While nations talk…
There is a chorus of media coverage on what is going wrong in Copenhagen. From walk outs to private jetting to arrested protests, it really is starting to look a bit like an act of the Theater of the Absurd. The most basic definition of absurd in this reference, “takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by an invisible outside force.” I leave this open to you for interpretation.
But beyond the theatrics and arrests, a somewhat more quiet–and active–group of people are meeting to talk about the role of cities in climate change and sustainable development. The Copenhagen Climate Summit for Mayors began today. CISC Director Bill Solecki is there and will be participating in tomorrow afternoon’s panel discussion on the work being done in NYC. He joins the Mayors of 80 cities ranging from leaders of Dar Es Salaam to Delhi, from Melbourne to Mexico City.
The work of local and municipal governments plays an interesting role when their goals and standards are potentially higher than that of state, federal, or international ambitions. New York City is a particularly interesting example when it comes to the energy leviathan that is the United States. Residents of the Big Apple already have about one third the carbon footprint than that of their fellow Americans. And we are seeking to cut these emissions further. Perhaps these initiatives are possible because there is political–and scientific–support for the cause. Seventy eight percent of New Yorkers believe climate change is happening compared to 36% nationally. And 60% of us say that we worry a great deal about climate change. I wonder if there are similar differences in national and city specific numbers elsewhere. (Any information on that would be appreciated if readers have it. The Guardian reports that 3 out of 4 Britons fear climate change, so I guess London or other cities would need to be 4 out of 4 for this to hold true in England…)
There are a lot of political and socio-economical considerations to take into account for why this divide might exist, specifically in the United States. Purely from anecdotal evidence–although there is rigorous methodology that shows the same thing–cities and their metropolitan regions are generally wealthier and sometimes more politically progressive than their suburban or rural counterparts. Is that why climate change and sustainability legislation is more successful here? Constituents see climate change as real, current, and dangerous, which means they have an interest in addressing it–or they have support for their leaders to address it. Elsewhere, if people are not immediately concerned, political will diminishes.
This is all speculation. But I doubt we will see walk outs from the Mayors Conference similar to the likes of what we have seen in the general summit. Beijing and New York won’t spar on differences. Rather they might learn something from each other. Perhaps it is because their constituents want them to…If I was in Copenhagen, I would focus on the cities. And the art.