Latin American Mayors met as part of C40 for the first time on March 27, 2015 in Buenos Aires. This marks an important victory in the fight against climate change. Mayors committed to bold actions by signing the Compact of Mayors and the 40 City Clean Bus Declaration of Intent, committing to reduce emissions and to introduce low and zero-emission buses into their existing fleets. By 2020, the 20 cities that signed the Declaration will represent total bus fleets of 142, 217 buses around the world. If all of them reach their 2020 clean bus targets, greenhouse gas emission savings would total 435, 010 tons per year.
C40 is a network of the world’s megacities tackling climate change by reducing their emissions. In September 2014, C40 launched the Compact of Mayors, a global initiative where cities publicly commit to climate action by establishing, measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas emission reductions. At the event, 20 Latin American mayors signed this Compact, committing to implement robust and meaningful climate-related actions.
C40 Chair and Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said that by signing the Compact of Mayors and the C40 City Clean Bus Declaration, “Latin American cities are leading the way in driving urban action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks, while increasing the health, wellbeing and economic opportunities of urban citizens… Mayors, through networks such as the C40, are learning from each other, exchanging ideas and thereby accelerating local action on the ground. Today's event is testament to this promising trend.”
Because actions by national governments are insufficient to tackle climate change, city action will be critical to scale up the efforts to reduce emissions, prepare for climate-related threats and mobilize finance. This is a concrete opportunity to improve citizens’ quality of life while also responding to climate change.
A watershed moment
The Latin America and the Caribbean region is relevant in this fight given that it has one of the highest urbanization rates in the world (80% of people in the region live in cities according to UN Habitat). The fact that most Latin Americans live in cities puts city planners and officials dealing with housing and transport in a critical position: countries need to ensure that urbanization in the 21st century is done differently so that social and environmental conditions improve for citizens. This does not only mean reducing energy and transportation related CO2 emissions, but also building more resilient city infrastructure to reduce vulnerabilities and adapt to climate change. For example, 73% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean currently lives in low coastal areas, and thus it will be fundamental to strengthen and further develop the necessary infrastructure to face imminent climate-related threats such as floods, sea level rise and more frequent extreme hydroclimatic events that will hit the region.
The Forum in Buenos Aires represents a crucial first step to encourage climate ambition from the bottom up in Latin America, facilitating collaborative partnerships between cities to mainstream climate change concerns in urban planning. Indeed, a horizontal information-sharing platform such as this one helps to close knowledge gaps on how to build technical capacities and access finance from international sources, which are common barriers for cities and subnational governments to upscale climate ambition. C40 has provided Latin American mayors with an opportunity to be in touch with mayors from around the world, creating a space for more cities to share successful and less successful experiences and learn lessons on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Furthermore, gathering Latin American mayors at the Forum encouraged a different type of dialogue around climate change issues, as mayors are arguably closer to people’s needs than Heads of States and are thus better positioned to determine which are the most beneficial and relevant projects to undertake.
Most importantly, the C40 Forum is helping to shape a common vision of urban development across municipalities in Latin America and the Caribbean that taps into the co-benefits of climate action to improve citizens’ lives. Citizens have already shown concern about climate-related issues, particularly regarding air quality, as a study by the Inter-American Development Bank and a recent survey in Chile show.
This is the time for Latin American city officials to listen to their citizens’ needs and demands and use these inputs to develop urban projects that are good for both people and the climate. It is also an exciting opportunity for citizens to hold municipal governments accountable for commitments made through the Mayors’ pact. Thus, municipal governments are now under both local and international pressure to deliver on their promises and keep ambition on track.
Lastly, the context of this Latin American Forum matters because of the approaching deadline of a new U.N. climate deal to be signed later this year in Paris. These Latin American municipalities are sending a strong message: subnational governments in developing countries are ready to upscale and lead climate ambition. Similarly, last week the mayors of the main capitals in Europe met in Paris and adopted a declaration on climate commitments as well. National governments need to recognize this bottom up driver for change, as local governments are needed to implement policies and work towards targets established at the national level. In fact, about 50-80% of total mitigation and adaptation actions are or will be implemented at the subnational level of governance, according to the United Nations Development Program.
A successful Paris agreement will catalyze commitments beyond those made by national governments, such as actions by municipalities, businesses and civil society. The C40 Forum is already setting the example and in some ways going further than national governments in the U.N. by engaging urban leaders of developing and developed countries in successful dialogues and by accelerating cooperation on climate change issues. These initiatives are indications that subnationals are taking the lead, nudging national governments to jump on board with them to ensure the Paris deal is signed and meets its objectives.
More information on the C40 Latin American Forum of Mayors can be found here