Sustainable Cities and C40 Summit

What is the C40 Summit?

C40 Summit Johannesburg The C40 Summit is a biannual meeting of the original 40 member cities in developed and developing countries, along with 23 new member cities. The main goals of the C40 summit is to show how member cities are succeeding at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and for member cities to be role models for others around the globe.

The 5th C40 Summit that took place Feb 4-6, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa is one in a series of biennial meetings of its 63 comprising member cities. Officially known as the “C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group”, it prides itself on being a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Since its establishment by former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone in October of 2005, the C40 Group member cities have adopted more than 13,000 individual actions to minimize the effects of global warming with the goal of eventually ideally eliminating the effects of global warming by cities around the planet, including a 500% increase in bike-share programs that lower emissions from the fastest growing cause of greenhouse emissions, urban transport.

(For more on the history of the C40, click here).

Why Cities Matter

Although cities only take up about 2% of the world’s landmass, 50% of the world’s population lives in cities and cities consume roughly 60% of the world’s energy supply, accounting for 70% of the world’s CO2 emissions.- the quantitative leader in the detrimental greenhouse gases.

Former UN Under Secretary General, and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka
Former UN Under Secretary General, and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka

But, as focused on by the former UN Under Secretary General, and Executive Director of UN-Habitat -currently Tanzania’s Minister of Human Settlement, Housing and Urban Affairs -Professor Anna Tibaijuka in her 2009 C40 Summit presentation, densely populated cities have been shown to have smaller carbon foot prints than low density sprawling metropolitan areas because providing energy for densely populated centers is much more efficient. As Professor Tibaijuka argues, cities can increase these advantages with ecologically positive policies and projects.  (Read Prof Tibaijuka’s entire presentation here.) But, Prof. Tibaijuka added that cities couldn’t do this alone, they need the support of central governments, regional alliances, and global entities such as the UN.

The C40 summits have drawn widespread interest as the international community increasingly recognizes that cities around the globe have a vital role to play in the complexities of the international policy arena in regards to globalized sustainable development.

Urban areas not only generate large amounts of green house emissions, they have characteristics that give them the possibility of building true international cooperation in lowering these emissions.

Urban areas have also developed into multi-cultural and internationally diverse hubs. Now, cities have begun to use their diversity while serving the interests of their diverse constituents to create links, partnerships and solidarity with other cities around the globe on environmental issues.

Outcomes and Key Achievements of the C40 Summit in Johannesburg

Many of the C40 projects include projects in the areas of Adaptation & Water, Energy Efficiency, Energy Supply, Financial and Economic Development, Sustainable Communities, Transport, and Waste are discussed in C40’s new report, “Climate Action in Megacities Version 2.0”.

Johannesburgo City
Johannesburgo City

Successes cited in the report include:

  • Capture of methane gas at landfills
  • Generation of energy from waste
  • Allocation of staff and funding to climate change issues
  • Doubling in the number of cities that have replicated successful projects

For access to the full report, click here.

Those in favor say “AY”, those against say “NAY”

Many Scientists have argued that the effects of climate change have been scientifically proven by the chemical composition of the CO2 in the atmosphere, which comes with a specific CO2 fingerprint.  According to NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States), the Earth’s natural levels of CO2 do not surpass 300 parts per million (ppm). However, currently measurements have been placed at 400ppm, which means 30% of CO2 emissions are occurring unnaturally, mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

However, many other scientists have offered a very different point of view on Climate Change.

For example, in a report backed by both scientific and circumstantial evidence, the Non-Governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), claims that Climate Change is a naturally occurring process that is not being accelerated by human technology. As part of the evidence, the NIPCC argues that the increase in global temperatures has more to do with our sun’s temperament, its Solar Cycles, and the Earth’s own natural cycles, than with CO2 and other greenhouse gas emission caused by human technology.

Additionally, some even argue that the strides towards a ‘greener’ planet are causing “worrisome” consequences to main infrastructure grids such as the electrical grid. Carter Eskew, an Opinion writer for the Washington Post, argues that the electric grid of the United States has started to be ignored due to the positive trend in “green-energy options”. Eskew, even goes so far as to argue that this sort of issue has happened before in the Communications market. (See the full article here.)


From Clinton's Video Message to the C40 in Johannesburg, Feb. 2014.
Photo: Clinton’s Video Message to the C40 in Johannesburg, Feb. 2014.

In his recorded message to this year’s C40 Summit in Johannesburg, former President Clinton stated, “while we certainly have a lot to celebrate, we all know that the work has just begun and that the problems of climate change are looming larger than ever” (Click here for the full video). That being said, the work of the C40 has already been able to create a lasting environmental impact on the overall emissions of burning fossil fuels and other human technology.

By eliminating these emissions and pollutions, cities around the globe have created and continue to create a cleaner living place for 50% of the world’s population, reinvented the way we teach our children about the environment and generated a new vision for the global economy centered around green technology and a cleaner future. And, although there are those – such as Carter Eskew- who believe that the green-energy movement may have devastating effects to the overall infrastructure of cities and nations, the international community has in the past been able to overcome changes in the structure of market economies and has come out well on top.

In this case, city leaders across the international community are not just changing the landscape of the Energy market; they are forcing us to make positive changes to decades of environmental pollution while creating jobs, and educating our children on how to make a cleaner future today.

Questions for the reader:

  1. How do you think Climate Change affects your society?
  2. What can you and those around you do to limit the effects of greenhouse emissions and pollution?

Feel free to comment below, your comments are welcomed.

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