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Mark Watts of C40 cities
Mark Watts of C40 cities. Credit: Rosamund Pearce/Carbon Brief.
13 July 2016 16:06

The Carbon Brief Interview: Mark Watts

Sophie Yeo


Sophie Yeo

13.07.2016 | 4:06pm
InterviewsThe Carbon Brief Interview: Mark Watts

Mark Watts is the executive director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Prior to this, he was the director of Arup’s energy consulting team. Between 2000 and 2008, he worked as the Mayor of London’s climate change and sustainable transport adviser, which included developing London’s Climate Change Action Plan.

  • Watts on the importance of cities: “Cities historically have been the places where humanity has gestated the ideas that have allowed us to take leaps forward.”
  • On the power of mayors: “Really confident, ambitious mayors with a big vision can do a huge amount more than might appear apparent on paper.”
  • On going beyond national politics: “Ken Livingstone set a far more ambitious climate strategy for London than was the case for Britain at the time.”
  • On Donald Trump: “If we were to get a president who still is in complete denial around climate change, then there’s going to be even greater emphasis on those mayors.”
  • On China: “China’s a very different context to work in…it’s the push from the national government that is setting the direction from the cities.”
  • On urbanisation: “We typically see a lower carbon footprint for urban dwellers than rural dwellers, and in the big cities than in the smaller cities.”
  • On urban sprawl: “It can’t work for seven billion people. It never worked for five billion people.”
  • On adaptation v mitigation: “In most cases, the things that you need to do in an urban context to adapt fit rather well with what you need to do to mitigate.”
  • On cities and the IPCC: “I think the IPCC and the scientific world are slightly lagging behind where the political world is on climate change, which has already quite decisively recognised the role of cities.”
  • On inequality: “You won’t be able to reduce poverty and inequality if you don’t tackle climate change, because precisely it’s the poorest who are most at risk.”
  • On harnessing co-benefits: “In so many parts of the world… unfortunately climate change just doesn’t seem like a big and immediate enough risk for people to get worried about it.”
  • On helping the most vulnerable: “Typically what those plans tend to show is the poorest people live in the most vulnerable areas.”
  • On the financial services sector: “We need to see them be more creative in how they can fund city governments.”
  • On London: “Basically the legacy of the Georgians and the Victorian era has been quite helpful for us.”


Carbon Brief: Can you explain why cities are so important now and in the future for tackling climate change?

Mark Watts: Well, the simple thing is the city is where half the world’s population live and grow in, and over two thirds of energy are consumed there. They’re essential if we’re going to build a world that can be climate safe, can constrain some at just a 1.5, 2C above pre industrial targets, then change has got to happen in cities. But I think, actually, the more kind of interesting, more important thing is, that cities historically have been the places where humanity has gestated the ideas that have allowed us to take leaps forward, to find new ways of living. And, very much at the moment, they’re the places where the political leadership is emerging, that really gives one confidence that it is possible to take on this incredible global task of preventing catastrophic climate change.

CB: You work with a huge spectrum of cities across the globe. Would you say there’s a common thread running through them when it comes to reducing emissions and adapting to climate change?

MW: Yeah, actually that commonality is part of the reason C40 was created. Really the concept that, although there’s incredible diversity across the world’s greatest cities that are in C40, in terms of the economy, in terms culture, religion, politics, geography, climate impact, actually, there’s more that unites then divides them. And certainly there’s something about the large cities. When you get to a scale of population above three million, the kind of infrastructure that is needed to make that city work, the kind of decisions that the political leaders have to make on a daily basis, is really rather similar. And so what we find is that it’s perfectly possible to have tremendous crossing, sharing of ideas, even from cities that are some of the lowest GDP per capita in the world, some of the highest, global south, global north. You know, there’s no dividing line that prevents the cross fertilization of good ideas, as long as you’ve got the right kind of size of city.

CB: How do you go about bringing change to a city, and what actors is it important to convince?

MW: Well, we’re coming in, C40’s coming in, in one particular niche, which is the concept that the best way — we’re focused on the political leaders primarily — the mayors of our big cities, although we also work with the leading civil servants in those city governments as well. And the premise that the best person to convince one mayor to be more ambitious, to go ahead with that difficult but necessary transition, is another mayor who’s already done that, and has worked, or indeed hasn’t worked, but has got some lessons from it.

