Energy saving – cities show governments how it’s done

Is local action more effective than action on an international scale? In late May 2011, the mayors of several cities convened in Sao Paulo to discuss their experiences with energy saving initiatives and practices. Just six months ahead of the Durban summit, some concrete agreements were reached and there was an encouraging determination to make headway.

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Speaking outside of the Cities 40 summit in Sao Paulo, the Mayor of Copenhagen said, “Ministers and heads of state talk a lot about climate change, but we in the cities are the ones who have to act.” This statement reveals a sense of urgency that is shared by many of the leaders of the world’s major cities, who gathered at this summit to hold serious discussions about how to achieve energy savings.

Anne Hidalgo, First Deputy Mayor of Paris, came to talk about developing green transport alternatives such as Velib’, Paris’ citywide bike hire programme. The French delegate was also there to sign collaboration agreements with the host city regarding waste treatment.

Taking action at the municipal level

Cities contain half of the world’s human population and represent 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore essential that they play an active role in the fight against climate change.

They are fully committed to sustainable development and always willing to help one another. Numerous agreements were reached over the three days of discussions. Honeywell, an American company based in Morristown, New Jersey, has committed to installing energy-saving light bulbs and solar hot water systems in 21 public buildings in Johannesburg.

In a similar vein, Siemens and Schneider Electric will reduce the energy consumption of 271 public buildings in Houston, Texas by 30%. These initiatives are not devoid of economic benefits. “Many of the things you can do to increase the efficiency of buildings, such as improving lighting and insulation have a very competitive investment return,” said Arah Schuur, the director of the Clinton Climate Initiative’s building retrofit programme. “That’s good for business as well as the environment.”

Between the upcoming international conference on climate change to be held in Durban in December and the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, it is high time to take action.

“City governments have the opportunity to be a crucible for low-carbon innovation with the combined clout to influence national governments and international policy,” said Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s Director of Environment.

The English capital is currently replacing some of the Tower Bridge lights in preparation for 2012 and aims to install 1,300 electric-vehicle charging points in the city by 2013.

Local initiatives cannot replace global action

The international community, however, must not rely solely on the efforts of local governments. Without an international agreement, “None of these measures will mean anything,” said Sergio Besserman, president of Rio’s sustainable development chamber.

According to the United Nations, increasing the global annual energy efficiency budget from 300 billion dollars to 1,000 billion dollars could reduce energy consumption by a third by 2050. What will be the objectives agreed on during the Durban summit to be held late 2011, where delegates must decide on a post-Kyoto action plan?

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