Fighting climate change: What city mayors are doing

OECD Observer Roundtable

Oil, gas and coal represent over 80% of energy use worldwide, and are a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions and other unhealthy pollutants. These fossil fuels also drive the likes of transport, industrial output, lighting, heating and construction, and naturally their use is heavily concentrated in urban areas. Roughly half the world’s population live in urban areas, and as towns and cities are an important generator of emissions, they must also play a key role in the fight against climate change.

As this OECD Observer Roundtable of Mayors indicates, authorities in a range of global cities are leading the charge, both in their own urban areas and through closer international co-operation. We asked mayors from Libreville, Madrid, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, and Stockholm:

“How is your city engaged in the fight against climate change and what policy actions are you taking?”

Libreville, Madrid, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Stockholm

Libreville: A local action priority

Rose Christiane Ossouka Raponda, Mayor of Libreville, Gabon

In December, at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21, UNFCCC), participants will seek to secure a universal agreement on action to combat climate change.

Since September 2002, Gabon has been taking steps in this direction, such as the decision to designate 27% of the country’s territory as national parks. The adoption of a Climate Action Plan, submitted to the UNFCCC on 1 April, is designed to integrate climate-related issues into all national public policies.

To date, efforts by Libreville to combat climate change are in line with central government initiatives in accordance with the current legal and institutional context. The Commune of Libreville has integrated environmental issues into its local development programme. At present, the focus is on hygiene, planting and helping the state implement the restructuring plan for Libreville.

The environment has to be at the heart of every decision taken by local authorities. The challenge for each and every one of us is to make the public aware of the risks that humanity faces unless we change our behaviour and stop the warming of the biosphere. I think it is important that we remind ourselves that, as local authorities, it is our job to ensure that climate change vulnerability is given priority in local action plans. It must be subject to individual surveillance and assessment. However, it is just as important to mobilise city dwellers on the importance of adopting environmentally friendly behaviour, and encourage them to do so. The future of mankind is at stake.


Madrid: Building resolve

Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid

The City of Madrid is aware of the consequences of climate change and the weak political will of most governments to deal with this global challenge. Cities are responsible for a major share in the emissions of greenhouse gases and local authorities must lead the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We share the objective of achieving an efficient local economy in the use of energy that should be 100% renewable by 2050. Madrid is far from this objective. Our metropolis consumes a huge amount of energy, mostly from fossil-based sources, while we produce almost no energy at all.

We recycle less than 30% of our urban waste. The priority of public institutions in past decades has been to build motorways in order to encourage the use of cars as the main means of transportation. We suffer the consequences of these policies: a public debt equal to the rest of Spain’s municipalities put together, and heavy pollution with its harmful effects on health.

The good news is that we have the political will for a necessary transition to a cleaner, greener and more efficient city. Housing rehabilitation in search of efficiency is a must. We must reduce the use of cars, improve public transport and promote the use of bicycles.

We must increase our energy independence by taking advantage of our sunny climate. The Spanish government must allow and promote the production of renewable energies. We have to turn urban waste into value and employment, as part of a “zero waste” strategy.

Finally, we have to encourage the participation, co-operation and understanding of the population. The education of our children about the values of sustainability is our most important ally for the huge cultural change we seek.


Montreal: Towards a model of sustainability

Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montreal*

The City of Montreal has a longstanding commitment to promoting sustainable development and combating climate change. It is a member of the Compact of Mayors and the only Canadian city in the 100 Resilient Cities network. Our aim is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30% by 2020, compared to 1990.

But this figure does not reflect the full breadth and depth of the measures that we are putting in place to make our city a model of sustainability in sectors such as transport, urban design and waste management. There are too many to list, but examples include our bike-share system called Bixi, plans to plant 300 000 trees, and the construction of biogas and organic waste processing plants, which will help remove the need for landfill sites in a few years.

However, what makes Montreal stand out is our desire to provide concrete support to private and public initiatives, so that these sectors contribute to the ecological transition of the Montreal economy. To this end, the Transition Montreal 21 programme aims to transform some of our environmental liabilities into productive assets while generating business opportunities.

More specifically, our priority is to develop two innovative industries: green chemistry, creating products which will help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and clean up our contaminated sites; and electrified transport, based on Quebec’s large hydropower production capacity and the City of Montreal’s desire to electrify its fleet of vehicles, create a network of self-service electric vehicles and install a network of charging points across its territory.

This ecological transition can only succeed with the help and support of our citizens. That is why, during the implementation of our initiatives, comprehensive public consultation will be carried out to ensure that this is a genuine social project.

*Mr Coderre is the climate change ambassador for the Metropolis association.


