Perspective from Rio: Cities Doing More Than Nations on Climate

Date: 
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Written by Adam Stern
Climate Program Manager

I'm here at the Rio+20 Conference on behalf of the San Francisco Department of the Environment - participating at Earth Summit events. The recent announcement of the C40 group could be one of the most significant developments to come out of Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

Mayor Bloomberg announced on Tuesday that policies already in place in C40 cities (world's biggest emitters) would reduce GHGs by 1 gigaton (a billion metric tons) by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. They are presenting this commitment to the heads of state now negotiating the Rio sustainability agreement. The major theme is that cities are taking action on climate while nations are just talking. The mayors of C40 cities are also delivering these messages to the negotiators:

  1. C40 is working with the World Bank and other groups to standardize GHG accounting and reporting for cities.
  2. Developed countries need to transfer technology to developing nations, so that they make the necessary infrastructure investments in sustainability.
  3. National governments should remove policies that impede progress of cities in reducing emissions.
  4. Cities ought to have access to financing from the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation, not just countries.

I rode back in the shuttle with the mayors of Johannesburg and Seoul. Earlier in the day, I had useful conversations with officials about bike infrastructure in Copenhagen, congestion management in Stockholm, and general environmental policies in Mexico City. Also connected with sustainability staff from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Back in the States, LA will make an announcement on climate adaptation research/findings on Thursday, while New York plans to release results of a study of energy efficiency in buildings on Friday. All of these developments are relevant for our work in San Francisco.

Tuesday night, Mayor Paes of Rio (some here say he may be a future president of Brazil) hosted a dinner for mayors and heads of city delegations. About 75 of us visited the Mayor's official residence for great food, live Brazilian music, toasts, and conversation. I sat with my newfound pals from Barcelona. I'll never forget the thoughtful service and graciousness shown to us as guests. Rio is practicing for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

Things are getting a little crazy now that the heads of state have arrived (100+ expected). Brazilian Navy ships are patrolling the harbor and black helicopters are in the sky (right outside my hotel window), while motorcades ferry prime ministers and presidents around town, and armed soldiers guard street corners. I'm here through tonight and then back to the Bay Area.