Time for Mayors to Step up on Inclusive and Sustainable Growth

10/18/2017 12:04 pm ET

By Wonsoon Park, Anne Hidalgo and Angel Gurría.

The scope of 2017’s weather catastrophes is global. While Hurricane Harvey hammered Texas, Irma devastated the Caribbean, and Maria struck Puerto Rico, at the same time massive flooding in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal took more than 1 200 lives.

The suffering, of course, from these catastrophes is local. And stories from Houston, Tortola, San Juan, Havana and beyond show that it is the least fortunate who suffer the harshest effects of such disasters. While the wealthy have more assets at risk, low-income populations are more likely to live in areas prone to climate change hazards or ill-equipped to face and recover from climate shocks. The elderly, children, and the mobility-impaired or sick are less likely to be able to flee and more likely to suffer the medical and health consequences of a disaster. This shows that inclusiveness considerations are central to the full understanding of natural catastrophes and a pre-condition to devise actions to address them.

We must tread carefully in immediately connecting any solitary event to climate change, but the link between higher carbon levels, greater sea temperature, and increased rainfall, as well as the distributional impacts of climate change are undeniable. The need to tackle this challenge is urgent. While it is not possible to eliminate the threat of a hurricane, mass flood or earthquake, there are ways to reduce their disastrous consequences by increasing the responding capacities and resilience of affected societies, in particular among the most fragile in the population. And the most effective efforts can start close to home.

More than half the world’s population already resides in cities, and more people are migrating from rural to urban areas. Urban growth generates environmental costs: cities consume more than two-thirds of the world’s energy, and are responsible for 70% of greenhouse emissions.

But cities also represent an opportunity to address the pressing issues of climate change in an inclusive way. They are turning the tide by creating green and public urban spaces and investing in low-carbon infrastructure and energy alternatives that can profit all people. Energy, transport and building construction are three sectors ripe for the implementation of low-carbon strategies that can create new and sustainable job prospects, embedding technological solutions that do not lead to further economic exclusion. Mayors worldwide know that cities and their economies need to become more resistant to climate impacts if they are to protect all their population.

As cities take a leading role in the response to climate change, we must be sure to complement each other’s efforts. Cities should look to each other as allies in the push toward mutually reinforcing public policies that fight against climate change and in so doing, address the needs of the most vulnerable.

Seoul and Paris are at the forefront of city efforts to leverage climate action to meet Inclusive Growth outcomes.

Paris has recently restored the ownership of the Seine shore to all Parisians, pedestrians and cyclists. Ten years after its 1st Climate Plan, the Paris City Council will adopt a new Climate Air and Energy Action Plan by the end of the year to establish the guidelines to a carbon-neutral city, by adapting its mobility to tackle air pollution for the benefit of everyone, building regulations and energy choices. Almost a year after holding the global conference “Cities For Life”, Paris keeps nurturing the development of inclusive, sustainable and resilient cities.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has also developed a remarkable policy to conserve energy and boost the energy independence of poor households. The “One Less Nuclear Power Plant Initiative” has helped Seoul reduce its energy consumption over the last five years by 24% –equivalent to the energy production of two nuclear plants – with a special focus on the needs of poorer households.

Paris and Seoul’s efforts are catalysed and spurred through the OECD’s Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth initiative, a global coalition of local leaders who are addressing inequalities in income, health, jobs and education. Emerging from the OECD Inclusive Growth Initiative launched in 2012 to fight inequalities and promoting people’s opportunities to become centre-stage actors of sustainable development, the Champion Mayors initiative not only helps cities share best practices, but elevates the voice of mayors in the global dialogue to promote inclusive and sustainable growth.

The OECD, together with the C40 network of cities that addresses climate change and a range of institutional partners, has joined forces to help cities become more inclusive and sustainable. On October 19, mayors from around the world will meet in Seoul for the Third Meeting of OECD Champion Mayors, where they will deliver the Seoul Implementation Agenda, committing to bridge on-going and future efforts on fighting climate change and advancing inclusive growth.

Communities are already learning from recent tragedies and must now do everything possible to prevent future natural disasters from turning into humanitarian ones. We will work hand in hand with city leaders to deepen our understanding of the wider benefits of climate action for inclusive growth and to identify potential regressive impacts and short term trade-offs. Making urbanisation work for all will be imperative to the success of recently adopted global agendas that aim to build a more sustainable, inclusive planet where everyone has the chance to grow and prosper.

Wonsoon Park is the Mayor of Seoul.

Anne Hidalgo is the Mayor of Paris and Chair of the C40.

Angel Gurría is the Secretary-General of the OECD.

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