So our core proposition is just bringing those actors together, bringing the mayors together, and getting them to share ideas, bringing the senior city leaders together to share ideas. But obviously then, if you actually want to affect change within the city there’s a whole panoply of people that need to be engaged from the business community, civil society, and indeed increasingly for our mayors, it’s that relationship between the city government, and the national or regional government as well, to devolve the powers to create the conditions where they can be bold and ambitious.

CB: And so to what extent can cities act independently from the overall tone of national politics in a country?

MW: Well, it’s different in every case, but I say if you want to generalize, about half of the measures that are necessary in any given city to constrain global temperature rise, constrain emissions, in line with what was agreed in Paris, about half of those decisions can be made directly, or within close proximity to the powers of the mayor. The other half are more diffused, and quite often they relate to things that individuals need to do in society. And certainly, there’s a big role for government. But actually it really depends on the individual mayor, the individual circumstances within the city, just how much they’re able to stretch those powers. Really confident, ambitious mayors with a big vision can do a huge amount more than might appear apparent on paper.

CB: And are there any cities you can think of that have really gone beyond their country’s national position?

MW: Well, lots actually, thankfully. I mean, going back to when C40 was created, it was then mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — he set a far more ambitious climate strategy for London than was the case for Britain at the time. The national policy has now come into line with what London set. But if you look at some of our members cities, Melbourne and Sydney, two of the most active mayors — Clover Moore, Lord Mayor Doyle in Melbourne too, the most active mayors within C40, some of the most ambitious plans — they’re in a country that’s almost still in denial about climate change at their national political leadership. The same is true in Canada, until thankfully we got a different leadership there. In the United States, it’s a slightly different thing in that you’ve got a president that does get climate change, but very much the rest of the federal setup is preventing action, and yet mayors, mayors of LA, San Francisco, New York, are really leading the action.

CB: Do you think cities could end up taking up the mantle in US of climate action if we get maybe a Trump government in the future?

MW: I think they already have, really. I think Obama’s been great in the last few years, but he’s very much recognised that for him to deliver on his aspirations on climate change, he’s got to allow the mayors and the governors who want to take action to lead that, because he just can’t push it through with his executive power. But certainly, if we were — let’s hope not — but, if we were to get a president who still is in complete denial around climate change, then there’s going to be even greater emphasis on those mayors. I think they’re really up for it. And one of the great things about working in the city space is the ability, the willingness, of mayors to work with each other, to collaborate, and not to kind of retreat back into protectionism, and to just looking after number one, and thinking about immediate needs — to have a long term vision, and be willing to work with other people to make it happen.


Video by Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.


CB: Have you ever had the reverse, where you’ve had to drag a city up to meeting its national state of politics?

MW: Actually, I don’t recall that we’ve ever had a situation like that. You know, generally the case, our cities, the big cities, have got more ambitious plans than the national government. But certainly there are different contexts. China’s a very different context to work in, when very much it is the case that the national government is now setting really quite tough standards around energy, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and goals towards climate change, and it’s the push from the national government that is setting the direction from the cities. Not that the city leaders aren’t ready and willing to take that up, but the type of governance in China is precisely that you expect the lead to come from the centre, and so we work more with the national government in China than perhaps in any other country.

CB: Okay. The UN predicts that around 70% of the global population will be living in cities by 2050. Do you think an increasingly urban population will be a positive factor in efforts to combat climate change?

MW: Yes, ultimately, but actually the starting point is here. Urbanisation is happening, and there’s really almost nothing that can be done to stop it given the type of development that’s happened through a very globalised economy. So you have to work with it. But actually, there are significant benefits to urbanisation in terms of greater efficiency of use of space and resources, particularly energy, so we typically see a lower carbon footprint for urban dwellers than rural dwellers, and in the big cities than in the smaller cities. Partly that’s about the way that you can organize mobility, and can have a much greater reliance on fast, efficient, cheap public mass transit in big urban areas, that just isn’t possible in the rural. But also, I think it’s a broader facet about the way typically people accept the common use of resource and the benefits of density versus sprawl.

