Time for cities to take the lead

What a summer! The last time we checked in we were at the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit, tracking the negotiations around green jobs and green economy alongside the Adopt a Negotiator project. Since then, we have been schlepping around speaking to think tanks, councils, businesses, and even the Greater London Authority Economy Committee to share what we learnt from that experience.

What did we learn at Rio+20? That nation states are not up to the job of ensuring we make the transition to a green economy. The message we took away was that it’s time for cities to take the lead.

Nation states are not going to sort this out

Rio+20 was, in short, a total bungle. World leaders came, and world leaders went, but they were rarely in a room at the same time and, when they were, there was very little negotiating going on. Instead, what we saw was a race to the bottom, where countries took a fairly ambitious starting text and then deleted so much from it that what we were left with were the lowest common denominators.

This is what Nick Clegg said to the House of Commons after the summit, on June 26:

First, while the Rio Declaration was not all that we would have wanted, this was the first time a multilateral document expressing such strong support for the green economy has been agreed. That in itself is a major achievement, recognising that in the long term greening our economies should not conflict with growing them.

And this is the key paragraph from the Rio+20 “Future We Want” outcome document, relating to green economy:

56. In this regard, we consider green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development and that it could provide options for policymaking but should not be a rigid set of rules. We emphasize that it should contribute to eradicating poverty as well as sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion, improving human welfare and creating opportunities for employment and decent work for all, while maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems. 

To be honest, it is not necessary to read through these paragraphs in full. You need only take note of the words I have made bold. Support, consider, emphasize. What is clearly missing, is action.

The role of cities

So, if nation states won’t step forward and take action, who will? This is what ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability have to say on the subject:

Do cities have to step in where governments are failing to take effective action? Cities are cooperating internationally without borders, without customs, without military forces. They can address the issues of the future without the global power play that we see going on at intergovernmental level.

There are already examples where cities can claim much success as leaders of sustainable development. After the first Rio summit twenty years ago, Heads of States and Governments adopted Agenda 21, a ‘blueprint’ for sustainable development. All these years later, however, few countries can demonstrate a national success story of having implemented this agenda. It is Local Agenda 21, spearheaded by local governments that may be regarded as a global success story of moving towards sustainability.

It’s happening

As 10:10 have highlighted this week, the shift to a green economy is already happening. Solar panels are being installed, insulation laid out, bikes being taken out of the shed. And cities are taking the lead and stepping up to the plate.

Here, in London, there are so many projects out there showing that this city can do better. The UCU Greener Jobs Alliance, the GLA RE:NEW programme, Rubies in the Rubble – just a few examples of progress being made.

But, we need more action, and faster. That is why we are keeping on keeping on. Bringing people from all over our city together at the next Alliance meeting next week to explore how we can push the green economy agenda further. Let us know if you want an invite.

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