Speaking at this year’s Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation in Bonn, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa warned that the impacts of climate change are “an incredible risk” to many cities throughout the world. “They will affect their infrastructure, their economies, and the lives of people living there. But we can avoid the worst of these impacts if we act now to increase our action and investment towards climate change,” Ms. Espinosa said.
The UN’s top climate change official also said that the bulk of action to cut greenhouse gas emissions must happen in the world’s cities, and that the Talanoa Dialogue – the international conversation in which countries and non-Party stakeholders will check progress and seek to increase global ambition to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement – can serve as model for of communicating with private citizens in cities. Read the full speech here:
I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the great work that you do related to the future of our cities. You are valuable partners.
We meet at the height of spring, a season that is about growth and new energy—we’ll need it!
We have much work ahead of us: not only this congress, but the climate negotiations over the next two weeks here, and important climate meetings happening throughout the world for the remainder of the year.
These are busy days, but never has our work been more needed or more urgent.
2017 made this clear—it was nothing less than a climate disaster for many people throughout the world.
Whether it was flooding, fire, droughts or the devastation of entire island states such as Barbuda, we saw millions of people who lost homes, livelihoods or lives because of extreme weather.
We saw this in both developed and developing states alike.
Every credible scientific source at our disposal tells us one thing: the impacts of climate change aren’t going to get better, they’re going to get worse.
And these impacts are an incredible risk to many cities throughout the world. They will affect their infrastructure, their economies, and the lives of people living there.
Cities such as Osaka, with 5.2 million people at risk.
Cities such as Alexandria, with 3 million people at risk.
Cities such as Rio de Janeiro, with 1.8 million people at risk.
But we can avoid the worst of these impacts if we act now to increase our action and investment towards climate change.
And that action must happen in our cities.
As I mentioned at COP23, cities are where the climate battle will be won or lost.
That makes your work at this congress very important. And we are pleased it takes place through the Talanoa Dialogue.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Dialogue—an initiative on behalf of the Government of Fiji—is an international conversation, held in a spirit of openness, to determine if we’re meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, and to increase global ambition towards them.
While it is not a top-down exercise, we are looking for answers to both general and specific questions.
First, are we achieving our climate goals? Why or why not? What will get us there? What will get us there faster? What do you want the world to look like in 20 or 30 years?
More specifically, you are here to exchange knowledge that will help build a sustainable and resilient urban future.
That means developing the strategic partnerships you need.
It also means untangling the many challenges that will stand in the way of truly integrated and inclusive action.
It’s not an easy task, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Building stronger, more resilient cities is about more than protecting financial assets—although those are very important.
And it’s about more than protecting our rivers, our coastlines and our cities—although those are also very important.
It’s about seizing the opportunity to craft a better future—one built on a clean, green and sustainable foundation.
A future where we move away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable sources of energy.
A future where we are better prepared to respond to risk, better prepared to deal with climate emergencies…
…and by linking our climate goals to our overall sustainable development goals, a future where we are better prepared to address some of the biggest challenges humanity faces.
Because climate change is intricately linked to issues such as poverty, security, migration, gender representation and many more.
We are seeing an incredible momentum for action in cities and regions throughout the world.
We’re seeing it in the United States where the State of California strengthened its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions—they’re targeting 100% renewable energy by 2045.
We’re seeing it in the City of Los Angeles, which aims to significantly reduce its urban heat totals over 20 years by establishing strong cool roofing requirements.
We’re seeing it in cities throughout China which are embracing the Low Carbon City Initiative, which aims to improve energy efficiency in their industry, construction and transportation sectors.
And we’re seeing it in cities such as Athens, Barcelona, and Paris, which have not only mapped their urban heat, but also their vulnerable populations. Together, they’re working to ensure their citizens have access to cool places on hot days.
These are only a few examples of cities taking action. But we need more action and we need it duplicated throughout the world on a massive scale.
You can help make this possible.
I know it’s easier said than done. I understand jurisdictional complexity—I’m from one of the biggest cities in the world.
But I also understand that cities are where citizens are most directly connected to their governments.
It’s where people have the most influence and where we can communicate most effectively.
Let me now turn to three ways that I feel cities can do even more to contribute to our global climate goals, their country’s climate action plan, and improve their resiliency.
The first thing cities can do is incorporate climate change into what they’re doing right now. From infrastructure to finance to procurement, the opportunities are endless.
This includes expanding transit to include electric busses, as we’ve seen here in Bonn.
Or making buildings more efficient by using sustainable material, just as we’re seeing in many cities in India.
On the finance front, making resilient infrastructure investments, growing green bond options, and helping to establish stable, clean energy markets are also important ways cities can contribute.
Second, cities must incorporate climate change and sustainability into their future planning.
If cities can assess the impacts of climate change and sustainability and then incorporate these threats into planning, growth is going to become smarter and more sustainable.
This just makes sense. It’s proactive instead of reactive. And it’s going to drive both innovation and a dynamic economy.
Third, cities must communicate with citizens about climate change in ways that matter to them.
Lack of knowledge and the assumption that it’s very difficult to contribute are perhaps the greatest roadblocks we face when it comes to tackling climate change. Let’s then open a dialogue with people about what matters to them.
They need to hear and read more stories about how resilient and better-prepared cities are going to be not only safer, cleaner and healthier for themselves and their families, but how these cities are where 21st century businesses will want to be.
In fact, we encourage you to use the idea of the Talanoa Dialogue as a model for of communicating with private citizens in your cities. The idea of sharing information in an inclusive, bottom-up manner is an excellent example to use.
Ladies and gentlemen, rather than standing at a crossroads, we stand at the edge of opportunity.
Yes, an opportunity to build a future that is safer, cleaner, greener and more resilient, but also a future that is more prosperous.
But that work begins here by building the necessary partnerships and sharing the needed information. Break down the barriers that stand in your way and work together to reduce jurisdictional hurdles.
In the end, building more resilient cities means nothing less than investing in our own futures.
And this has the benefit of helping the world achieve its global climate goals and the closely-linked sustainable development goals that will benefit all of humanity.
Building resilience. A safer, cleaner and healthier future. Ongoing prosperity—it’s one and the same.
All of this is necessary. All of this is possible. All of it is achievable if we work together at all levels.