BOGOTA, Feb 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Whether grappling with rising sea levels, drought or floods, mayors of cities worldwide are increasingly on the frontline of efforts to help communities prepare better for the impacts of climate change as it hikes the risk of disasters.
With cities home to over half the world’s population and producing more than 80 percent of global economic output, mayors are also driving climate action by adopting renewable energy and cleaner methods of transport.
Jenny Durkan, mayor of the U.S. city of Seattle, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement, a global pact to curb climate change, and his support for fossil fuels have prompted city leaders to step up.
“Mayors have been galvanised in America, and now will be taking more unified steps than perhaps they would have been when they had to rely on federal partners,” Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
“Our federal government unfortunately has completely backed away from all their commitments (on climate change) ... so the leadership on this front has to come from state and local government,” she added.
Seattle, a port city with low-lying areas, already faces worsening flood risk due to higher seas and more frequent torrential rains, exacerbated by global warming, Durkan said.
“Climate change is huge for us. We’ve had extreme weather conditions shifting,” she said. “Cities are not going to wait.”
To help curb climate change, Seattle is focused on cutting carbon emissions by promoting clean energy and a green economy, a key source of jobs, Durkan said.
This means a move away from burning fossil fuels - which scientists say is one of the lead causes of climate change - towards renewable sources of power.
Durkan highlighted her city’s drive to get more electric cars on the road, with the recent launch of new electric vehicle charging stations and parking areas. Taxis are next on the list.
Initiatives to curb climate change and make cities more resilient to disaster threats will be on the agenda at a meeting of mayors and business leaders in Mexico City next week.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski, one of a group of female mayors attending the second Women4Climate conference organised by the C40 urban climate change alliance, said a shift in snowfall patterns is one way the U.S. city is experiencing climate change, which could lead to drought.
“We’re already talking about what we need to do on making sure that we have enough water for the year,” including cutting down water usage over the spring time, said Biskupski, a former Utah Democratic state lawmaker.
Salt Lake City is gradually switching from coal as a source of power to renewables like solar, and is on track to meet its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2032, she said.
As part of that process, it will be necessary to replace jobs in communities that have relied on the coal industry for employment, she added.
In Latin America, making cities more resilient is a priority as they are home to about 80 percent of the population in the world’s most urbanised region, according to the United Nations.
Common challenges facing Latin American mayors are how to contain urban sprawl, combat traffic gridlock and cut high pollution levels.
But with the world’s most violent cities and highest murder rates, building resilience in the region goes beyond heading off disasters like floods to coping with social stresses.
“The focus on crime in Latin America is still very high,” said Isabel Beltran, associate director for Latin America and the Caribbean with 100 Resilient Cities, a project backed by The Rockefeller Foundation to help cities face up to modern-day pressures. “Crime erodes resilience and the social fabric of the city.”
Mayors, she said, have the power to “implement change” and strengthen their cities, but more investment is needed.
“One of the challenges is to have a line of budget dedicated to resilience,” Beltran said.
For Maurice Armitage, mayor of Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city, wider access to education is key to fighting crime, and in turn making the city safer. That involves getting young men off the streets, away from gangs, and into schools and job training schemes.
Armitage’s administration is investing heavily in building 150 new schools with earthquake-resistant features. In addition, the city is working on social problems.
"Our jails are full, our cemeteries are full - we have to stop that," he said. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)