The Case for Local Governments
Today, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) released a report entitled, "Act Locally: The Municipal Role in Fighting Climate Change."
In their report, the FCM call for an increased role for municipalities in dealing with climate change. They cite figures suggesting that 44% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are directly or indirectly related to the actions of its municipalities. With the proper support, municipalities "could cut between 20 and 50 megatonnes of emissions, which would represent 15 to 40 per cent of Canada's 2020 emission reduction goal."
There is an increasing awareness that municipalities the world over do indeed have a very important role to play in fighting climate change. International organizations such as the International Coalition for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the C40 (made up of 40 of the world's leading cities - 20 developed and 20 developing - and whose current Chair is Toronto's Mayor, David Miller), and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), amongst others have increasingly been advocating for a greater role at international climate negotiations.
The largest of these groups (in terms of membership), ICLEI, is "an international association of local governments as well as national and regional local government organizations that have made a commitment to sustainable development." They have a membership of over 1100 members including 31 municipalities in Canada. ICLEI is in Copenhagen and is attempting to lobby for the inclusion and acknowledgement of the role that local governments must have in dealing with climate change. In comparison, the Kyoto Protocol lacked any mention of local governments. In a previous international negotiating text leading up to Copenhagen, over 100 references to local governments were included perhaps indicating that national governments have come to realize their value.
Meanwhile, many local governments are not waiting for national governments to get their act together. Already, many local governments have set emission reduction targets. In fact, Toronto, Canada was the first government of any kind in the world to set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in 1990. Since then many others have followed suit. Recently, Australia's capital cities announced plans to cut their emissions by 41% by 2020.
Finally, while the Copenhagen negotiations are going on, mayors from 55 cities around the world will be gathering to talk climate change at the Climate Summit for Mayors.
Why should all this matter?
First, it is clear that local governments very clearly can have an impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through actions such as by increasing investment in public transit, recycling programs, cleaner technologies (i.e. LED street lights), and by improving/developing by-laws relating to building codes to name just a few possiblities.
Second, cities and municipalities will not be exempt from the worst effects of climate change. For example, 150 million people living in port cities will be at risk of facing a 1 in 100 year coastal flood by 2070. Already, 1.5 billion urban residents are exposed to air pollution levels that exceed maximum recommended levels.
Finally, the world is becoming more urbanized. Already, approximately 50% of the world's population live in urban areas compared to approximately 1 in 3 people who did so in 1950. By 2050, that number is projected to increase to 70%. By 2015, there will be 23 cities with populations of over 10 million people. In comparison, in 1950, only New York had a population greater than 10 million people. In essence, an historic change is happening in that people like never before are moving toward urban areas.
All this is to say that with increasing movement toward urban areas, greater stress and demand will be put on local governments and their ability to adapt within the context of climate change is one that cannot be ignored.
Canada is one of the most urbanized countries in the world with close to 80% of the population living in urban areas. For Canada, this means that - as the FCM report suggests - local governments are crucial players in dealing with climate change and have an equal responsibility to act.
No more should climate change be thought of as something that just requires the efforts of national governments. Climate change is a global problem requiring a global solution. Local governments must therefore be part of that solution.