CB: What about urban sprawl? Are we going to have to undo some of the damage that we’ve done over the past decades?

MW: Yeah, we need a totally different model. I mean, unfortunately, it’s quite a short period, but that post-war boom, which is in the west responsible for so many extraordinary leaps forward in terms of human wellbeing and health and development also gave us the model of the, I’m afraid, North American sprawling city design for cars, where everybody needs to have half an acre and a plot of land. And we now know it just doesn’t work. It can’t work for seven billion people. It never worked for five billion people.

I’d say we’re at a critical point now, very different to when I was first engaged in a city politics fifteen or twenty years ago, when still that was the aspiration. People wanted to have the new Los Angeles in their country. Now it’s very much the case, even the leaders of Los Angeles themselves, want a different type of city. And there’s a broad acceptance amongst urban political leaders, that having more compact dense cities based on mass transit, rather than sprawl and the car, is what makes people happier, makes stronger economies. However, it still is the case that the dominant model of urban development is still that car-based sprawl model. So what happens in the next three or four years is going to be critical, if we can tip over into a new model of urban development.

CB: How do you address that, changing people’s actual aspirations, and fundamental ideologies when it comes to building cities, rather than just implementing policies? How do you change the way people think?

MW: Well, I think partly it kind of happens naturally out of experience, because we’ve been through the phase where it’s just the great burst — “Wouldn’t it have been amazing if everybody could have their own car and drive to work from their lovely suburban house with their nice garden ten miles out of the city” — to now understanding that one of the products of trying to deliver that dream is terrible air pollution, awful traffic congestion that clogs up cities and stops them functioning. So people’s aspirations and ideology, if you want, change in the context of reality and of seeing what’s working. Really striking for me as a kind of young city official, seeing in London in the start of this millennium that the number one issue in public opinion surveys for what the mayor needed to do was to sort out traffic congestion. Not better hospitals, tackle crime, better education, but just make the traffic flow more freely. So I think reality is changing people’s aspiration.

CB: Cities are both extremely vulnerable to climate change and the source of around 70% of global CO2 emissions. Do you think they should be prioritising adaptation or mitigation right now?

MW: Well, you can’t separate them, it turns out. And there certainly was a view in recent years, a decade or so ago, that you had to focus on mitigation, and even talking about adaptation was defeatist and accepting that we were going to have terrible climate change. The reality is now we’re far too far down that path. The world has been far too slow to react to climate change, and there’s going to need to be an awful lot of adaptation, and it’s needed already. But also I think we understand better now that it’s not a choice. In most cases, the things that you need to do in an urban context to adapt fit rather well with what you need to do to mitigate. Certainly when you look at buildings, from an energy point of view, you need to reduce demand for energy, and you need, therefore, to keep buildings cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. That kind of building design that’s going to get you that result is also going to make buildings more liveable, more adaptable to, in most cases, rising temperatures that go beyond the original building design.

CB: Okay, on the subject of the IPCC now. Rather than being the focus of a whole special report, the IPCC has opted for cities in climate change to be a common thread throughout AR6, and for a special report to form part of the next assessment for AR7 instead. Do you think that was the right decision?

MW: Well, I think it’s a really great step forward, and Debra Roberts in Durban, and the South African government deserve a lot of the praise for making that happen and I’m very glad that C40 was able to get behind that campaign. It’s interesting, I think the IPCC and the scientific world are slightly lagging behind where the political world is on climate change, which has already quite decisively recognised the role of cities and mayors in delivering the goals set out in Paris and before. But it is critical we have that hard scientific rigorously peer-reviewed analysis of what needs to happen in cities to deliver the Paris Agreement, so I think the decision is perfect that the city contribution to be infused across everything that the IPCC is thinking about in terms of that 1.5C strategy. But then later on we’ll have specific focus as well, which will be needed.

CB: And how are you going to make sure this happens? What role are you planning on playing?

MW: Well, we have the wonderful Debra Roberts already in there leading a working group. We now intend to be diverting more of our resources to engaging with that IPCC report, making sure the evidence that we’ve collected, and the other many fantastic city organisations have collected, is presented to the scientists, so they don’t have to reinvent all of that. And we’ll be keeping a close eye on what they’re doing, and making sure that we’re inputting into it as strongly as possible.

