Benjamin Barber, who died last month, is the author of Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming. This article is an edited extract from that book: How to fix climate change: put cities, not countries, in charge: It can’t be left to dysfunctional nation states to tackle – but as Oslo and Seoul have shown, metropolitan centres can rise to the challenge of global warming. Why have the nations governing the planet been so hopelessly ineffective in addressing the grave environmental crisis? Is it because the consequences of carbon emissions seem hypothetical, or too far off? Politicians pay few costs for doing nothing, and receive little credit for acting aggressively. In the US, a nation that contributes one-fifth of all global greenhouse emissions (China is responsible for another fifth), Donald Trump has promised to reopen coal mines and free up oil drilling. There is an ample menu of sustainable options available to cities wishing to address climate change aggressively – and they can amplify their impact by coordinating their policies. The list includes divestment of public funds from carbon energy companies; investment to encourage renewable energy and green infrastructure; municipal carbon taxes; fracking and drilling bans; new waste incineration technologies; regulation of the use of plastic bottles and bags; policies to improve public transport and reduce car use; and recycling. Oslo has been in the forefront of sustainable urban development. With Norway’s energy needs almost completely met by hydroelectric power, and its lion’s share of North Sea oil and gas going almost entirely to exports, almost all of the income goes to Norway’s massive sovereign wealth fund. Oslo has thus had the luxury of pursuing a zero-emission campaign, and appears likely to achieve that goal by 2025. The city is applying the goal with particular efficiency to transportation, and electric vehicle charging stations are plentiful. The plan is to make Oslo the most electric vehicle-friendly city in the world – one in four new cars sold in Norway are electric – and a champion of green housing and architecture: its new opera house is set in a neighbourhood that gleams with green infrastructure. Asia also has exemplary green-leaning cities, including Hong Kong and Seoul. The greater Seoul region has a population of almost 25 million, and in 2015 it was ranked the continent’s most sustainable city. Seoul has made a massive investment in electric-powered buses. It already has the world’s third largest subway system, but its carbon fuel bus fleet of 120,000 vehicles has been a massive source of pollution. Current plans are to convert half this fleet to electric by 2020, which would be the world’s most ambitious achievement of this kind. Such approaches can be undertaken to great effect one city at a time, but they are also mutually reinfor cing: networks of collaborating cities can amplify their global impact. They can also make it more difficult for courts or governments to oppose environmental initiatives, standing firm on common approaches to sustainability and decarbonisation. The challenge facing cities and citizens is to summon the necessary political will to do the things we know how to do – but have not done – and then to do them democratically. That will not be easy because democracy is in trouble, because moneyed interests and global oligarchies are corrupting government. But the fate of the campaign against climate change and other existential threats depends on democratic politics within and among cities.
Guardian 7th May 2017 read more »