Cities, regions and federal states lead the way on science-based climate action

by Don Iveson | Mayor of Edmonton, Canada
Friday, 16 June 2017 18:45 GMT

Cyclists ride past police tape along the banks of the swollen North Saskatchewan River in the Rossdale community of Edmonton in this 2005 archive photo. REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber DR/KS

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hundreds of cities have already taken steps to measure, reduce and verify their greenhouse gas emissions through thousands of actions

With the recent news of a major global partner pulling out of the Paris Accord, it's imperative that the important work of cities addressing climate change continues. Edmonton has never taken science-based policy for granted. It is not just a political statement. It is practical, real-life necessity. If we want to cut urban emissions and prepare for a changing climate, we need to know where and how to invest.

This is why our city will host the 2018 Science and Climate Change in Cities Conference, co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the premier global scientific body on climate. The conference is going to provide a venue for the exchange of best practices among city leaders on how to use scientific evidence and hard data to inform policy at the local level. It’s also going to provide input and drive to the sixth IPCC assessment cycle, which will have a stronger focus on cities, culminating in the IPCC Special Report on Cities.

Edmonton has a strong track record in translating data and scientific evidence into action. Our new LEED-certified Centennial transit garage incorporates a solar wall, reflective roof and other features to reduce energy use by one-third. Edmonton’s Solar and Energy Savings Program has cut GHG emissions by retrofitting community association buildings for efficiency and installing photovoltaic energy systems. The Blatchford redevelopment is creating a highly livable carbon-neutral community that will one day house 30,000 Edmontonians and our Community Energy Transition Strategy is defining the many pathways our city will take to reduce our carbon emissions -- from city vehicle fleets to energy sources.

These are just some examples from one city. There are thousands of local governments that have been making great progress on the ground and are willing and ready to do more. In fact, cities are ready to step up and help to not only bring forward what was agreed in Paris, but go beyond it, as is necessary according to what science tells us.

Much more needs to be done to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees, as targeted in the Paris Agreement. Current national commitments would give us a 2030 scenario in which global emissions will be 22 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GTCO2e) higher than the level needed to stay on track towards the 1.5-degree target. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 6,400 coal-fired power plants in one year.

Local action will be critical to fill this gap. Like Edmonton, hundreds of cities have already taken steps to measure, reduce and verify their emissions through thousands of actions, ranging from expansion of urban green spaces to the development of clean public transport systems. They have also listened to hard scientific evidence and started preparing their communities for the many risks associated to climate change. It was thanks to the increasingly accurate and worrisome assessments by the IPCC that local leaders all over the world learned how urgent and crucial was to kick off a low-carbon transition at the local level.

The wavering politics around climate science, not to mention the climate-related realities we face, make it all the more relevant that local governments remain steady on enacting science-based policy.

Nations, however, need to dive into the low-carbon transition, especially when some refuse to acknowledge its necessity. We're at a crucial and delicate moment in history, where our ability to align political action with scientific evidence will tip the scales for a cleaner and more resilient future.

Don Iveson is Mayor of Edmonton, Canada, which is the host city of the IPCC 2018 Science and Climate Change in Cities Conference.