CB: The IPCC has also said it will work with partners to organize an international scientific conference on climate change in cities early in the AR6 cycle. Do you know anything about when that will be, or what it aims to achieve?

MW: No, no details yet, but it’s a great thing that’s the intention, and we will very enthusiastically engage with it.

CB: A study published in Nature Climate Change in February found that there’s a huge disparity in adaptation spending in developed and developing megacities, with New York spending 35 times more per person to protect its residents than Lagos, for instance. How can this inequality be addressed?

MW: Yeah, I understand. It’s a very real one, and I’d say that finding is certainly what we see in C40, that the cities that are most advanced in their planning and their thinking and their spending around adaptation are precisely the ones that are least vulnerable in the sense that they may have very high risk, but they have the resources to be able to cope with it. And the ones that are the most vulnerable have so far done the least, because they have the lowest resource. In fact, one of our findings is that half of our member cities don’t have don’t have anyone, any single person in their authority, who is responsible for climate adaptation, and all of them have someone responsible for climate mitigation.

But what we’re trying to do on that is get the cross fertilisation. So one of the most inspiring partnerships within the C40 is that between Ho Chi Minh, one of the most climate vulnerable cities in the world, and Rotterdam — also incredibly high risk, parts of the city six meters below sea level — but two hundred years of knowledge, engineering knowledge, of coping, with that risk, and a really strong relationship, that’s helped Rotterdamers, helped Ho Chi Minh develop their entire thinking around adaptation, and are now engaging very much in the delivery of the strategy as well. So we hope to see many more kind of Rotterdam-Ho Chi Minh type of relationships.

CB: Do you think there’s any sort of tension when cities are thinking about adapting to climate change, between protecting people and lifestyles, and protecting capital and money and infrastructure? Do you think those two are ever in conflict with one another?

MW: Well, yeah. It’s the nature of the world, isn’t it? Those with the greatest resources are most likely to be able to protect themselves from risks once they’re understood. But it’s interesting, if you take perhaps the city in the world where that ought to be the biggest conflict, New York — just the most greatest concentration of wealth in a very small place that is really at quite considerable risk, as we’ve seen with Hurricane Sandy, and other recent disasters. But there the mayor, Mayor de Blasio, has set out a strategy that is very much linking tackling inequality with tackling climate change. And I think that’s an interesting strand of thought. Really, Pope Francis has been the one that’s most pushed it with his Encyclical. But the recognition actually there’s again not a choice between development and tackling poverty and tackling climate change, but the two have to go hand-in-hand.

You won’t be able to reduce poverty and inequality if you don’t tackle climate change, because precisely it’s the poorest who are most at risk. But equally, you can’t, to get to your early question, you can’t change people’s aspirations and thinking about what makes a good life, when in the western world, at least at the moment a lot of that thinking is based on ever-growing consumption — having more things, consuming more stuff. You’re not going to be able to change that in societies that are really very unequal, because why should the majority of people make sacrifices in their life, if they see a small elite carrying on consuming vastly more resources per capita? Adaptation is actually one of the areas, more that mitigation perhaps, where it’s easier to make the link between what’s a public good, what’s good for everybody, and what’s necessary for the long-term future.

CB: Have you seen any examples of this, where your work on climate change has helped to create a more equal society? Are there any examples you can give?

MW: Well, we’re just starting some work around this, a piece of work that we’re publishing at our summit in December that takes some of the case studies of cities where there’s been at least an aspiration to address that. So the the examples I’d give you for now would be, if you look at what Johannesburg has done, with its bus rapid transit scheme — so, you know, been done in two hundred cities around the world. But instead of treating it as a pure transport strategy — how do we get more people from A to B quickly and efficiently — they first of all called it corridors of freedom, so it tells you that this is more than just a bus route. And they’ve tried to deal with the terrible legacy of the apartheid, where still the majority of the black community live quite deliberately from the apartheid days in ghettos on the outskirts of town, miles and miles away from where jobs and opportunity are. And using that BRT line, both to connect them directly to the jobs in the city, but also in capturing some of the land value uplift that’s achieved through putting this transport route through the city to create new communities along the way that are mixed use, that have got jobs and living hand-in-hand, and which are absolutely where the housing is targeted at those who are currently poorest, and in the worst quality housing conditions. So the world will be watching that with interest, but I think it’s exactly the kind of policy that could work in many cities.

