Addressing Climate Change: The United Nations and the World at Work

“ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE: THE NATIONS AT WORK”

MAYOR BLOOMBERG
February 11, 2008
Location: United Nations, Trusteeship Council Chamber

Good morning.  Mister President; Mister Secretary-General; Mr. Escobar, and permanent representatives to the United Nations; excellencies; delegates; and particularly my country’s ambassador, Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad. We are pleased to me members of the United Nations and I am thrilled to have the honor to address this august body.  The United Nations has been, and always will be a important New York- important to New York City for the vital work that you do and I think important to this country and to the world. And its importance to New York is shown by the fact that the Mayor’s office maintains a Commission for the United Nations, Consular Corps, and Protocol, whose commissioner is my sister, Marjorie Tiven. So if it’s good enough for my family, it’s good enough for New York City.  

And on a personal note, I was just thinking that nothing would have made our father prouder than to see us here today. I was born shortly before the United Nations was founded and it has always been important to my family.

Of course, being the Mayor of New York – the world’s most international city – is a bit like presiding over the United Nations every single day of the year.  

If you call our Citizen Service Hotline at 311, you can get information about City services in any of the 170 different languages spoken in our city.  We do try to help everyone. I will say we’re not always successful.  Earlier this year, someone called to ask for Oprah Winfrey’s phone number. I don’t think we were able to satisfy her.
And not too long after, someone else asked: “What is the capital of the world?”  Actually, that was an easy one for us to answer: the home of the United Nations. But maybe I’m a little bit prejudiced.

It has been not quite two months since the close of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bali.  And it was my privilege to address that convention at the invitation of ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, a worldwide network of more than 700 cities and counties that, like New York City, are actively engaged in combating climate change. Bali certainly was an historic gathering.  It set the stage for a global compact that advances the progress begun some 10 years ago at Kyoto.

However, between now and the Copenhagen Conference late next year, we must establish, I think, the preconditions for such progress. Both developed and developing nations must recognize the need to alter their policies and make serious commitments to change. And I believe that our experience in New York City, and the experience of many of the world’s other great cities, too, can help guide that process. 

Because today I want to outline just how much we and the world’s other cities have already contributed to the struggle against global climate change and some of the new steps our city is now taking in this arena and why the world’s cities must be part of the next and critical phase of international action.

The first precondition for making the Copenhagen negotiations a success, I believe, is that the United States, which leads the world in greenhouse gas production, must finally set real and binding carbon reduction targets. As long as there is no penalty or cost involved in producing greenhouse gases, there will be no incentive to meet such targets. And for that reason, I believe the U.S. should enact a tax on carbon emissions. Now, others advocate a cap-and-trade system – an approach that I believe would be less direct and therefore less successful. But either alternative would be superior to our current inadequate status quo.  Instituting either would mark a major and welcome commitment to addressing climate change.  And I believe the American people are prepared to accept our responsibility to lead by example.  America always had- has, and I think America should continue to. And our President and Congress must begin to work together in a bi-partisan fashion to make such leadership possible.

The carbon reduction targets that the U.S. should set must be ambitious but also achievable.  And here, as I have said, the experience of New York City is instructive.

Ten months ago, we adopted a set of long-term sustainability goals, which we call our “PlaNYC,” and which was highlighted in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report for 2007-2008. Based on a careful assessment of what existing technology makes feasible, we determined that New York City can shrink our carbon footprint 30% from current levels by the year 2030.  And recent authoritative studies indicate that the U.S. could do something very close to that, too – and at nearly zero net cost, because so many of the energy efficiency strategies involved actually save money in the long run.

The second pre-condition for progress at Copenhagen is a willingness by nations with developing economies to make serious commitments to address global warming as well. Realistically, such commitments are likely to be different from those required of the U.S. or other developed countries.  But China and India are also great nations and they must accept the burdens of greatness by setting the energy efficient standards that will help meet the most urgent environmental challenge of our era.

New York City’s experience is illustrative here as well because as we’ve embarked on reducing our carbon footprint, we’ve learned something that I hope our colleagues from Beijing and Delhi are also realizing: reducing your carbon production increases the social and economic well-being of your people.  Let me quickly cite four examples.

First, we’re converting our city’s taxi fleet to hybrid cars.  This action alone will reduce New York City’s carbon footprint by half of one percent.  In the bargain, it will also clean our air of pollutants, and save thousands of dollars a year in fuel costs for our cabdrivers. 

Second, we’ve also proposed a program of congestion pricing, designed to discourage driving in our busy business district during the peak weekday hours. It’s modeled on successful efforts in London, Stockholm, and Singapore.  Those cities have now been joined my Milan, where Mayor Letizia Moratti will be a panelist later this morning.
Not only will the congestion pricing we propose reduce the carbon emissions produced by autos.  It will also clean our air, make our economy more productive, and finance the new transit lines we desperately need.

