Cities to the Rescue

When national governments respond to the climate emergency by putting their heads in the sand, cities can still save the day

October 7, 2019

12:24 pm

Pittsburgh, as you’re probably aware, is not a country. It is not a republic, has no standing army, and no currency or stamps of its own. It does have pirates, but they are baseball-playing pirates.

And besides, having pirates grants you no seat at the table for international conferences, such as the Paris Climate Agreement — the international accord that brought 196 countries together in unanimous support of taking action to, among other things, limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

Pittsburgh Pirates' PNC Park (credit: Joshua Peacock/@jcpeacock)

Regardless of Pittsburgh’s country-less status, it nevertheless announced last week that it will incorporate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals “into its practices, planning and policies, an initiative that will affect more than $4 billion worth of public and private projects in the region during the next 12 years.”

Mayor Bill Pedutto, who was in Paris during the 2015 Paris climate conference (aka COP 21), noted (as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) that “the goals will help inform coordinated and collaborative programs and partnerships with universities and nonprofit, business and civic sectors, and establish the city as a leader in achieving a more sustainable and equitable future.”

Pittsburgh thus becomes the second U.S. city to formally adopt the goals, following New York City, which did so last year. This summer, New York State followed eight other states that have passed clean-energy policies, adopting “the country’s most ambitious climate targets, including 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and economy-wide, net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” This follows the 2017 announcement that New York, California, and Washington State would form an alliance “aimed at meeting the U.S. climate goals,” specifically to counter the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris accord.

The lesson here? As critical as it is for the world’s UN Member States to work independently and together to achieve internal unilateral and cross-border multilateral targets, the UN’S SDGs can still be achieved if other bodies work to circumvent intransigent bodies with ties to the fossil-fuel industry.

Consider the NGO C40 Cities, a powerhouse network of 90+ global megacities around the world, representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy. “Mayors of the C40 cities are committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level,” the group’s website notes, “as well as to cleaning the air we breathe.”

One example of a C40 initiative is the Green and Healthy Streets pledge, in which mayors of 26 C40 cities have promised to “procure only zero-emission buses from 2025 and ensure that major areas of their city are zero emission by 2030.” This step, the organization noted, “will prevent 11,000 premature deaths per year, from air pollution.”

One of those 26 cities is Pittsburgh, which is also one of 72 cities that has committed to “develop ambitious climate action plans by 2020 and become emissions neutral by no later than 2050.”

So, in essence, when the world more than ever needs its citizens to come together to achieve the SDGs and combat the climate emergency, we can take comfort knowing that, even if our leaders in Washington, D.C., and other global capitals have their head in the sand, Pittsburgh is working with Paris, Addis Ababa, Barcelona, Dar es Salaam, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, London, Montreal, Qingdao, Yokohama, and 61 other international metropolises to keep our heads above water.

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