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City mayors take the lead on pushing for sustainable and fair recovery

By Andrew Sansom 21 Jul 2020 0

C40 Cities has released its roadmap for a green, sustainable and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, with measures aimed at better preparing for future pandemics, addressing systemic injustices, and keeping global heating below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement.

The C40 Mayors’ ‘Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery’ includes a number of measures some of which are already being delivered in many cities around the world. They include green job creation programmes; increased rights and support for all workers whose efforts have proved essential during the COVID-19 crisis; investments in green industries such as guaranteed access to resilient public services, particularly for the most vulnerable; building retrofit programmes; investing in safe and reliable mass transit; and new protected spaces for pedestrians and cyclists.

The mayors have also vowed to take action on health and wellbeing – giving public space back to people and nature, reclaiming streets, and guaranteeing clean air for liveable communities. Specific actions include:

  • creating ‘15-minute cities’ where all residents of the city are able to meet most of their needs within a short walk or bicycle ride from their homes;
  • giving streets back to people, by permanently reallocating more road space to walking and cycling, investing in city-wide walking and cycling networks, and green infrastructure; and
  • building with nature to prioritise ‘nature-based solutions’, for example, parks, green roofs, and permeable pavements, to help reduce the risks of extreme heat, drought and flooding, and improve liveability and physical and mental health.

Call to action

The Agenda is underpinned by six pledges and a call to action.

First is the condition that any stimulus must be green. Governments and multilateral agencies should invest in a green and just recovery by conditioning all stimulus packages and corporate aid to support investment in sustainable, climate-resilient industries and infrastructure.

Second comes a commitment to an equitable and inclusive recovery. Plans and investments for the recovery need to address the root causes of economic inequalities by, including, among other things, providing direct and equitable access to green jobs and equal employment opportunities in a transition to a low-carbon economy.

Third is a commitment to invest, subsidise and support affordable zero-emission mass transit. To maintain clean air and prioritise the health of citizens, governments must use stimulus funds to make public transportation more accessible, reliable, frequent, affordable, well-integrated, safe, and more resilient in the face of future potential crises. Governments, the Agenda argues, must also make it easier for cities to procure electric buses while reallocating road space to public transit, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Prioritising and investing in clean energy is a further policy. This would see investment in renewable energy and building retrofit city programmes help create thousands of jobs, save on energy bills, and protect people’s health and safety, with more energy-efficient and healthier homes and offices.

The penultimate pledge involves investment in resilient cities as the engines of the recovery. National governments, international financial institutions, multilateral development banks, and other relevant financial entities are encouraged to channel financial support directly to cities and ensure they can easily access necessary finance.

Finally, the Agenda calls for an end to all public fossil fuel investments and subsidies. “It has been 11 years since G20 governments pledged in Pittsburgh to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, yet no action has been taken,” says the C40 Cities document. “With a clear need to invest in clean power, public transport, and cities, and fossil fuel prices at historic lows, all national governments must decisively move away from investments in high carbon and fossil fuel-intensive industries and increase investments in a low-carbon future.”

The Mayors’ Agenda makes clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has starkly exposed deep inequalities in cities and across cities in different regions of the world, including by disproportionately impacting black people, Indigenous communities and people of colour, low-income communities, isolated elderly, and those living in informal settlements. The C40 mayors haved vowed to address these injustices and are calling on national governments to ensure stimulus investment and recovery funds create more just and inclusive societies and communities, as well as directly addressing long-standing inequalities and ongoing discrimination based on race, gender and income.  

The Mayors’ Agenda was released by the C40 Global Mayors’ COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, established at the direction of C40 chair and Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, and chaired by Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala. 

Said Mayor Garcetti: “Mayors see the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis as they are: global challenges that pose massive threats to our lives and livelihoods – and demand urgent action to correct structural inequities, improve public health, and create more inclusive economies. The way we shape our recovery will define our cities for generations to come, and this C40 agenda will leverage the collective power that mayors wield to help protect our planet and lay the foundation for a more just and resilient future.”

Mayor Sala said: “Right at the outset of the pandemic, C40 mayors felt the need to collaborate even more closely, to be able to rapidly learn from each other and take the most appropriate decisions to tackle the COVID-19 challenge. A visionary Mayoral Task Force was created to elaborate on a pathway towards a new, better normal, to the benefit of all cities of the world. The future of our cities is built on this collective strong vision for a green and just recovery.”

Deep wounds inflicted

Michael Bloomberg, C40 board president and Mayor of New York City for more than a decade up to 2013, lamented that the coronavirus pandemic had inflicted deep wounds in communities across America and the world. “City leaders are now driving the response and working not just to repair the damage but to build a greener, healthier and more equitable world,” he said. “The new C40 Mayors’ Agenda provides them with a roadmap to do it. And with their leadership, we can recover in a way that strengthens communities, protects public health, and fulfils the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres applauded the city mayors for their leadership in confronting the COVID-19 public health crisis, and seeking to reduce inequality and address the climate crisis. “City mayors understand that we must take action that protects people’s lives and livelihoods now and in the future, by recovering better and building a more resilient and sustainable economy,” he said. “Cities are agents and engines of change and they can deliver solutions that will reduce carbon emissions to get to carbon neutrality by 2050 while creating better and more sustainable jobs.”

Activist groups also welcomed the mayors’ commitment. May Boeve, executive director of international movement organisation, said the COVID crisis had “pulled back the veil” that there wasn’t enough money in national budgets to save the planet. And it had also shone a light on the injustices felt by black, Asian and minority ethnic groups.

“Building back better means seeing the struggles for racial equality and environmental justice as one and the same,” she said. “A just recovery includes justice for black and brown communities who have lived on the front lines of poverty and pollution and in the shadows of fossil fuel infrastructure. We have an opportunity to change that and make things right. We join the C40 Mayors in calling on governments around the globe to launch a just recovery.”
Providing inspiration

And praise was also forthcoming from the business world. Dr María Mendiluce, chiefe executive of the We Mean Business coalition, said: “We must collectively accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy that is inclusive and works for everyone, creates good jobs, ensures clean air, and increases resilience to systemic shocks like climate change. Businesses, national governments and other cities should take confidence and inspiration from the C40 mayors’ principles for a green and just recovery.”

Ben Smith, director, energy, cities and climate change, at design and engineering firm Arup, added: “It’s been so positive to see the number of C40 Mayors using the C40 network to share knowledge and ideas about a green recovery post-COVID-19, and to see how quickly C40 has been able to organise, host, collate and make available useful content to support cities around the world. In delivering climate action, it’s possible to also prioritise other benefits – like job creation, citizen engagement, improved health and wellbeing and nature recovery, all vital for a green recovery. Mayors can also inspire other leaders – in national government and in the private sector.”