Cities can unlock economic opportunity
For too long, the same old argument has been used to prevent bold action on climate change: Elected officials can either be pro-business, or they can be proenvironment. From experience, having served as mayors who saw that acting on climate contributed to economic growth, we know this is a false choice.
In fact, we now know that many of the most effective ways to foster economic growth in cities are some of the very same actions needed to help fight climate change. Each of us has seen how investments in green infrastructure — including improving mass transit systems, promoting renewable energy, and creating more green space — attracts private capital and spurs economic development.
This is evident today in Houston as new Metro rail lines open, Metro’s bus network is redesigned and modernized, a first-for-Houston bus rapid transit line is under construction, numerous renewable energy projects are built and our Bayou Greenways 2020 program, including miles of new trails and green spaces, is implemented.
Recently, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, made up of 28 leaders in the fields of economics, business and finance, released a report detailing the economic benefits of climate action — and singling out the major role that cities play in this work. For instance, the report identifies $17 trillion in taxpayer savings that cities could achieve from energy efficiency measures alone.
Climate change is a critical issue for cities in part because many lie on coastal waters. As sea levels rise and storms intensify, the economic risks that cities face increase.
Mayors have another economic incentive to reduce emissions: A city with clean air has a competitive edge over a city with dirty air. The fact is, people want to live and work in places with clean air, and where people want to live, businesses want to invest. We hear this every day from business leaders in Houston.
Just as cities are saving taxpayers money and improving their economic climate by making energy efficiency investments, businesses recognize that such investments are good for their bottom lines, too. In fact, more than half of Fortune 100 companies are saving over $1 billion every year through carbonreduction initiatives, many of which can be strengthened by city-led policies on energy efficiency.
Existing state and federal laws can limit the direct decision-making authority that mayors have to take all the climate-related actions they might wish to. Nevertheless, the world’s cities can use their existing authority to cut up to 20 percent of the total reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists believe is necessary. And by doing so, they will save taxpayers trillions of dollars over the long run and make their cities more attractive to investors.
To achieve these gains, international partnerships like the Compact of Mayors will be critical. The Compact is a group of like-minded municipal leaders who have committed to taking action on climate change, and to measuring their results using common metrics. Nearly 150 cities have signed on and are sharing ideas and experiences on everything from green buildings to better waste management.
Houston was one of the first cities to commit to the Compact, and Rio de Janeiro recently became the first city to achieve full compliance with the Compact. To show other cities how it can be done, Rio’s strategies and data will be available for other city leaders to examine. In addition, and just as important, citizens will be able to hold their elected officials accountable — and investors will be able to draw on this wealth of data, reported for the first time using a single standard and available on a single platform, to provide them with confidence that their investments will yield a real and measurable return.
Mayors don’t have to choose between fighting climate change and creating a better economic future for their citizens. They are doing both — and so, too, should national governments around the world.
Bloomberg is former mayor of New York. Paes is mayor of Rio de Janeiro. Parker is mayor of Houston.