“ When it comes to the climate crisis, if we’re being totally honest, cities are both part of the problem and the solution. They produce more than 60 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy. Their densely-packed, energy-hungry populations are also expanding at an exponential rate. By 2050, 68 per cent of us will live in a city. But at the same time, global cities like London contain the inspiration and the ingenuity, as well as the businesses and the brainpower, to bring about the transformative change we need to ensure our survival. Cities also represent important hubs for finance and politics, also key to systemic transformation. Let’s just remind ourselves of the danger we face. Today, more than 40 per cent of the world’s population is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis. The narrow window of opportunity we thought we had left to avert a climate catastrophe is closing faster than previously thought. The latest guidance from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear that humanity really is in the last chance saloon and it’s a case of acting ‘now or never’ if we’re to stave off disaster.
However, we certainly shouldn’t succumb to despair. Temperature rises can still be limited to no more than the internationally agreed target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Indeed, it is possible to avoid the worst impacts of the changes we are inflicting upon our climate, but only if we summon the urgency and the political will to take bold action now.
Sadly, COP26 showed that national governments, including our own, are not doing enough to address this threat. The good news, however, is that cities around the world are stepping forward with science-based climate action plans. I see this all the time as chair of C40 Cities – a global network of nearly 100 major cities. Since I was elected to the role, C40 has announced a significant expansion of its Global Green New Deal programme, with millions of pounds of additional investment being channelled into green jobs, skills and infrastructure. C40’s major global air quality programme, Breathe Global, will see a faster roll-out of pollution monitors in dozens of cities around the world, as we have already done ourselves through our ambitious Breathe London initiative. Policies to tackle air pollution go hand in hand with efforts to confront the climate emergency because by cleaning up our air we also help to bring down emissions.
Over 700 million people currently live and work in C40 cities and its network represents more than a quarter of the global economy. By joining forces, our cities have both the collective muscle and purchasing power to truly move the market. For example, by pursuing common policies around green transport together, we are helping to boost global demand for zero-emission buses, which in turn helps to drive down prices and expand access to these crucial electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles. From Buenos Aires to Bangkok, London to Los Angeles and Durban to Dhaka, C40 mayors are also leading the charge to end our addiction to fossil fuels by spearheading a divestment movement with 18 major cities, including London, that together manage more than $400 billion dollars in assets. This will help us safeguard our planet, but it will also enable us to reduce our energy dependence on autocratic regimes, like Russia.
As the Mayor of London I’ve been determined to put, and keep, our city at the forefront of the international climate movement. I’ve committed to making London net zero by 2030, faster than any comparable city. Our Ultra-Low Emission Zone is one of the most far-reaching environmental initiatives anywhere in the world. And we’ve unveiled a flagship green bonds programme that aims to raise half a billion pounds to invest in zero-carbon projects. However, I recognise that our climate goals can’t be reached without the co-operation and collaboration of our dynamic business community. Climate change is often described as both an unprecedented market failure and a major public-private opportunity, so businesses have a vital role to play in helping our cities and societies rise to meet this generational challenge. It’s been a real pleasure to work with so many forward-thinking businesses in London who share this view and are so passionate about accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy. This includes those who have joined my London Business Climate Leaders (LBCL) initiative, which in turn helped to give rise to the C40’s City-Business Climate Alliance (CBCA) programme – demonstrating how by acting together and leading by example, City Hall and London’s businesses can inspire our counterparts around the world to reduce their emissions too.
From my many conversations with London business leaders, I know that they understand how bad the climate crisis is for business. Extreme weather events, economic upheaval, a heightened risk of conflict, higher insurance costs, and shocks to supply chains – none of these trends are conducive to business success or healthy profit margins. It goes without saying that there can be no winners if we allow our climate to spiral out of control. I am convinced that by acting together businesses and city mayors everywhere can be a galvanising force – one that compels national governments to live up to their climate obligations and helps us to protect our precious planet for future generations. Where we lead in London, others will always follow and together I truly believe we can achieve our ultimate objective of a clean, green, healthy and liveable planet.”
This article originally featured in the May/June issue of London Business Matters Magazine.