The Same Boat

Emergency situations due to extreme weather are moments we experience collectively, and not just on the granular community level that Michelle Xuereb eloquently discusses in her op-ed when referencing the ice storm of 2013, but also on a consciousness-shifting level of city building, like when municipalities realize they can design and run themselves in ways that are better at facing the effects of climate change. This type of civic awakening is happening globally, as evidenced by almost 1,200 jurisdictions and local governments in 23 countries declaring a state of climate emergency by November of this year.

“Fossil fuel centered economies make it difficult for national governments to put climate concerns front and center, with the result that globally we are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement. This truth is hard to face: countries collectively fail to stop growth in global greenhouse gas emissions. The gap between targets and reality is only growing.” said Rana Adib, REN21’s Executive Secretary, at the presentation of their first Renewables in Cities 2019 Global Status Report in Paris.

Deeper and faster cuts are required now, but they’re not going to come from our nation’s leaders. Which is why it might come as a surprise, but according to REN21’s report the pattern emerging across the world now is: it is cities driving the transition towards renewable energy. “They understand that renewables mean less lung and heart diseases, more local jobs and relief for the municipal budget,” says Adib. “If cities alone were to decide, today’s climate and energy politics would look totally different.”

REN21´s report shows that 70 per cent of all cities are already affected by the impact of climate change today, primarily because increased prosperity and living standards in cities cause an insatiable hunger for energy. “If cities don’t do something about the way they produce and use energy, they are going to wreak their own destruction. It’s that simple and they know it. And with more than one billion people worldwide living in urban slums and informal settlements, the poorest will be the hardest hit,” says Adib. “Even in Europe, tropical storms will become more frequent. We got a taste of it when storm Leslie hit northern and central Portugal with wind speeds of over 100 km/h and brought heavy rainfall in Spain and France last year.”

Keeping the energy infrastructure working, once the flood or storm arrives, is essential to secure continued operation of rescue services, hospitals and information systems. According to the report, we are seeing businesses and industry investing in renewable energy to avoid disruptions, and cities adopting energy systems based on distributed renewable generation because they are more flexible and resilient to those central shocks which are becoming more frequent with climate change.

“Cities can actively drive the fight against climate change at the national and global level. They are able to tap into opportunities that other levels of government do not have, including a more direct relationship with local citizens and businesses,” notes Germany’s Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Svenja Schulze. “Citizen engagement and public pressure have raised cities’ level of ambition on renewables in many places around the world, reaping economic, social and environmental benefits.”

In a very real way, cities are run at the community level, which is why if cities are to take climate action into their own hands, it can only come from as Xuereb says, “a city of people who are connected, engaged and active in their communities.”

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