CB: Do you think there’s some value to putting forward climate change actions, or actions that will have an impact on reducing emissions, and tackling climate change by sort of advertising them as having other benefits, so you don’t even bring up climate change?

MW: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And in so many parts of the world, particularly the global south, but also in the west, unfortunately climate change just doesn’t seem like a big and immediate enough risk for people to get worried about it, and so it’s actually often counterproductive to raise things as a climate change imperative. So we’ve got a lot of work now that’s sort of looking at co-benefits. You take Copenhagen and the work that they’ve done that shows the tremendous health benefits and cost reductions in the running of their health service that have resulted from their focus on enabling cycling over so many years, which was primarily a transport policy. But the public in Copenhagen don’t cycle because they care about the environmental, though they tend to do so more than perhaps many other countries. Their primary motivation, when you look at the opinion polling, is it’s the quickest way of getting around the city, getting to work, and it’s cheap. And if that’s the motivation, great, let’s go with that, because there’s multiple outcomes to all of these policies.

CB: Is this something you take into account when you go and work for the city, the extent to mentioning climate change will tap into the psyche of the residents and the politicians within that city?

MW: Well, what we look for, because the way we’re set up is that it is invitation-only to be in C40. So to be part of the club, the existing members want to have you because you’ve got something to offer. There’s no membership fee, because we’re mostly philanthropically funded, but you do have to sign up to participation standards. They’re really about engaging and sharing ideas, but increasingly about showing that you really are a world leader in climate change. So what we’re primarily looking for is that the political leadership totally gets climate change, and is committed to using all of the levers at their disposal to reduce emissions and improve resilience to climate change. How they go about it really is up to them, and it’s different in every city. What we try and do is work with the grain. So whilst we are an entirely climate change focused organisation, a lot of our conversations with our mayors never use the word climate change, because we’re talking about better buildings, better transport, collecting the waste more efficiently. But as long as we always have an eye, and the mayors always have an eye that there is a climate outcome to that, you know, that’s fine.


Video by Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.


CB: Do you have any more examples off the top of your head, where tackling climate change has really helped to improve quality of life in the city?

MW: I think there are so many actually. We’re sitting here in the sunshine in London a day or two after Mayor Khan, the new mayor of London, has announced an increase in the congestion charge, a surcharge for vehicles that are pre-1997, so the most polluting diesel and petrol vehicles. And actually that congestion charge, which I would say has been London’s single biggest environmental success, and one of the single biggest environmental successes of any city in the world in the last couple of decades, was not introduced as environmental measure. It was introduced primarily at the behest of business to tackle the terrible levels of congestion that were making it really hard to attract the most talented people to live in London, and making the costs of running a retail business in London very hard, very high, and very hard to calculate, because you just didn’t know how long it was going to take. You just couldn’t do just-in-time delivery. I think that’s the kind of perfect example of co-benefits working together. I should say, also fits very much with the C40 model, because the mayor who introduced that congestion charge, Ken Livingstone, always, always saw it as an environmental measure, even if that wasn’t the primary motivation that he engaged with the population around.

CB: What can be done to help the most vulnerable groups and cities when it comes to climate change, such as slum dwellers, the very old, the very young, and the social and politically marginalised?

MW: Well, the first thing, as with everything in tackling climate change, is understanding where the problem lies. So, very much C40’s focus is to support and enable all of our mayors, all of our cities, first to have a really tight robust emissions inventory, so they know where the emissions come from in the city, and to have a clear understanding of risk and vulnerability from climate change, and that that’s done on some kind of global standard, so you can compare and contrast between them. And I think if you do that in the first place, you get the data in place, you understand where the vulnerabilities are, and typically what those plans tend to show is the poorest people live in the most vulnerable areas. The poorest people are most at risk from sharp hikes in energy prices, which we’re going to see some more of, unless we respond quickly in improving energy efficiency and renewable energy.

