The largest cities in the world have been grinding tree tops and hardening natural landscapes for decades, often to the detriment of the urban poor, racial and ethnic minorities and increasingly also climate migrants.
Thirty-one cities, including four from the United States, committed last week to reverse course under a new global pact called the Urban Nature Declaration. It aims to reduce the heat island effect, contain urban flooding, and improve living conditions by replacing lifeless, impenetrable landscapes with shady or watery havens for climate-stressed communities.
Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; New Orleans; and Seattle were among the signatories of the statement by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a consortium of nearly 100 global cities committed to protecting the climate. C40 was launched in 2005 and has partnered with the Conference of US Climate Mayors to lead urban climate policy initiatives, particularly during the Trump administration.
The declaration calls on C40 cities to meet urban green space goals in one of two ways. On the one hand, it should be ensured that by 2030 30 to 40% of the total built-up area is green or permeable areas. Second, cities can meet a “green or blue fit for purpose” standard by ensuring that 70% of residents can walk or cycle to a park or water feature within 15 minutes.
Such spaces must “be prioritized equally in order to maximize accessibility and connectivity to nature for the most vulnerable,” the statement said.
“These avenues will allow us to set ambitious natural goals to achieve climate resilience and set an agenda for humans and nature to support one another,” the C40 leaders said in a statement. “Action is critical now as there are currently over 800 million people worldwide exposed to extreme heat from sea level rise, over 650 million people from water security, and 1.6 billion city dwellers by 2050.”
Los Angeles, the second largest city in the country with a population of nearly 4 million, is among the largest to register. Mayor Eric Garcetti, the current chairman of C40 and President Biden’s election as ambassador to India, said in a statement that the declaration “is a reminder of the obligation we have to restore nature around us and an example of like mayors lead with climate solutions that strengthen the communities hardest hit by the climate emergency. “
Emailed questions about how Los Angeles would reach either or both of the C40 trails by 2030 were not answered, but the city made a commitment, as part of its 2013 Climate Resilience Plan, to “prepare the most vulnerable for the mounting extreme heat and to protect ”. Part of this commitment includes planting and caring for trees, as well as working with the private and nonprofit sectors to educate Angelenos about the public health and economic benefits of urban trees.
Although smaller than its competitors, New Orleans is one of the most climate-threatened cities in the world from coastal storms, floods, and heat. It too has committed itself to improving and expanding urban green spaces across the city. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the statement was “yet another example of how we are playing to our strengths and using our natural climate to our advantage rather than trying to combat it.”
Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40, said, “Supporting and protecting the natural ecosystems of cities is one of our key tools to building resilience to the climate crisis and creating the healthy, inclusive urban communities we deserve.”
Besides Los Angeles, other cities with 5 million or more signing the declaration were London; Tokyo; Mumbai, India; Rio de Janeiro; and Sydney. It also drew support from Toronto; Paris; Rome; Berlin; Barcelona, Spain; Stockholm; and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.