Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Climate change legislation -- "cap and trade" as Republicans called it on the campaign trail -- took a serious beating last week. A bill, as you may recall, passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but went nowhere in the U.S. Senate, and prospects seem dim for federal action on climate change in the near term. Instead, the debate -- and any action -- will likely take place on the smaller stage of city halls across the nation. To underline this (and perhaps his own national ambitions) -- New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is the new head of a global cities climate "leadership group," spent time riding the subways and stumping for his cause in Hong Kong over the weekend. Here' s an excerpt of his speech:
“Let me start out by saying, my colleagues: it was just five short years ago that 18 of the world’s great cities came together, to share best practices and make common cause in the greatest global challenge of our time – and that is reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute so heavily to climate change.
“We all recognized that cities – where for the first time in history, half the world’s population now live and which together account for more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas production – holds the future of humanity.
“It is in the power of all of us sitting in this room to fulfill that future with promise, not peril. And we recognize that the tasks before us are not simple ones. We’ve seen, I think again and again, how national governments have struggled, both at home and on the international stage, to take climate change actions.
“Cities must learn from that experience. We must be bolder. We must be more collaborative. And we must be more determined. Together, we have to fill the vacuum of leadership ourselves.
“And it’s true that this vacuum puts heavy burdens of responsibilities on all of us. But my colleagues, we must shoulder them. We must, not only because some of the greatest hazards of climate change – such as rising sea levels and increasingly extreme and destructive weather patterns – threaten our cities most directly.
“We must, not only because the positive steps that we take, here and now, can bless the people we serve with greater health and prosperity, but we also must act now, because failing would shift even heavier burdens onto the backs of our children, and their children. And as stewards of our cities, this is not a legacy we are willing to accept. And it is why this organization must continue to grow even stronger, even more active, and even more ambitious.
“From its original nucleus of 18 cities, as you know the C40 group has expanded to now include 40 members and 19 affiliates. Its partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative, and with former President Clinton, has built it into one great organization – one befitting our role in the world.
“Because together, the cities that we represent in C40 account for approximately 21 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product. Roughly 12 percent of the world’s carbon emissions are produced in our metropolitan areas. And nearly one of every 12 people on Earth lives in or near our city limits.
“Our profile is so high and impact so great that the actions we take often produce positive ripple effects around the globe. London, for example, instituted congestion pricing as a way to reduce auto emissions and support mass transit – and today at least nine other C40 cities have followed suit, or are now prepared to.
“Bogotá’s extensive ‘bus rapid transit’ system now moves more than one million people through the streets of that city each day – and other cities, including my own, are following Bogotá’s lead. Our host city of Hong Kong, like Sao Paulo and other municipalities across the globe, is replacing fossil fuels with organic waste as a way to generate electricity.
“And I’m proud to say that under our administration, New York has enacted a set of green building laws that mandate the most ambitious effort that any city in the United States has yet taken to make existing buildings more energy-efficient. Implementing these laws will save New Yorkers $700 million a year in energy costs, greatly enhance our economic competitiveness, create more that 17,000 much-needed new jobs and shrink our carbon footprint by a size equivalent to that of an entire city of roughly half a million people.
“These measures are key elements in our competitive PlaNYC program to reduce greenhouse gas output in New York City by 30 percent by the year 2030 – an agenda that we unveiled on Earth Day in 2007, and that we will present in updated form at the Sao Paulo summit next May.
“Over the past five years, our cities have, in short, demonstrated that we are prepared to boldly confront climate change. As mayors, we know that we don’t have the luxury of simply talking about change without delivering it. As Mayor Miller put it in Copenhagen: ‘Nations talk; cities act.’