The former Mayor of New York City and philanthropist will soon have a new title: UN envoy. Ban Ki Moon is expected to announce today that Michael Bloomberg will serve as his special envoy for cities and climate change.
Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist who left office last month, made combating climate change a key focus during his 12 years leading the United States most populous city. He also advocated for national climate change legislation.
Bloomberg has played a leading role in the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an international group of mayors created in 2005 and dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The C40 group, of which Bloomberg is president of the board, is due to meet in Johannesburg next week.
He announced last month that New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 19 percent since 2005, putting the city nearly two-thirds of the way to meeting the goal that he set five years ago.
In the climate change blueprint he launched in 2007, called PlaNYC 2030, Bloomberg set a goal to slash citywide emissions 30 percent by 2030 through a number of initiatives, such as requiring hybrid taxi cabs, building bike lanes and retrofitting municipal buildings to make them more energy efficient.
I think the choice is inspired. The process to secure an internally binding climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto protocols is at best moving forward very slowly. At worst, it is fatally stalled. In the meantime, the consequences of not taking action are becoming more and more clear.
Things may be stalled at the international level, but coalitions of concerned organizations, countries, corporations and multilateral institutions are taking matters into their own hands. They are not waiting for a giant international agreement. Rather, public-private partnerships are tackling discrete parts of the climate change issue at the local and national level. The Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative is a good example; as is a whole slew of program being pursued by the World Bank.
Initiatives like the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, of which Michael Bloomberg is a founding member, certainly fit the bill. This is a coalition of mayors of some of the world’s largest cities who are taking action to reduce emissions and increase efficiency in their cities. Mayors don’t have to wait for diplomats at the UN to seal a deal before they pursue policies to improve the sustainability of their communities.
At this point, if real action is to be taken on the climate change front, it will have to come from local stakeholders like city mayors. Though things may be stuck at the international level, combining a personality like Michael Bloomberg with the unique convening power of the United Nations is sure to yield tangible results on the climate front.