Opinion - February 21, 2020

Will the solution for a sustainable world come from cities?

- Photo by D.R.

Written by Bertrand Piccard 3 min read

Faced with the immense challenge that we must collectively meet, cities must imperatively be at the heart of the fight against climate change.

I long believed that international institutions would succeed in overcoming resistance to change from certain large countries. Solving the climate crisis, I thought, would result from decisions made at the highest global level and, in a top-down approach, these choices would end up being embraced by us all. The seriousness and scale of the climate challenge would prompt agreement among key political decision makers on the way forward to reach an ambitious consensus.

Yet, in the past several years, the international summits on environmental protection have proven me wrong. Since the 2015 Paris Accord and the wave of hope it generated, a series of conferences have not achieved the expected results. It now seems obvious to me that we must also seek a solution elsewhere. But where?

Because after all, the situation is quite clear: we imperatively have to put an end to greenhouse gas emissions; stop polluting our oceans, our soil and our atmosphere; decrease our wasting of natural resources; and protect biodiversity from a looming disaster.

Frustrated by the inertia and lack of results of international negotiations, numerous cities have joined stepped up their efforts to promote a more sustainable way of life and displayed a pioneering spirit in terms of fighting climate change. Just like isolated pixels on a screen, multiplying until they shape the image of a desirable future.

Some Belgian cities and regions have also shared their intention to make ecology a top priority. I have recently had the pleasure to begin a collaboration with the City of Brussels that has taken on the Solar Impulse Foundation’s challenge: seeking 1,000 solutions that are financially profitable and protect the environment. We will work together to implement these solutions city-wide and promote innovative Belgian companies world-wide. During the past year, a similar partnership with Wallonia has shown that we are on the right track.

Copenhagen seeks to become the first carbon neutral city in the world by 2025, New York aims to reduce its emissions by 80% during the next 30 years, Paris will forbid the use of diesel vehicles by 2024 and Geneva has banned single-use plastic since 1 January. Going green will thus happen thanks to cities and regions. The municipal and regional levels are closer to citizens and everyday concerns and can truly allow us to implement the required change in our way of life and the development of clean solutions. It’s this local breeding ground that will spawn the required support for the Green Deal that is being courageously launched by the newly appointed European Commission.

Because cities represent today more than half of the world’s population, consume 78 per cent of energy and produce more than 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, they have to be on the front lines in the implementation of clean technologies.

Urban systems that make up our cities can make gains in efficiency and sustainability thanks to clean technologies that are already available to us. Today, it’s possible to make our buildings save on energy and water, introduce less polluting modes of transportation, reduce, reuse and recycle our waste, encourage resource sharing, support more local consumption patterns and promote a circular economy.

For centuries, cities have been centres of exchange, trade, culture and innovation and they have witnessed the birth of some of humanity’s greatest ideas. Confronted with the immense challenge that we must take on together, cities imperatively have to be at the heart of the fight against climate change. 

This article was originally published in La Libre. Read the original version.

Written by Bertrand Piccard on February 21, 2020

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