On June 19th, 2012, the Human Impacts Institute was invited to participate in the Rio+20C40 meetings, addressing megacities and climate change. The innovative platform, currently chaired by New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, is an attempt to bring together the leaders of the world’s largest cities to collective network and take action on mitigating and adapting to climate change. According to the C40 website, “Acting both locally and collaboratively, C40 Cities are having a meaningful global impact in reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks.”
Here at the Rio+20 day-long side event, overlooking the beaches of Copacabana, mayors from cities as far as Johannesburg, Seoul, NYC, and as near as the host city of Rio de Janeiro, discussed how cities are the key actors in addressing sustainable development on-the-ground. All of the mayoral panelists agreed that mayors are responsible for action and are closely watched, and criticized, by their constituents. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC brought up a famous quote of former NYC Mayor Laguardia, “There are no Republican or Democratic ways to collect the garbage,” citing that the job of a mayor is not one of party allegiance or politics, instead it’s one of providing services to city constituents. Accordingly, Bloomberg–along with Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes–emphasized that cities are where the majority of the world lives and are where the majority of sustainable development needs to occur.
Pointing a finger at the national delegations down the road at the Rio Centro for Rio+20, Bloomberg was critical of national governments, targeting them as focused on “shifting money around”, as opposed to the action-oriented approach of large cities and their leadership. Bloomberg also recognized his own hypocrisy in “wanting federal money, but not wanting them to tell us what to do with it”. Agreeing, the Mayor of Johannesburg, Parks Tau, also emphasized the frustration of much city leadership saying, “We have the responsibilities, but not the say. Exclusion of local government in these processes [Rio+20] is a major gap in the negotiations.” Many of the panelists also emphasized a frustration with the snail-pace of international negotiations and that this venue is not the right place for cities to address the key issues of sustainable development and poverty alleviation. The mayor of Rio emphasized that, “as a mayor, I don’t want to be in a framework like the U.N. It takes to long. We need to get things done. We just need to act.”
Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul emphasized his activism background and called for the world’s mayors to further develop their cooperation and connection with civil society. This call is also one that reflects the consistent lobbying of the Major Groups during the Rio+20 negotiations. As the text continues to be condensed, it is the fear of much of civil society that their access to impacting global policy is being cut. Mayor Won-soon also emphasized the key role of city leadership to emphasize the need for public awareness and access to education. In the context of sustainable development, all of the panelists agreed that education is key to achieving on-the-ground change and to implementing policies that may or may not come from national governments.
As Mayor Tau emphasized the need for cities in Africa to address the practical issues plaguing many of their citizens–disease and poverty–he also cited the direct connection between climate and these issues. In response, NYC mayor and business tycoon Bloomberg asked the audience, “Who is going to pay for all of this?” A question that remains key to the success of both Rio+20 and to implementation of sustainable development in our communities regardless of the outcomes from these two weeks of negotiations.
By Tara DePorte, Human Impacts Institute Founder and Executive Director.