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Cities Lead Effort to Curb Climate Change as Nations Lag

Seoul Restores Streams and Trees Amongst High-Rises
The Cheonggye stream was restored in 2005 and flows through high-rise buildings in central Seoul. The downtown stream was buried under layers of concrete before its restoration, but has turned into one of the most attractive tourist spots in the capital. Photographer: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading an effort by 58 of the world’s largest cities to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while federal governments struggle to meet global targets following two decades of discussions.

The member-cities of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group produce about 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Their actions to improve energy efficiency and invest in renewable power will reduce emissions by 248 million metric tons in 2020, Bloomberg said on a conference call. The cities can cut emissions by more than 1 billion tons by 2030, or the equivalent annual output from Mexico and Canada.

Mayors, who have oversight of agencies responsible for more than three quarters of urban emissions, may be able to implement policies faster than federal governments, former U.S. President Bill Clinton said on the call. Cities that enact new rules and regulations and share their findings may help nations meet global environmental targets, such as reducing methane emissions from landfills, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

“We can buy the world another 10 to 20 years from the worst effects of global warming if we go after methane,” Clinton said on the call. “It will improve the quality of life for everyone.”

The C40 group’s effort to reduce methane emissions will start in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the suburbs of Jakarta, Rachel Kyte, vice president for sustainable development at the World Bank, said today at a C40 press conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Garbage Doubling

“The volume of garbage is going to double over the next 15 years,” she said. Taking steps to address emissions from that waste will be a “triple win,” by improving health, curbing climate change and making cities more livable. “Cities are the crucibles of innovation and it’s all going to start here.”

The C40 mayors are urging world leaders to pursue sustainability initiatives at the Rio+20 conference, where delegates from 190 nations will discuss steps to eradicate poverty while stemming environmental degradation. The event marks two decades since the first Earth Summit.

Eduardo Paes, the city’s mayor, said he wants to close landfills on the shores of Guanabara Bay. “It’s not permissible to have a city hosting the Earth Summit and 20 years later we still have these landfills, he said at the press briefing.

Cities including Hong Kong, Sydney, Los Angeles and New York have undertaken more than 5,000 actions to cut emissions since the C40 was formed in 2005. Today they are starting an effort to share methods of reducing methane from landfills with support from the World Bank and the U.S. State Department.

Living Longer

‘‘Life expectancy in New York City is now three years longer than the national average,’’ Bloomberg said. ‘‘There’s no question that if you clean the air and clean the water, it improves lives.’’

Clinton chastised world leaders for failing to enact policies to curb climate change, sometimes because environmental goals are hindered by the political process. Mayors have fewer barriers to enacting sustainability policies, and are leading by example, he said. ‘‘The power of example is more powerful than a speech by a head of state.’’

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News’s parent, Bloomberg LP.

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