“Cities of the world, unite”: will the cities save the world?

In 2019, the mass protests organized in cities around the world reminded us that the fight against the climate crisis is not yet up to the challenge. Can cities succeed where cities failed?

It is precisely because they are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and are at the heart of the problem that cities want to be at the heart of solutions. They will have no other choice: while nearly 60% of the world’s population is urban – a figure that could reach 75% in thirty years –, urban-dwellers will ask them to act, especially as, for instance, rising temperatures make certain cities hardly livable several weeks during summer. Another reason cities might want to position themselves at the forefront of climate change: in the competition to attract residents and investors, fighting climate change can only win them points.

Cities have both the ambition and the means to act, especially as they have leverage over the two main sources of CO2 emissions in France: buildings and mobility. In a highly centralized country like France, cities may need the state, but they also have readily effective tools, such as urban transportation plans and local urbanism plans.

Cities must also use their ability to cooperate: they may well be competitors, but they are also partners. When Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and explained that he cared about Pittsburgh, not Paris, Bill Peduto, mayor of Pittsburgh, replied: “As the mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris agreement for our people, our economy and future”. A wonderful way to explain the daily work that city networks around the world do to learn, progress, and replicate. Against a backdrop of rising protectionism and the retreat of states, cities are going against the tide: you could say that, as far as climate change is concerned, they have made the slogan “cities of all countries, unite” their own.

→ This op-ed is an excerpt from recent chronicles by Cécile Maisonneuve, broadcast on France Info. Find all podcasts and transcripts of the radio program “My city tomorrow” (in French) here.

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La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.

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