C40: 2021 in focus

Animation by Rosanna Wan

This year, C40 Cities took momentous strides on climate action. Cities have continued to adapt and push for a green and just recovery that remedies the dual crises currently facing our planet: the COVID-19 pandemic, and the climate crisis. How we emerge from this moment, and what we do now will determine the future of humanity and life on our planet.

From President Biden signing an order for the U.S. to re-join the Paris Agreement to ambitious declarations across a range of pressing issues launching at COP26, this year saw no shortage of ground-breaking developments.

Here, we look back at some of C40’s major achievements this year, all of which are helping to pave the way towards a greener, more equitable world where everyone can thrive.

Making young people’s voices heard

To ensure the voices of young people are heard, valued, and present in climate policies, C40 launched the Global Youth and Mayors Forum in April 2021. Part of the C40 Global Youth Initiative, this first-of-its-kind forum brings together mayors and young people from around the world to advance ideas on climate action.

One of the forum’s biggest goals is working towards a Global Green New Deal that can be adopted in cities across the world. The deal encompasses a holistic, intersectional approach that combines action on climate, social and economic justice — recognising that these interconnected issues can only be solved in tandem with each other.

© Sarah Bastin / C40

The forum also helps cities to better engage and work with young people, as well as promoting science-based climate action.

Most recently, members of the C40 Global Youth and Mayors Forum worked together to create a playbook that will help strengthen meaningful youth engagement in climate action in cities globally.

For climate action to be truly inclusive and equitable, we must ensure that those most affected by the climate crisis have a seat at the table. By giving a platform to the next generation of global leaders, as well as developing and sharing best practice on youth engagement, C40 is creating a stronger foundation for future action.

A call for vaccine equity

No one is safe from COVID-19 until we are all safe — and we cannot achieve climate justice without also addressing the pandemic. Recognising that these urgent, interconnected issues require a global response, C40 mayors have sent out a message to the world on why we urgently need vaccine equity.

In May 2021, mayors released a statement calling for “fairer, faster, and more affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines.” While the virus is receding in some parts of the world, and our knowledge of it continues to grow, repeated waves and mutations are threatening the stability of society.

The richest are taking the largest share of vaccines — with 84% of all doses administered in high and upper-middle income nations. In light of this situation, mayors also emphasise the importance of World Trade Organization members waiving intellectual property rights, which would accelerate the manufacture and distribution of vaccines in developing countries.

As well as highlighting the ingenuity and resilience of the global community in its fight to contain the virus, the statement also notes that C40 cities would continue to support each other by “sharing advice and experience on effective public health approaches to stop transmission of the virus and –[achieve] a fast and comprehensive vaccination of our residents.”

A future with nature

This year, C40 cities pledged to increase and enhance nature in their urban environments with the Urban Nature Declaration. Recognising that nature breathes life into cities, C40 is putting solutions from the natural world at the centre of making cities greener and more resilient.

© Svetlana Zhukova / Getty Images

This ambitious declaration recognises the role played by nature in reducing urban climate risk and vulnerability, and supporting wider ecosystems. It also includes a pledge to ensure natural spaces are equitably distributed and publicly accessible by 2030.

The declaration was accompanied by 11 Letters to Nature penned by C40 cities from Cape Town to Copenhagen, sharing people’s love for nature in their cities — and highlighting the difference that prioritising nature-based solutions can make to people’s livelihoods.

Cleaner energy for cities

Cities are at the centre of the global energy transition. They are responsible for around two-thirds of global energy use and are home to over 55% of the global population. This means that cities both influence and are influenced by the energy transition, along with the impact of this transition on our climate, our health and our economies.

Mayors from 15 cities joined the C40 Renewable Energy Declaration in September 2021, committing to power their communities with renewable energy and expand access to clean, affordable electricity for millions of urban residents.

© zhangxiaomin / Getty Images

Cities will not be able to achieve their climate goals without first decarbonising their energy use. Prioritising renewable energy and joining this declaration puts cities on the right path.

As the Mayor of Los Angeles and former C40 Chair Eric Garcetti summarised: “Through this declaration, C40 cities are showing the world that relying on renewable energy is not only possible, but more affordable, equitable, and sustainable.”

A just transition that works for everyone

Coal-free cities

Coal has no place in a climate-safe world. It is the largest source of energy in the world, responsible for 38% of global electricity generation and accounting for more than 30% of energy-related CO2 emissions. To remain below the 1.5°C threshold, coal capacity in and around C40 cities needs to decrease by 61% between 2020 and 2030.

This year, C40 released a new report, Coal-free cities: the health and economic case for a clean energy revolution, which explores the impact of coal-fired electricity generation on greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, health, jobs and energy costs in C40 cities. Based on detailed modelling and analysis of 61 C40 cities, the report demonstrates a clear case for the rapid phase-out of coal and a transition to clean energy.

Creating local jobs

Earlier this year, C40 unveiled new research, Creating local green jobs in the United States and Italy, which highlights the emissions reduction, jobs and cost benefits from implementing ambitious climate action in U.S. and Italian cities.

The results, quantified for the 2020–2030 decade, found that cities in the United States and Italy can create nearly 38 million and over 1.1 million jobs, respectively, from investing in local mitigation and adaptation actions.

Racing to net zero

COP26 saw no end of ambitious pledges, including the announcement that over 1,000 cities and local governments have committed to the Cities Race to Zero initiative — the biggest subnational announcement to be made at a COP. The campaign has united cities to demonstrate their support for inclusive climate action and commit to halving global emissions by 2030. Led by previous C40 Chair and Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, the campaign’s 1,000 city milestone was announced at C40’s Our Last, Big Chance event on the second day of COP26.

Mayor Garcetti said: “Today, more than 1,000 cities stood united around a historic commitment to make this decade one of exponential action toward a green and just future. Cities are leading the way to save our planet, invest in our people, and leave no one behind.”

The wider Cities Race To Zero campaign brings together all kinds of stakeholders, and supports communities in the push towards a resilient, zero-carbon recovery that will protect us from future threats, provide decent jobs and unlock sustainable growth that works for everyone.

Cities joining this initiative have committed to a range of principles, including keeping global heating below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. In the interest of accountability, as of 2022 every city must provide an annual report on the progress they have made towards meeting these targets. Global city partners C40, ICLEI, the Global Covenant of Mayors, CDP, UCLG, WRI and WWF will work together to turn these goals into a reality.

C40’s new Chair takes the helm

COP26 also saw Mayor Garcetti pass the C40 Chair baton to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan — who formally took over the role on 1 December 2021.

After thanking Mayor Garcetti for his leadership, Mayor Khan remarked: “Cities are leading the way when it comes to tackling the climate emergency.” The new Chair’s track record in London bodes well for future C40 action — from being one of the first leaders in the world to declare a climate emergency to taking bold action on toxic air pollution with the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), a first-of-its-kind programme.

© Maurizio Martorana / C40

Representing a network of nearly 100 cities and 700 million people across the world, Mayor Khan is responsible for raising the bar on climate ambition and advocating for the role of cities in confronting the climate crisis. Some of his ambitious priorities include:

  • Directing two-thirds of C40’s funding to the Global South.
  • Tackling air pollution with the Breathe Global initiative, which will deploy air quality measures to nearly 100 cities worldwide.
  • Expanding C40’s Global Green New Deal programme.

With each passing year, cities are boldly scaling up their commitments and action for a more sustainable and equitable future for all. And while there is still much work to be done, it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made thanks to the tireless work of mayors across the C40 network and beyond. Cities are making a concrete difference to the lives of people everywhere while tackling the climate emergency and building a better, more equitable world for current and future generations.

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