Youth activists are calling for action to reduce carbon, cities can show how this is done

The Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike on March 19th was a reminder of the monumental changes that need to happen to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. Cities and regional authorities have it in their power to make a significant contribution, says Raymond Johansen, Mayor of Oslo, and Mark Watts from C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Small changes within cities can go along way in the race to a net zero economy

The past few months have seen a number of major new commitments by national governments to achieve carbon neutrality within the next few decades. These are certainly encouraging, but unfortunately, nowhere near enough to prevent runaway climate breakdown. We need to at least halve emissions in the next ten years if we are to have any chance of limiting global heating to the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement. Without these rapid cuts, we can expect to face food and water shortages, sea-level rise, and an increase in climate-related disasters. These consequences will not be shared equally, as poorer countries will be the most affected despite being the least responsible for global emissions.

As the Fridays for Future movement has stated, the climate crisis is here now, and we need concrete, immediate, action in line with the science, not distant goals. Among their demands is a call for people in charge to prioritise annual short-term carbon targets, factoring in justice and equity, to avoid the worst-case scenarios. Whether national governments heed this call remains to be seen, but cities, responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions, are well-placed to forge ahead with ambitious yearly carbon-budgeting.

CLIMATE BUDGET

In Oslo, climate measures are viewed not only as an urgent responsibility but as an opportunity to make the city a better place to live. Once busy streets are turning into spacious, traffic-free pedestrian areas with further investment in public transport and cycle lanes. Work is underway to restore fjords, rivers, parks and recreational areas. The transition to zero emissions must also build green jobs and reduce inequality.

The work enjoys high levels of public support, and several municipalities in Norway are now copying Oslo.

As Fridays for Future have said, our global carbon budget is fast running out, and we need action here and now to cut emissions. In Oslo, we have taken these actions because we cannot wait to reduce emissions, and this cannot be left for somewhere else, at another time, and by someone else. Our experience shows that cities can lead in setting ambitious annual targets to reduce emissions and make climate action a priority across all areas of government. Now the goal is to take that leadership and spread it all around the world.

This piece was originally published in Foresight Magazine on 22 March 2021.

C40 is a leading global network of cities taking bold and ambitious climate action to deliver a healthy, equitable and sustainable future for all.