The Future We Want Is Here, Now

Guest Post By Zach Tofias
Director, Sustainable Communities Initiative
C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

Momentum is gathering towards the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June. With its theme “the future we want”, the global event aims to reset the agenda on how to achieve economic growth while preserving our environment for the benefit of future generations.

Anyone interested in defining this future — our future — should take note of cities.

Cities are home to half the world’s population and are growing rapidly; they are where we must find a way to live sustainably. The infrastructure investments we make today are critical as they have the potential to lock into place, for decades to come, innovative and intelligent patterns of construction, transportation, land use, and energy generation and consumption.

That is why the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), a group of the world’s largest cities dedicated to addressing global climate change, convened two events in Melbourne, Australia this week — the Climate Positive Learning Program and the C40 Workshop hosted by the City of Melbourne on Sustainable Communities: Collaborating, Planning, Delivering to advance solutions in large-scale urban development across a wide variety of local conditions. As an outcome of these gatherings, C40 has launched today the Sustainable Urban Development network of cities, led by the City of Melbourne, to strengthen how local government practitioners work together to make sustainable communities possible in cities around the world

As centers of innovation and engines of growth, cities are increasingly showing the way forward. Imagine an urban community that functions as a carbon sink rather than a carbon source. Think of the possibilities of a city district whose energy systems use waste as a resource, or whose highly efficient schools, offices and homes are able to heat and cool themselves with minimal energy. These are not dreams, nor even mere plans on paper, but are tangible examples of real projects underway in cities around the world. They are the result of strong leadership by individual project developers and city governments, as well as a growing trend in which these stakeholders collaborate through networks that foster knowledge-sharing on everything from policies to technologies.

The C40 Climate Positive Development Program, in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative and the US Green Building Council is a powerful example of such a network.  Launched by President Clinton in 2009, the program brings together a set of large-scale urban development projects from around the world to serve as laboratories for cities seeking to grow in ways that are both environmentally sustainable and economically viable. Since then, the program has strengthened and expanded, recently welcoming three new projects — ProjectZero, in Sonderborg, Denmark; Odebrecht’s BMX development in Sao Paulo, Brazil; and OHSU’s South Waterfront and Rose Quarter EcoDistricts in Portland, Oregon, USA – bringing the total number of Climate Positive projects to 18.

In joining the Climate Positive Development program, project developers commit to the extremely ambitious goal of surpassing net-zero emissions by striving to reduce on-site emissions as far as possible, and offsetting the remaining emissions through direct actions that abate greenhouse gases in the surrounding community. Together, these projects will directly reduce the carbon footprint of nearly one million people. Indirectly, they will benefit many times that number, by informing specific district-scale planning, policy, and program efforts in C40 cities around the world.

The two events happening in Melbourne this week and the city-to-city Sustainable Urban Development network we have launched, are a case in point. They represent an exciting trend of urban leadership and cooperation that is highly relevant as we build toward Rio+20 and beyond. The Climate Positive projects will be in direct dialogue with a nascent network of C40 City policymakers from more than 20 cities in developed and developing countries who increasingly recognize the value of district-scale solutions in creating jobs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and addressing climate impacts.

The approaches being shared in Melbourne this week represent a paradigm shift.  Policymakers are coming together with real estate developers in new ways, and utility providers are thinking differently and offering solutions that actually reduce energy demand. They represent sustainable development in practice, showing how urban communities grow intelligently: incubating new ideas on a local level and sharing the good ones far and wide. In so doing the urban leaders gathered here are uniquely and powerfully showing the world the future we want.

As the C40 continues our own march toward Rio, we welcome your thoughts and comments on the role cities are and can play in confronting the challenges posed by global climate change. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @C40Cities.

Changing Planet

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Meet the Author
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is a network of large and engaged cities from around the world committed to implementing meaningful and sustainable climate-related actions locally that will help address climate change globally. Recognizing that cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions, our organization’s global field staff works with city governments, supported by our technical experts across a range of program areas to reduce carbon emissions and increase energy efficiency in large cities across the world. The current chair of the C40 is Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, and 108th Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg is President of the Board. The Steering Committee includes: Berlin, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Houston, Jakarta, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul and Tokyo.