New York City’s former three-term mayor, Michael Bloomberg, a prominent climate advocate who launched a string of green measures in office, from a bike-sharing system to painting black rooftops heat-reflecting white. He has co-authored Climate of Hope with Carl Pope, a former chairman of the US Sierra Club environmental group, in what amounts to an extended meditation on a technocratic, pro-business approach to climate action. Forget “doom-and-gloom” green activist scaremongering and tired Washington debates about climate change, they say. Look instead at how climate policies also happen to create what people want: more jobs, cleaner air, lower energy bills and a generally superior quality of urban life. Bloomberg and Pope are at their best when offering concrete examples of local governments overcoming obstacles to cutting emissions. One of the most important things a mayor can do, for instance, is build cleaner public transport systems that cut polluting, congested traffic. Cities often lack the credit ratings needed to fund such projects, especially in poorer countries. Climate of Hope explains how the World Bank helped the Peruvian capital of Lima secure a better credit rating that allowed the city to borrow $130m to upgrade its bus rapid transit system. Kolkata in India is among other cities taking similar steps. Yet the book also details the many setbacks that even the mayor of a powerful city such as New York can face. Bloomberg was once keen to borrow an idea from London and impose congestion charges on drivers entering the city centre. The plan proved reasonably popular with New Yorkers. The city’s newspapers largely backed it even though, as Bloomberg writes, “they can barely agree on the time of day”. The city council voted to approve it. But the scheme was killed off by the state legislature in Albany. “So much for democracy,” writes Bloomberg. Those seeking an intellectual framework for such action could turn to Cool Cities by Benjamin Barber, a US political theorist and author who died in April. Here he builds on themes that underpinned his 1995 bestseller, Jihad vs McWorld, arguing for more decentralised models of democracy that empower local organisations and give less weight to nation-states. Barber makes the case that sovereign rulers are no longer meeting their side of the bargain on which their legitimacy rests, because they are failing to protect citizens from the calamitous threat of climate change. At the same time, increasingly wealthy cities tend to be “more ‘progressive’ and cosmopolitan” than states, which are often beholden to rural and suburban interests. Urban centres champion gay rights, gun control and – increasingly – climate action. Yet these goals are frequently blocked by what Barber derides as “a gridlocked and parochial national government that once purported to represent ‘universal values’ “. Barber’s solution lies in groups such as the Global Parliament of Mayors, which met for the first time in September 2016 in The Hague in a move he describes as “a momentous if partial step on the road to urban empowerment”. Yet the question remains: can thousands of very different cities really come up with a collective agreement on how to cut their emissions? And, more to the point, why would this multitude fare any better than the nearly 200 countries that have spent more than 20 years trying to negotiate a meaningful global climate deal? Barber is dismissive of the Paris accord. Bloomberg and Pope think cities helped strengthen it. They suggest in Climate of Hope that a cities summit hel d in Paris while the global agreement was being negotiated influenced that deal’s inclusion of a reporting provision, which allowed each nation’s progress on cutting emissions to be tracked. This will be news to the national government negotiators who spent years ironing out precisely this fraught point in the lead-up to the accord’s adoption.
FT 8th June 2017 read more »