The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 for short) kicks off this week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Next American City will provide daily coverage of the summit by way of dispatches from Editor in Chief Diana Lind and correspondent Greg Scruggs.
In Rio today, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new initiative, undertaken by the 59 member cities participating in the C40 cities program, to reduce their collective carbon output by 1.3 billion tonnes over the next 18 years. To put this number in perspective, that’s about the same amount of carbon emissions from Mexico and Canada combined in 2008.
Bloomberg said that these commitments stand in sharp contrast to the official discussions negotiated on behalf of countries, noting that national leaders can’t even agree on shared targets, much less implement them. While mayors have smaller budgets than their federal counterparts, Bloomberg has frequently said, their pragmatism helps them achieve goals.
Participating cities will try to achieve these carbon reductions in a variety of ways. Bangkok and Rio will implement more public transit, while New York will continue to make its large buildings more efficient through the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. Melbourne’s municipal operations will become carbon neutral using a market incentive: U.S. businesses will seek to purchase the Aussie city’s carbon offsets, which will in turn increase its use of renewable energy. (The global carbon offset market has an estimated value of between $100 million and $130 million a year, and is expected to soon grow rapidly.)
C40 cities account for 14 percent of the world’s emissions. For his part, Bloomberg has seen New York’s carbon footprint shrink by 13 percent during his tenure.
While the initiative sets an impressive and worthwhile goal, one wonders if the singular focus on carbon ignores other priorities, such as resource management, chemical pollutants and social issues. However, it is hard to quibble with the effort. After a series of panel discussions about what we should do to become a more sustainable global society, it’s great to see some politicians trying to get actual work done.