So I think sort of generally speaking that those who are most economically and socially vulnerable tend to be the ones that are also most vulnerable to climate change. What’s then needed at a policy level is understanding those two things together, so thinking not just where is it that I can reduce emission most quickly for the lowest immediate dollar cost, or whatever the currency is, but where is the greatest long term benefit? Where are policies to reduce emissions also going to create jobs, going to improve social cohesion, that will have long term cost savings over time, in reducing crime, improving health, reducing health costs, increasing the robustness, the sustainability of the economy? So, unfortunately, it’s rather unfashionable, although becoming more so, planning is the short answer to your question. Good data, and then a strong plan.

CB: How can very poor cities be convinced that climate change is a priority? The kind of cities where people are still struggling to get a car, want a fossil-fueled car, rather than electric car, that sort of thing, if they had the chance.

MW: Most people want mobility and at the moment the expression of that may be a dirty polluting car. But if you offer them a better alternative, a cleaner alternative, and it achieves the same aim of mobility, then they’ll happily take it. But the most single most important piece of work that’s been done in the area around making the case that there’s not a conflict between development in the poorest cities and tackling climate change has been the work of the New Climate Economy Commission. And they proved rather convincingly for me that the cities that move most rapidly onto a low carbon development pathway will also be the ones that increase people’s standard of living most quickly, and get the strongest, deepest, longest economic growth. Because if you kind of think about it, we’re really starting to understand now the costs of that high carbon development model, which has produced so much, because it allowed this incredible spurt in well-being, and in economic development and agricultural development, but at some significant costs that we’re reaping years later. And if you can achieve development without the cost ten years down the line, in terms of environmental pollution, it’s going to build much strong economies.

CB: When you see some of these very poor cities though, the scale of the challenge just looks enormous. Does that intimidate you at all?

MW: Well, I don’t know about intimidate, but I think we have to recognise that what’s on the checklist of a mayor in a city where a third of the population don’t yet have access to electricity, or at least a form of electricity, and maybe 10-20% are living in slum housing, trying to save the world for the benefit of future generations isn’t top of mind. It’s dealing with these incredibly immediate problems. So, you know, those mayors have got a really tough job. But, more and more one can see how the two things go together. Again, looking at some of the Africans cities, the way that they’ve managed to deal with the fact that many of the poorest populations there didn’t have electricity, didn’t have access to hot water, but rather than just connecting people up to a new gas supply for heating hot water, you see in Joburg, you get massive problems of solar thermal across all of the ghettos, and creating a local economy behind that. That’s a very clever way to deal with the problem and it’s put them in a stronger place for the future than had they tried to do it with a high carbon solution.

CB: Okay. When Hurricane Sandy hit New York, it shut down Wall Street. Considering the impact that natural disasters can have on the financial sector, should banks and businesses play a bigger role in encouraging action on climate change?

MW: Yes, absolutely, and I’d say there’s been a lack of leadership from the financial services sector. It’s interesting, they’re very much engaged in trying to price risk of climate change, and increasingly starting to include that in their models. And yet, as we’ve heard from the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, still markets haven’t properly taken up the full risks of stranded assets. We have an agreement between every country in the world to have a dramatic shift away from the use of fossil fuels, and yet still fossil fuel companies dominate our stock exchanges, and on the basis that they’re going to utilise all of the assets, all of those oil and gas reserves, which we absolutely can’t burn.

But I think there’s a very positive role that can be played in the financial services sector, particularly from the investor community, because the most significant barriers, certainly at a city scale, to delivering on the strong aspirations, the strong policies that mayors have put in place, is lack of available finance. And it’s precisely the kind of the pension fund type investors, who take quite a long term look at the return on their investment, that ought to be engaging now in the building of the new low-carbon infrastructure of the future, where you can get steady returns in bus rapid transit, building new metros, even in designing major energy efficiency programmes across whole cities. Twenty-five, thirty year roll-out times, guaranteed return on investment over a long period of time, but with a significant uplift to the economic performance of the city, which if you got locally-based investors, they will benefit from as well. We need to see more of that leadership, and we need to see them be more creative in how they can fund city governments.

CB: You talked about your role in encouraging collaboration between mayors. Have you done much to encourage collaboration between mayors and investors?