Third, we’re working to green our buildings – again, not just to cut carbon emissions, but also because it will allow us to redirect billions of dollars a year it now takes to heat and cool these buildings, often inefficiently, to better purposes.

Fourth, we’re planting one million trees throughout our city during the next ten years – and have already put more than 30,000 of them in the ground, often in neighborhoods where such trees are sorely lacking. 
They will not only capture carbon dioxide, but also clean the air, cool our streets, reduce street flooding, and raise property values. 

I could go on and one, but I think I made my point: serious carbon targets will not hamper growth, and it will leave us all better off. If the U.S. and the developing nations make such commitments, then the prospects for a new international global warming accord improve greatly. But it’s also clear that the world cannot wait for 2009.  Global warming demands immediate action. As the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman warned in a report summing up the Bali conference:  On this issue, “It’s too late for later.”

The world’s great cities recognize that.  Each day, we confront the health effects of the air pollution produced by power plants and auto traffic that’s also raising the earth’s temperature. With half the world’s population now living in our cities – a trend which will only accelerate in the years ahead – leaders in local governments around the globe are already moving aggressively and creatively to fight climate change.

As the officials who are closest to the people, and the problems they face, we don’t have the luxury of talking about change, but not delivering it.  So we are not waiting for others to act first. And it’s why the mayors of many of the world’s largest cities have joined forces to fight climate change in the “C-40” organization, whose conference it was New York’s privilege to host last May. It’s why, even though our national government has yet to approve the Kyoto Protocol, more than 700 cities in the United States, representing more than 80 million Americans, have pledged to meet its goals. And it’s why, later this year, New York City will convene a two-day conference of representatives from more than 20 major world cities. It will feature experts from around the globe in such fields as transportation, city planning, public health, and other disciplines. It will address the challenges that the world’s cities share in reducing urban air pollution and curbing climate change. The conference is also being organized by New York City Global Partners, a non-profit organization that conducts our city-to-city partnerships with the world’s most creative and far-thinking cities.

We’re also working with the Climate Group, an extraordinary organization that has partnered with governments and corporations around the world in implementing “green” policies. And these companies include that of the luncheon speaker you’re going to have today, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, who has made his company a leader in “greening” the aviation industry.

The world’s cities must also think globally, even as we act locally.  And so let me announce what New York City is now prepared to do to curb tropical deforestation. The conference in Bali highlighted the fact that such deforestation is an ecological calamity – one with huge global warming implications. It accounts for some 20% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. New York, like many other cities, uses tropical hardwoods – in our case, for park benches, ferry landings, our extensive beach boardwalks, and also for the walkway on the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge. The physical properties of these hardwoods, especially their durability and resistance to rot, make them ideal for such uses. And, as any engineer will tell you, once you’ve designed a structure for one material, you just can’t use a replacement; you’ve got to go back to the drawing board. 

Currently, we purchase more than $1 million a year of such hardwoods, making us one of the largest consumers of hardwoods in North America. Nevertheless, I made a commitment in Bali that we would assess New York City’s use of these hardwoods and develop an ambitious and achievable strategy to reduce it. And here is the result: 
Our City’s agencies will immediately reduce their use of tropical hardwoods by 20%.  They will do that by specifying domestic wood, recycled plastic lumber, and other materials in the design of park benches and other construction projects. We are also going to undertake serious, long-term studies of the design of our boardwalks and ferry piers to see what alternatives we can use when these structures have to be replaced. And from now on we will also refrain from designing new boardwalks with tropical hardwoods.  New Yorkers don’t live in the rain forest.  But we do live in a world that we all share.  And we’re committed to doing everything we can to protect it for all of our children.

Andthat’s just one example, I think, of how, not just New York, but the other cities of the world, can help shape a better future for our world. We do small things but the small things all add up and the key is that we do things. And as you and your governments look forward to Copenhagen, let me conclude by repeating a message that I delivered in Bali: Make the cities of your nations active participants in that process because we bring much to the table. From the dawn of civilization, we have always been the hub of human industry and the matrix of human invention. The scientific curiosity, thirst for discovery, and enterprising spirit fostered so long ago in medieval cities launched the process that today knits our world together into one global community. It was said then that “city air is freer,” because cities liberated people from the bonds of feudalism.  Cities unlocked human creativity and fired human imaginations.  Now cities can help make air not only freer, but also healthier, for everyone who inhabits our globe.

Our time for meeting this urgent challenge is short.  So I wish all of you attending this conference every success as you work together to address it. Good luck to all of you.  And for those who have come from great distances to attend this conference:  Thank you very much for what you’re doing, the future of our planet really is in your hands, and welcome to the capital of the world:  New York City. Thank you.