Cities can un­lock eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE - By Michael Bloomberg, Ed­uardo Paes and An­nise Parker

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.

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