Rio de Janeiro: Climate action protects the poor

Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro

Climate action is protecting the poor and is a duty of global leaders, not a choice. We can’t submit the population to the hazards of climate change, which affects the most vulnerable citizens first.

In Rio, we have a particular topography, with hills that were inhabited and became our favelas. Due to tropical rains, the residents of these favelas are subject to mudslides, which have even caused deaths in the past. These storms will get more intense as the climate changes, making the whole city more vulnerable to landslides and flooding.

Rio has another characteristic: it faces the Atlantic Ocean and has 635 kilometres of coastline, bathing its beaches. We now know of the dangers of rising sea levels, and this is a source of concern to my home city. To prepare for this and avoid the terrible scenes that could unfold if we don’t do anything, we are acting on different fronts. One of them is mitigating risks, by setting goals to decarbonise our development and stop the problem from worsening. For this, it is necessary to decouple urban growth from carbon emissions. We can no longer postpone actions against consequences of climate change, that may occur as soon as in 2020. So we are acting right now in Rio, currently changing the mobility paradigm, from cars to mass transport, by delivering four BRT lines, the dedicated corridors for articulated buses and a Light Rail Vehicle in the revitalised Port Area. Rio also has the largest number of bike lanes in Latin America.

On another front, we are preparing the city to face climate change with the Rio Resilient programme that is developing solutions for the likes of heat waves, mudslides and flooding. We have already implemented our Operation Centre, which concentrates different players in one place to accelerate action, including triggering alarms in the favelas whenever there is a risk of heavy rains. As chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (see www. which connects megacities in the fight against climate change, I oversaw the process that led Rio to become the first global city to comply with the Compact of Mayors.

My advice is for cities to work together to fulfil this compact, by implementing goals to reduce greenhousegas emissions and share their experiences with the rest of the world. Together, in networks such as the C40, cities can help each other and fight for support from other levels of society.


Seoul: Sending a clear message on climate

Park Won-soon, Mayor of Seoul

With Pope Francis urging the world to join in collective efforts to safeguard our common home by addressing climate change and protecting the environment, a new post-2020 climate agreement is one of the defining tasks of our generation.

The City of Seoul has sent a clear message to the world that energy conservation, cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable urban development are all compatible via our implementation of the One Less Nuclear Power Plant since 2012. At the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) World Congress held in Seoul April 2014, we unveiled the Promise of Seoul, a commitment by citizens, businesses and the administration to cut citywide carbon emissions by 40% from 2005 levels by 2030, thereby effecting a transition towards a low-carbon and high energy-efficient city.

At the 2014 UN Climate Summit I, along with Michael Bloomberg, the UN Secretary- General’s special envoy for cities and climate change, and Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, presented the Compact of Mayors, launched by ICLEI (www.ICLEI. org), the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group ( and United Cities and Local Governments ( in order to showcase local climate action in a transparent way. Seoul is committed to fully comply with the compact by November 2015.

I would like to strongly encourage other cities to join the 106 cities that have signed up to the Compact of Mayors to prevent global warming from worsening. Moreover, I hope all cities set a vision that departs from the old development-centred path to a low-carbon one that values environmental protection and saving energy. Also, I would like to urge other mayors to develop goal- and action-oriented plans to turn their pledges into reality.


Stockholm: Willing front runners for future solutions

Karin Wanngård, Mayor of Stockholm

Stockholmers are committed to environmental and climate issues, thus putting high demands on me as a politician to continue doing even more.

Stockholm is a city by the sea, built on islands. This means that rising sea levels as a consequence of a changing climate are a very tangible threat to our city. This, and a wide range of other issues, means that we address the challenge with a local as well as global focus.

I have set ambitious goals for our city. Stockholm will not only be carbon neutral by 2040, but fossil fuel free, too! To reach this goal we must excel on all fronts: our district heating needs to be even more effective than today, and our new dwellings (as well as those we refurbish) must be made very energy efficient, if not carbon positive [meaning that any extra energy produced on site will not be lost but be fed to other uses].

Transport is a huge challenge for Stockholm, as for most other cities. We want to make sure that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport commuters are prioritised.

Stockholm is an acknowledged leader in the global green economy, and has experience and good practices to share. We are willing and able to act as front runners for future solutions and as test bed for the many companies within the green economy sector that we host in Stockholm. We also see this as a business opportunity.

We are also eager to learn from other cities and to copy their best examples for the Stockholm context.

I am certain that cities hold many of the solutions to the climate crisis in our hands. Now is the time to be bold and do what is right. The time to wait and see has long gone. I want to be able to tell my children that my generation of leaders faced the biggest challenge ever, and we stood tall. The alternative to that story would be inconceivable.


For OECD data and information on cities and climate, visit

©OECD Observer No 304, November 2015

Economic data

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