City residents will have a once-in-a-lifetime chance this week to learn how they and their local mayors can help lead the fight against climate change.
Some 750 scientists, academics, and civic leaders will be at the Edmonton Shaw Conference Centre this week for the inaugural Cities and Climate Change Science Conference – the first event organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the UN body that oversees the world’s climate research) to focus exclusively on cities.
“About 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the activities that happen within cities or that are necessary to support them,” said David Miller, former mayor of Toronto and master of ceremonies for the conference.
“The world won’t reach its (climate) goals without the actions of cities.”
This conference is meant to give municipal leaders the science they need to show leadership in this area, he continued. It’s also part of the lead-up to an upcoming IPCC report on cities.
The City of Edmonton has organized a series of climate science side-events to the main conference, such as this weekend’s Change for Climate Global Mayors Summit.
One side event happening at the same time and place as the main conference is the Change for Climate: Epcor Stage, where former Gazette reporter David Dodge will host about 20 free talks on science, cities, and climate change.
“It’s three days of all kinds of presentations,” he said, including two by Katharine Hayhoe, a renowned atmospheric scientist who was named one of Time‘s 100 Most Influential People in 2014.
“I think it’s going to be fun!”
Dodge said this conference was a once-in-a-lifetime event that signals a shift in the world’s approach to climate change.
“All the other conferences (until now) were about the politics of climate change,” he said – leaders negotiating Kyoto Protocols and Paris Accords and other high-level agreements.
“Now what they’re realizing is that we can actually get to the point of doing the work of solving climate change.”
Cities lead the way
Cities are bearing the brunt of climate change and are also leading efforts to address it, said Miller. Toronto saw five one-in-50-year storms in three years while he was in office, and had to spend billions to upgrade its stormwater infrastructure as a result. The city also passed a climate change strategy that cut its greenhouse gas emissions 15 per cent in five years.
“I’m in New York City as we speak, and Hurricane Sandy was devastating here,” he said, referring to a disaster scientists agree was made worse by climate change.
Research has identified clear steps that cities can take in transportation, waste, heating, and electricity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Miller said. These include replacing diesel buses with electric ones and buying green power. Many of these actions also make cities better places to live (e.g. by reducing air pollution).
Edmonton may have one of the highest per capita emission rates in the world, but it also has a comprehensive energy transition strategy in place to use 25 per cent less energy per person by 2035, said Dodge, who co-chairs the committee in charge of that strategy. The city is also creating new energy efficiency standards for civic buildings and promoting EnerGuide ratings for homes.
Dodge said his experience as chair of Energy Efficiency Alberta has convinced him that Albertans are ready to do their part on climate change. But residents also have to make sure their leaders step up as well. He suggests asking them if they run their civic operations on 100 per cent renewable electricity, as Calgary has for 10 years.
“We all need to take some responsibility.”
The conference runs from March 5 to 7, and parts of it will be live-streamed online and at the Epcor Stage (Hall A of the conference centre). Visit bit.ly/2oGKknK for a schedule of talks at the Epcor Stage and citiesipcc.org for details on the main conference.