OPINION: Why G20 leaders must put cities at the heart of COVID-19 recovery plans

Wednesday, 7 July 2021 17:31 GMT

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a mural promoting awareness of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

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Urban areas are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 and climate crises. Now G20 leaders must listen and learn from them

Giuseppe Sala is Mayor of Milan, Virginia Raggi is Mayor of Rome, and Anies Baswedan is Governor of Jakarta. They co-chair the Urban20, a platform for major cities to collectively inform G20 negotiations.

More than a year after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is grappling with a monumental task: how can we deliver a recovery that is both green and just, addressing the health and climate crises, while ensuring no one is left behind? As leaders of the Urban20, a group of mayors created to bring the voice of cities to the G20, we believe the answer lies in empowering cities.

A green and just recovery from COVID-19 is necessary to halve global GHG emissions by 2030, and reach carbon neutrality by 2050 - the only way to maintain global heating to 1.5 degrees, as science tells us we must. In November, national leaders from around the world will meet in Glasgow for the COP26 climate negotiations to deliver on the promises made in Paris six years ago.

There is no hope of success in Glasgow if the twenty largest economies, who are also the twenty biggest emitters of carbon, do not enhance their emission reduction targets, phase out coal, accelerate the decarbonization of key sectors, and shift investments to clean energy.

The leadership of the G20 is even more important as we’ve seen how, last month, the G7 did not deliver the strong outcomes needed on vaccine equity and climate finance, leaving the challenge to drive a green, healthy and just recovery to the G20. Our countries, Italy and Indonesia, who are leading the G20 this year and next, must assume this historic responsibility and ensure that global recovery efforts are green, just, and work both for developed and developing countries.

A green and just recovery from COVID-19 is essential to deliver the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, a set of development priorities focused on eradicating poverty, protecting the planet, promoting equity, and improving the lives of people around the world.

Cities are here to support and deliver. From Milan to Sao Paulo, from Rome to Jakarta, cities around the world have been on the frontlines of both COVID-19 and the climate crisis. Whilst dealing with the impact of a global pandemic, mayors and governors have continued to manage local responses to unprecedented heat waves, wildfires, storms, and the worsening consequences of a rapidly warming world, while progressing transformative actions  to deliver on their emissions reduction commitments.

Mayors understand that the challenges of COVID-19 and the climate emergency cannot be solved with disjointed policy solutions. These are interconnected global crises that require coordinated and cohesive efforts across all levels of government and civil society to bolster resilience and accelerate the transition to clean, renewable energy.

Our leadership is starting to be celebrated at the global level. For the first time this year, under the Italian Presidency, cities are a central pillar of the G20 agenda. This recognition of the role of mayors in addressing global challenges must not stop here. To leverage our transformative power, it is vital that cities continue to rank high in future G20 priorities, starting with the Indonesian presidency of the G20 in 2022.

However, national governments can do more to empower city leadership. At national level, they hold the keys to funding, supplies, policies and regulations that allow us to sustain critical public services and pursue ambitious and essential action to combat COVID-19 and the climate crisis.

For example, stimulus funding should be directed to cities to finance ambitious and equitable urban climate action, such as programmes to improve energy efficiency in buildings; expand and decarbonize public transport systems; and distribute vaccines to all. When, on the contrary, national recovery plans support or subsidize the fossil fuel industry, it prevents mayors from moving faster and going further in their efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

This is the message we delivered to G20 governments in June: instead of funding high-carbon, polluting industries, work with us on equitable access to vaccines, accelerated climate action, and on making sure the transition to a net zero carbon economy benefits the most vulnerable of our residents and communities. In this make-or-break year for the climate, it’s time to listen to, and invest in, cities as engines of a local, green, and just recovery.