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29 November 2018updated 08 Sep 2021 6:51am

Climate change is unfair. Our response must not be

The mayors of Barcelona, Milan and Athens say that climate change will deepen the divisions already present in societies around the world.    

By Ada Colau, Giorgos Kaminis and Giuseppe Sala

Climate change affects us all. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C could not have been clearer on the scale of the threat we face. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared to 2°C, could reduce the number of people exposed to climate disasters and at risk of poverty by hundreds of millions. Yet, without profound and urgent change in every part of the economy, society and our daily lives, the world will exceed the 1.5°C target within just 12 years.

We also know that climate change is unfair. A very small percentage of the global population are responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change. Yet it is the poorest, most vulnerable members of society and those who have contributed least to emissions who feel the greatest impact of a warming planet.

It is in cities that the impacts of climate change and growing inequality are being felt most severely. Hurricanes, heat waves, flooding and droughts are becoming an annual reality for cities around the world. Too often, it is the old, the young, the disenfranchised and the marginalised citizens who are most at risk of losing their homes, their jobs or even their lives when these disasters strike.

That is why we, as the mayors of Barcelona, Milan and Athens, are so committed to delivering urgent climate action, which also benefits all citizens equitably. As leading members of the C40 Cities network, we are working to rapidly bring down greenhouse gas emissions consistent with limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. We are equally clear that cities cannot live up to the promise of the Paris Agreement unless our actions also reduce inequality and deliver social justice for all citizens.

Here in Barcelona, we have published the Climate Plan 2018 – 2030, which will ensure we deliver on our fair share of the Paris Agreement targets. Our plan recognises that climate mitigation and adaptation are key, but also gives equal weight to climate justice, with a zero-energy poverty target by 2030, and to shared citizen responsibility and co-creation, allocating €1.2m in subsidies for collaborative citizen projects. A network of 1,000+ organisations and signatories of the Barcelona Citizen Commitment to Sustainability 2012 – 2022 is involved in drafting and implementing this city-wide climate plan.

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In Milan, we have introduced policies to tackle food waste, procure electric buses, and improve energy efficiency, whilst also improving the quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens. For example, restaurants and shops which donate their unused food to charities pay 20 per cent less waste tax. Working hand in hand with businesses, civil society and communities is key to delivering bold and equitable climate action in our cities.

In Athens, we have pledged to update our Climate Action Plan in order to meet the Paris Agreement goals by 2020, as part of our 2030 resilience strategy, setting actionable goals for both mitigating as well as adapting to the effects of climate change. We have been prioritising the protection of our most vulnerable citizens from extreme weather events as well as the participation of all those affected in all relevant decision making. By enhancing nature-based solutions and blue/green infrastructures in the most disadvantaged areas of the city, our goal is to better prepare everyone for the inevitable impact of climate change.

Our commitment to bold and just climate action is clear. A total of 31 cities globally, representing 100m people, have now committed to increase community-led development and inclusive climate action. This C40 equity pledge will help achieve social and economic benefits for low-income groups in cities worldwide. But we cannot deliver the sustainable, equitable and prosperous cities of the future alone.

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Power to the people

We call on the European Union to step up their climate ambition. First, the European Commission must adopt the 1.5°C and net-zero emissions objectives of the Paris Agreement as goals for their long-term European strategy. This vision can only be delivered with consistent social, economic and energy policies, a coherent post-2020 EU budget for climate action – including measures to phase out fossil fuels – and an enhanced 2030 emissions reduction target.

We also call on EU member states to enhance their climate targets and take all the necessary measures to ensure their implementation for a full and rapid achievement of the Paris Agreement.

Finally, we ask every citizen of the European Union to recognise this unique moment in our history. The decisions we take in the coming months and years about the energy we use, the way we travel, the food we eat and the types of cities we create, will determine the world that our children will inherit. Ideas on how to accelerate climate action and keep global warming to below 1.5°C should be central in the forthcoming European elections. Let none of us who aspire to a more sustainable, equitable and healthier future for all miss this opportunity to create the future we want.