MW: Yeah, increasingly. So we’re organized across different initiative areas. One of those is around finance. We just had a very successful gathering of investors and city leaders in Rio a few months ago in our sustainable finance initiative. We also, in Paris we launched something I think will turn out to be very important for us — a C40 finance facility, which is largely funded by the German government at the moment, and is intended to fill that gap where we’ve got lots of cities with really well technically designed projects, low carbon projects, whether that be cycle routes, or a new low carbon building developments, but where the city just doesn’t have the capacity to turn those into really bankable projects — something that a private investor, or indeed a multilateral funding agency, feels comfortable about putting the money into, because it’s just not what they’re used to doing. They’re very used to funding new roads and new coal fired power stations. They’re not used to working with city governments on these slightly more disparate projects.

So, that finance facility helps bring in the expertise from the finance world to think how to structure the proposition, to put the deal in a way that the finance community can respond to. But the next stage now is to get those banks, those funding institutions, to make their capital available. It’s one of the extraordinary things, I think, a real failure that we have to address that with all the talk of a $100bn a year multilateral global climate funds, there’s almost nothing — you know, we’re talking in the 1%, less than 1%, of that funding is directly available to city governments. And yet we know such an emphasis on urban development is part of delivering the Paris Agreement.

CB: Cities are not only centers of commerce, but also of culture. How do you preserve the historical character of cities, while also making them sustainable?

MW: It’s interesting that every city, in the way that they go about delivering their own climate plan, does it slightly differently, based on the culture of that city. And certainly the way that the kind of messages that politicians use to engage with their public can be very different from the rather “you shall do this”, which does work in certain parts of the world, to the kind of gentle persuasion, the use of I guess of more kind of marketing, advertising methods. But one of the I thought interesting parts of Paris was ArtCOP, where you’ve got a whole load of artists from across different countries working together to try and engage the attendees of the COP, and then citizens within the city, in thinking about climate change. And I’d like to see a little bit more of that happening between the cities.

CB: What role do you expect technology to play in creating smart cities?

MW: Well, certainly there needs to be a major technological change to deliver a climate safe world. I think it’s an area where there’s already so much change and innovation happening. We kind of know the technological solutions already exist. Really, it’s matter of rolling them out. You know, we have electric buses working perfectly well at some scale in China now, over a thousand electric, fully electric buses on the streets of Shenzhen, Nanjing, Wuhan, Beijing, and yet in most parts of Europe, North America, Latin America, even the most ambitious cities don’t have more than ten or twenty electric vehicles. So there’s not a technological gap there. There’s a gap in terms of political leadership, financial leadership, maybe to some degree cultural also, in working out how to utilise the technologies, and get the cross fertilisation as quickly as possible.

CB: Is there any city you would hold up in particular as a model for action on climate change, and the kind of work you do?

MW: Well, there are lots within C40, and the ones that jump to mind for different reasons. Obviously the Scandinavian cities have been the inspiration for most cities around the world for two decades, and they still are. Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Oslo now with it’s incredible plans around renewable energy, particularly for transport — their aim is to be 100% renewable energy for public transport by 2020 — they’ve got the most comprehensive plans, the most sort of thought through and most systematic in terms of delivery.

But I think we’ve also seen, as I mentioned before, some real leadership, in North America, in thinking how you engage in a much more difficult political climate to have a strong climate message. And not just the New Yorks and Los Angeles that I mentioned before, but Vancouver, where again a 100% renewable energy target there. This is really bold direction setting by the mayor. And then in the global south, Rio, which is our current chair — really, the transport revolution that’s taken place there is just extraordinary. In the space of eight years, Rio is going from a city that was completely dominated and planned for the car, to one where half of the population will be able to access public transport for their trips to work. And for people who go to the Olympics in a month’s time, they’re going to find where once there was a four lane elevated highway that split the city in two across the central business district, instead now, a beautiful light rail leading to a wonderful public plaza on the coast, and now three hundred kilometres of cycle lanes that take you all around the most beautiful parts of Rio — and achieved in just eight years by a really dynamic mayor.

CB: On that kind of note, is there any particular mayor in other cities that you would hold up as an example?

