Cities and COP21

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

Cities are central to COP21’s mission of drastically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Two thirds of the world population will live in cities by 2050 and CO2 emissions from urban industry, transport, and housing are huge contributors to global climate change.

On December 3, the U.S. Center at COP21 highlighted how the complex issue of climate change is tackled in three cities: Oakland, California, Kotzebue, Alaska, and Copenhagen, Denmark. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf described her city’s innovative sustainability measures, including the modification of land use regulations to allow urban agriculture and requiring the re-use of 50% of construction debris. Copenhagen presented their ambitious plan to become completely carbon neutral by 2025, and showed impressive progress toward this goal by reducing CO2 emissions by 31% in 2014.

While some cities strive to be more energy-efficient, others already face pressures to respond to climate change impacts. The city of Kotzebue in Alaska contributes very little to the warming of the atmosphere, but inhabitants are already experiencing food insecurity, coastal erosion, and changing sea ice. With regards to food security, Kotzebue has witnessed a sharp decline in local caribou and bearded seal populations, thereby reducing the amount of protein and iron available in the local diet and affecting the health of residents.

For all three cities, the Paris negotiations are an opportunity to make their citizens aware that individual-level behaviours have a global impact. In the words Kotzebue city councillor Maija Katak Lukin, “we are suffering because you refuse to take a bike”.


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