Last year, in the run-up to the UNFCCC’s summit at Katowice, 18 climate scientists released a report targeted at urban policymakers. The 30-page document was a follow-up to the IPCC’s seminal report, which had stressed on the urgency of keeping global warming to less than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. Cities, noted the scientists, hold the key — nearly 75 per cent of the global carbon footprint is due to urban activities. Mayors of several cities promised to act on the report’s recommendations. And on Monday, Copenhagen became the first city to present a plan to cancel out its carbon footprint by 2025.
The Danish capital has already reduced its GHG emissions by more than 40 per cent compared to 2005. Nearly 45 per cent of people who live in and around Copenhagen use bicycles to commute. The city also has specially-designated roads for cyclists and uses waste to generate electricity. For every unit of fossil fuel it consumes, Copenhagen plans to sell commensurate amounts of renewable energy. By the end of this year, everyone living in the Danish capital will be half-a-mile from a subway station. “Cities can change the way we behave, the way we are living, and go more green. Mayors, more than national politicians, feel the pressure to take action. We are directly responsible for our cities and our citizens, and they expect us to act,” Copenhagen’s mayor Frank Jensen has said.
Well-connected and pedestrian-friendly cities have a relatively low carbon footprint. The report of the climate scientists, released before the Katowice summit, recommends the use of “information and communication technologies to optimise public transportation efficiency, and enable vehicle sharing”. It also advocates the use of “energy-efficient buildings and infrastructure that have low or near zero-emissions”. The scientists surmise that all this will require cooperation between local, provincial and national governments. That remains the Achilles heel for cities in most parts of the world. Delhi’s never-ending pollution crisis, for example, has produced unsavoury bouts of bickering between the Centre, the city’s government, its municipality and other environmental agencies. And Copenhagen’s mayor has failed to persuade Denmark’s government to impose restrictions on diesel-guzzling vehicles in the city. But it is also becoming increasingly clear that mayors, town planners and other local authorities hold the key to the success of national commitments to mitigate global warming. The Danish capital’s experience could hold lessons for civic authorities around the world.