C40 City Diplomacy Addresses Climate Change

The geopolitical configuration that emerged after the end of the Cold War has been redefining the world stage. In recent decades, we have observed the fall of decaying political superpowers, the territorial redesign of countries and institutions and were taken unawares with the meteoric ascent of emerging economies. The old binary system is long gone. In this increasingly multipolar arena, new players have risen onto the scene -- the cities.

Globalization has produced a new of level of interdependence among us. The economy and multinational supply chains do not abide by political boundaries. A computer ordered in Brazil is designed in California and assembled in several other countries. Economic integration was the first strong evidence of a new era. The outbreak of the recent financial crisis at a speed and on a scale never seen before was uncomfortable evidence of this reality.

Milton Friedman says we have logged onto Globalization 3.0, spurred on by the digital revolution, after the first waves were conducted by nation states and the integration of global companies and markets. There is no time and space in the digital world. People chat and collaborate through social networks. Cultural icons garner millions of fans online in locations they have often never been themselves. The boundary between public and private life is now everyone's business.

Meanwhile, the multilateral system established by Bretton Woods in 1944 remains the same, which was the foundation for the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and GATT. Some progress has been made and the increasing use of diplomacy regarding war is a positive sign. But it also revealed the sluggish nature of international bureaucracy and the complexity of the multilateral nation. This system was structured with nation states as the key agents for change.

However, with power structures removed from their populations, national governments have struggled to address some important issues. In fact, experience has shown that local governments are better suited to solve and provide for many of the needs and demands of the people. Health, education, transport, innovation and many other issues have growingly became the responsibility of mayors around the world. Out of pure necessity, they tend to be more pragmatic and are ultimately responsible for the delivery of public services and better quality of life.

Closer to their communities, local leaders are more capable of understanding their needs. After all, people live in cities, not regions or countries. That natural institutional position is combined with the inexorable urbanization of the world. By 2050 seven out of ten people will live in cities, which will account for six billion people living in urban areas. That phenomenon is central to all the challenges humanity faces. If there is an issue to be addressed, then it is certainly happening in cities and therefore must be considered on an urban scale.

Nations have been inept in proposing solutions to local issues and have struggled to address the major global issues of our age. Climate change is the best example of such ineffectiveness. Despite categorical warnings from the scientific community and public awareness, national governments have failed to take consistent action and seem reluctant to commit to cutting carbon emissions, which have continuously grown in recent years. The Kyoto Protocol was a stillborn agreement that never made it to reality and raised doubts over the international multilateral process.

The concentration of carbon in the atmosphere reached over 400 parts per million in 2013, the highest in at least 800,000 years. Carbon concentration has raised 40 percent since the pre-industrial era alone, thanks largely to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation as illustrated in the last updated report from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC).

All major climate models indicate an elevation of global surface temperature by at least 1.5C and possibly more. Climate change is already affecting us on that pace it will increase risks and damage to populations. Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy in New York and the heavy tropical rains in Rio de Janeiro are likely to become harsher and more frequent.

Cities are central to that challenge since over 70 percent of carbon emissions originate from urban areas and 90 percent of the world's urban regions are located along coastlines vulnerable to the projected elevation of the sea level. Across all continents, cities must strengthen their resilience to climate change while committing to reducing their carbon emissions. Redesigning global governance to raise the level of importance of local governments is a key element and Climate Change is the best example of this urgency.

The creation of networks such as the C40 Climate Leadership Group is another effective route. The network that was created in 2005 gathers the world megacities -- such as New York, London, Tokyo and Beijing -- in an effort to promote carbon emission reduction and strengthen urban resilience. The C40 is focused not on talking but on concrete actions and to assist innovative projects and public policies to promote urban sustainable development. The organization has shown the best way to lead is by example. In 2012, in a parallel event during the United Nations Summit Rio +20, C40 Mayors decided to reduce a combined 1.3 gigatons of carbon emissions in their cities by 2030, which is equivalent to the emissions of Mexico and Canada combined while national governments remained trapped in endless negotiations.

So far, the C40 has helped to develop more than five thousand projects within cities aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilience in cities. In essence, the strength of the organization comes via collaboration, which is one of most effective ways to promote sustainable development. By engaging in City Diplomacy, mayors and city officials exchange information and experience. They facilitate the spread of new technologies and access to innovative public policies. Creative ideas and projects in one city can be replicated in another, and that exchange of knowledge is taking place, far from lengthy and politically charged treaties.

As Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, I am assuming the Chairmanship of the C40 this month, taking over from the successful tenure of Mayor Bloomberg of New York City. It is first time an emerging city will lead the organization of the world's greatest cities. Our unanimous election will increase the responsibility of leading urban policies in addressing climate change and raise resilience within urban areas. We have no time to waste in creating better, safer cities the world over.