the modern era. Real environmental change happens at the local level, where politicians not only communicate with one another but are making serious commitments to improving the planet. Perhaps Benjamin Barber said it best in his book If Mayors Ruled the World, ‘as nations grow more dysfunctional, cities are rising. When it comes to democracy, they command the majority.”