MW: Oh, we’ve so many. That’s the wonderful thing in C40, and I’ve mentioned that a lot already. Thinking closer to home, what Mayor Hidalgo is doing in Paris at the moment on two fronts in particular. So, dealing with their problem of air quality, which is so closely linked to carbon emissions from transport. So she’s been leading European mayors in challenging the European Union to be tougher around diesel vehicles, and indeed proposing to ban diesel vehicles entirely from Paris by I think it’s 2020. Closing whole banks of the Seine permanently to traffic, which will have a tremendous sort of cultural improvement, I think, in that wonderful city, but also such a clear message about the relative rights of people and mobility in the city. And of course, it’s the city that gave us the cycle hire, which has spread more than any of the policy across every city in C40.

But also she’s very interested in what she’s been doing with the Reinventing Paris project, where the mayor has taken a whole series of publicly owned buildings that had fallen into disuse, and are not necessary to be held in the public sector anymore, offer them up for sale, but for sale to the best design, not the highest price. And what was really interesting seeing the results of that competition, most of the developers and the architects have teamed up with local populations, and everyone wants more green space. So everyone wants green buildings, urban farming, more public space around their buildings, and it’s a very interesting experiment that I can see spreading a lot of other places.

CB: When do you think C40 will get its first zero carbon city, and when did you think that can happen, and do you have any idea of which city might be the first to get there?

MW: Well, the ones that have the target, Copenhagen I think is the most ambitious. Their target is 2030 to be a fully zero carbon city. Although that does involve some offsets of their emissions. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if it’s one of the East Asian cities ultimately that gets, perhaps one of the smaller — and smaller and in inverted commas, there’s nothing small in China. But seeing, they haven’t actually joined C40 yet, but seeing the mayor of Jinjiang in Beijing last month talking about this — a city that confounds all the expectations of Chinese cities,  where it’s being planned that over half of the space will green. So not just great tower blocks and concrete — a total focus on mobility through mass transit. But also really utilising the concept of the smaller city.

I think there’s some benefit here for the cities that are developing most recently and very rapidly that they can leapfrog. Just as many global south cities have never had land line telephony — they’ve gone straight to mobile phones — I think we’ll see cities here that really are able to run on data, use the kind of whole smart city thinking to be very, very efficient, very high quality green design buildings. It’s much harder for the equally ambitious mayors, like the Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles, one of our leading mayors, but what a tough challenge he has starting from where Los Angeles is. There’s all the mayors in Houston similarly being some of our leaders. It’ll be tougher for them to get to carbon neutrality, but they will get there.

CB: Okay, and much closer to home — what does a London of the future look like to you?

MW: Well, I think London actually starts from quite a good place, because here we already have a very high degree of green space. We’ve got a good level of density. It could it be a bit denser, a bit more like Paris perhaps, but basically the legacy of the Georgians and the Victorian era has been quite helpful for us. I think the thing that probably where London has the greatest opportunity — it actually links back to your question around the investor community — is that London also has the benefit of not merely of being in some sense a model for how a low carbon city works, with this very great public transport system, having a congestion pricing already in place, and all the green space, but also has a large degree of the investor community here, that if we can unlock that capital that’s sitting there ready to be used to build a green economy of the future, then you really will be able to realise the vision of a future low carbon city. And also one, you know, in a context of Brexit, one of the great things about London is its extraordinary cultural diversity, and I suspect that the cultural diversity is going to be a great benefit to delivering a low carbon world, because the cities where people of all different cultures and religions and geographies, have already learned to work together so well, as they have London, are most likely to be the ones that can also cooperate around this extraordinary challenge of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

CB: And do you have high hopes for Sadiq Khan in taking us towards this?

MW: Well, he’s got off to a great start, hasn’t he? I think this huge focus on settling inequality and some really bold moves within the first few weeks. We await with interest him appointing a deputy mayor for environment, which is absolutely needed. They need that senior level leadership and focus as has happened under the previous mayors. But, yeah, I think we expect great things from Mayor Khan.

CB: And I think that’s taken me to the end of my questions, so thank you very much.

The interview was conducted by Sophie Yeo on 6 July 2016 at City Gate House, London.

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