Jay Carson, Cities, and Climate...no wait Donald Trump & Tori Spelling!

I rarely read Fortune magazine.  OK, that's an overstatement.  But it came across my desktop last week when they ran an interview with Jay Carson, disheveled CEO of the newly formed C40 Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI).

If you've been around the block, you'll know that neither the C40 nor the CCI Cities programs are new. C40 and the CCI have been collaboratively running one of the world's largest municipal climate programs since 2006.  The expanded alliance, announced earlier this month, is really more of a reorganization and streamlining of an existing partnership.

But - when I wasn't distracted by the sidebar trumpeting scandals about Donald's net worth and Tori Spelling's estate being up for sale - I thought that Carson made a few good points about why cities are such important players when it comes to climate change policy. He also gave away a few insights as to why the C40 has had only a relatively limited impact so far.

I've put a few choice excerpts below.  I should say at the outset that I'm supportive of the C40's work.  As usual the interview, and the C40 press release announcing the partnership, make much of the fact that cities are responsible for 70% of the world's GHG emissions. But as I've discussed before, that number only makes sense if you cast your net very broadly and take into account emissions from sources outside the city itself - sources linked to the production of energy, consumer goods, and construction materials in particular. [Update: see this new report on "outsourced emissions" over at Yale's e360]

I've long been an advocate for exactly that type of big-picture responsibility.

So far though the C40s programs have failed to address many of those issues. Many of them -- like more efficient street lighting or  efficiency retrofits for municipal buildings -- are useful entry points for cities looking to get involved. But something much more ambitious is needed if they are going to really take on the type of responsibility implied by that 70% estimate.

When Carson spells out how the C40 selects its projects (by looking for big emissions that fall directly within a municipal government's control), it became a lot clearer to me why the C40 is falling short.  That kind of logic only goes so far, and it overlooks many of the important sources of emissions linked to cities.

Here's hoping that with their newly doubled budged the C40 CCI will manage to boldly go where only a very few cities have gone before.

--From The Big City Fix for Climate Change

Why do you think cities should lead the environmental movement?
As Mayor Bloomberg likes to say, while nations talk, cities act. That's the fundamental principle of our organization. [Los Angeles] Mayor Villaraigosa was the genius behind this. He said I can get four or five of my mayoral colleagues and we're 100 million people. I love Montana, but instead of trying to get Montana, let's get a few like-minded mayors around the world on board to really take action.

What kind of green policy initiatives can we expect from cities?
Nothing about this is overly prescriptive. Cities can figure out what works for them. You can literally do this on an XY matrix. One axis is carbon output, ranked 1 to 10. The other, areas of control that the mayor has, ranked 1 to 10. If you get something that's a 10 on both, that needs to be a policy that you're pushing.

In New York, buildings are huge on the carbon output axis. And the mayor has a reasonable amount of control over building codes. Taxis have a huge carbon output and a reasonable amount of control by the mayor. So you go after those two, which Mayor Bloomberg has done. With a far-reaching green building code, which by the way was supported by the Real Estate Board of New York when they understood what the financial savings would be. And you have a green taxi law, which was to some extent fought by the taxi lobby but I think has been embraced by the city; people are coming around. New York has more than 12,000 taxis. Move all those to hybrids and you make a huge impact.

Some Fortune readers might say that what you're describing -- leverage, impatience with rhetoric, a focus on results -- fits business better than it does politics at any level, even cities.
Businesses tend to look at what works, at what will affect the bottom line. And by the way, smart companies around the world see that reducing their carbon emissions actually helps their bottom line. There's this great nexus at Wal-Mart between shrinking its packaging and saving money in terms of transport costs. Fewer trucks on the road, less paper used in packaging, more money saved for Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500). Everybody wins.

Just like a business, a city can't implement a policy that ultimately doesn't work. Green building codes, for example. You cannot pass green building codes that ultimately bankrupt your developers because cities need developers. You have to make sure that your building codes save energy to a degree that, while it may cost slightly more to build, the savings over the long run will benefit developers and building owners.

image: Fortune magazine

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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

Info on my consulting work, c.v. and current research focus is all here.


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