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We’re turning our climate into a weapon of mass destruction

Cities must demand an end to fossil fuel exploration, investment and subsidies.

By Sadiq Khan

This week, mayors of the world’s largest cities will travel to Buenos Aires for the C40 World Summit, or join virtually. The gathering is focused squarely on climate action and the bold and innovative programmes city leaders are rolling out to help protect the environment and stimulate sustainable growth. Together, C40 Mayors represent hundreds of millions of citizens and a quarter of the global economy. This means our cities have a huge and outsized role to play in combating the climate crisis.

In fact, when you consider that cities are responsible for more than 70 per cent of global carbon emissions, it is no exaggeration to say that in terms of meeting the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, our cities could be the difference between success and failure. At a minimum, it’s certainly the case that the world will stand a far better chance of keeping warming to within the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels if our cities can decarbonise faster.

As Mayor of London and chair of the C40, it’s been inspiring for me to see how cities are stepping up to the plate and showing real determination to fulfil their climate obligations. In recent years, the seriousness with which cities have treated this issue has been in sharp contrast to many of their national counterparts. Indeed, the difference between cities and national governments has been like the difference between night and day, with the former acting as the climate doers, and the latter the climate delayers. Three quarters of C40 cities are decreasing their per capita emissions at a faster rate than their own countries.

Thankfully, with the US president Joe Biden prioritising climate action, a new government in Australia, and China recording four consecutive quarters of emissions reductions, there are signs the tide is beginning to turn. Thanks to our track record of bold climate action, more than 150 million residents in C40 cities are also now breathing cleaner air. But we can’t be complacent. The fact remains that too many national governments – including the British government – are continuing to drag their feet. They are refusing to commit to the policies, regulation and clean energy investments that we know are needed to avert catastrophic climate breakdown.

The inaction we’ve seen from some heads of state is shameful. This threat isn’t theoretical, it has already arrived on our doorsteps. In London, homes were destroyed and businesses were reduced to ashes as devastating fires caused by extreme heat tore through our city this summer. Confronting multiple blazes at once, the London Fire Brigade faced its busiest day since the Second World War.

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From Hurricane Ian in Florida to deadly heatwaves across Europe, China and the Indian subcontinent, 2022 will surely be remembered as the year climate chaos really hit home.

Nowhere, of course, has been hit harder than Pakistan. A country that despite contributing less than 1 per cent of global emissions, has seen a third of its lands submerged in terrible floods, which have also claimed more than 1,700 lives, displaced 33 million people, and wrought havoc and misery on some of the world’s poorest communities. This is a monumental injustice and illustrates why C40 has chosen to allocate two thirds of its budget to cities in the Global South, which have done the least to create this crisis, but are bearing the brunt of it.

Most disturbing is that the recent suffering and upheaval is just a taste of worse to come if the international community doesn’t get its act together and start addressing the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. The truth is we’re fast turning our climate into a weapon of mass destruction – one that becomes more powerful, more devastating and more deadly with every passing year. This is why, at the C40 summit this week, I’ll be calling on cities to pressure their national governments into acting now to disarm the fossil fuel companies. London and many other cities have now signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, and I want C40 colleagues to join us in taking a stand at this summit by saying no to more fossil fuel exploration, investment or subsidies.

Even in the face of Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine and surging inflation, at this critical juncture in human history it would be foolhardy in the extreme to ignore the science and delay climate action. Not least because the best way to protect people around the world from rising prices and extreme weather, as well as clean up our polluted air, create high-quality jobs, raise living standards and achieve energy security, is to end our reliance on fossil fuels and speed up the shift to renewable energy sources. Cities are already showing the way forward on these vital issues, now it’s time for national governments to follow our lead and commit to a bolder and more ambitious approach at Cop27 next month.

[See also: Cop27: When is it and what is on the agenda in Egypt?]

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