COP25: cities are no longer waiting around for nations, Milan’s mayor says

The Mayor of Milan, Guiseppe Sala. [City of Milan]

This article is part of our special report COP25: Countries pressed to deliver.

Because there is still a small number of nations blocking progress in implementing the Paris Agreement, and cities already feel their impact of climate change, they are ready to take the lead in fighting global warming, Milan’s mayor and C40 network Vice-Chairman Giuseppe Sala told EURACTIV in an interview. 

What are the cities’ expectations of this COP?

First and foremost, I answer as an individual citizen who is concerned about the future of life on our planet. The science is absolutely clear that if we continue on our current path, global temperature rise will be 3 or 4°C above the pre-industrial average. That will cause untold suffering for hundreds of millions of people around the world. We already see the signs of climate crisis with rising seas, extreme weather and natural disasters, floods, droughts, wildfires. So my expectation is that nation-states and their negotiators in Madrid will match their commitments to their rhetoric and actually deliver a meaningful outcome that helps avert catastrophic climate change. As a mayor, I expect them to learn from the climate action they see already being delivered in the world’s cities. We have shown it is possible to collaborate across borders, through networks like C40 cities, and deliver inclusive climate action that cuts emissions in line with the scientific evidence. We can tackle climate change, address inequality and build sustainable and healthy communities across our cities.

However, I am also a realist. I see that a small number of nations, backed by powerful vested interests and lobbies, are blocking meaningful progress. That is why cities aren’t waiting around for nations any more. If they won’t lead, then mayors will.

How meaningful is the European Green Deal for cities?

I congratulate Commission President von der Leyen for putting a European Green Deal at the very heart of her policy platform. She recognises, as so many of us do, the scale of the threat posed by climate change, but also the opportunity ahead for protecting livelihoods, helping end poverty, improving lives and building more equitable societies.

I have no doubt that the reason we are seeing such clear commitments from politicians across the political spectrum is because of the impact made by the young people protesting on the streets of our cities. In that sense, the European Green Deal emanates from cities and if it succeeds, as I believe it must, then we will see its greatest impact in our cities.

The European Green Deal is a climate project but it should also be much more than that. It is our chance to profoundly rethink how our economies operate and shift them to build a fairer and more sustainable European society. This is our chance to build a Europe that our citizens want. So, of course, it is hugely meaningful for cities across the continent.

The next weeks are key to ensure that the Green Deal framing turns into a springboard for delivering the maximum of its potential. Mayors of Europe’s great cities look forward to working with the new Commission, because we have been implementing this type of science-based, bold climate action for years. Milan has one of Europe’s most effective low-emission zones and our policies to cut emissions from the food produced and eaten in our city is being studied by fellow mayors across the world. Cities are also leading the way on action across buildings, waste, air quality and adapting our cities to the consequences of climate change already underway. As Commission President von der Leyen and Executive Vice-President Timmermans draw up their European Green Deal plans, I would advise them to start by speaking to Europe’s mayors.

The European Green Deal and the US Green New Deal will also be in the focus at COP25. As a Vice-Chair of the C40 Cities group, you represent the view of European Cities in the C40 network. How do mayors from cities located outside Europe and North-America view the concept of a green new deal? How does Europe’s own Green Deal fit into the global picture? 

Just last month the C40 Cities network announced our vision for a Global Green New Deal. We are committed to putting inclusive climate action at the centre of all urban decision-making, to create thriving and equitable communities for everyone. We are building an unprecedented global coalition, including cities, business, young people, investors, labour, civil society, citizens, and communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, determined to global heating below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. That vision is being endorsed by mayors from around the world, from Milan to Los Angeles, Freetown to Rio de Janeiro.  Our goal is to drive a fundamental and irreversible transfer of global resources away from fossil fuels and into action that averts the climate emergency.

I hope that the European Green Deal matches the same level of ambition, because that is what the scientific evidence clearly shows is necessary. We look forward to working with the European Commission, just as we are working with the United Nations Secretary-General, U.S. Representative Ocasio-Cortez and youth leaders from the Fridays for Future movement around the world, and so many others to align our collective vision for a better future.

The principles we are working together to deliver represent a philosophy of delivering environmental and economic justice together. In many countries, this is widely understood as a ‘Green New Deal’.  This is why the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti who now Chairs C40 Cities is determined to frame it this way. But it is not the name that is important, – whether talking about the “Nouvelle Alliance Verte” in Francophone countries or an ‘ecological civilisation’ in Chinese cities – the key is the philosophy behind it. I believe this has important parallels with the European Green Deal, to ensure it resonates with people in every EU country.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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