Regardless of how their national governments opt to address climate change, city leaders from around the globe say they’re taking the reins.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler is attending the C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico City this week, talking about how, between their cities, mayors could achieve the goals outlined at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement made by countries.
If all cities with more than 100,000 people achieve the climate recommendations, the world will see a 40 percent reduction in emissions linked to climate change, according to “Deadline 2020: How Cities Will Get the Job Done,” a report the mayors group released Thursday. That will require $375 billion in investment focused on low-carbon infrastructure in those cities, the report says.
Adler is in Mexico with an Austin team including Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, three employees from the mayor’s office, the Office of Sustainability and Austin Energy, and various Austinites representing businesses and local organizations.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines last week when he said major cities would fight climate change with or without President-elect Donald Trump. Trump, who has called global warming a hoax, said while he was campaigning that he would pull the United States out of the Paris agreement, but has since softened his stance.
In an interview from Mexico City, Adler indicated a wait-and-see attitude on Trump. He strongly echoed Bloomberg’s sentiment that cities would make it a mission regardless.
“It’s consistent with what I said last December in Paris,” Adler said. “It looked like half to three-quarters of goals on the Paris accord are things that are achieved on the subnational level, and I remarked on that then.”
Adler said he was proud of efforts Austin has undertaken to reduce waste and save water. But the city has a long way to go to meet the public transportation levels of other global cities and to encourage residents not to drive alone, he said. He called the summit a useful networking opportunity, both to get ideas from other mayors and to talk about how to align political elements to make them happen.
“We look at our city in terms of aggressive goals with respect to lowering our carbon footprint, but then you look at a city like Adelaide, a sister city of ours in Australia, and their goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2025,” he said. “Our goal is 2050.”
On Thursday, Adler joined the mayors of Tshwane, South Africa, and Curitiba, Brazil, Venice’s deputy mayor and Stockholm’s vice mayor of environment to talk about city climate and growth goals. Adler called the challenge one of scale — trying to have a large impact in a short amount of time — which he said is particularly difficult in a city like Austin, which is built in a sprawling way.
In addition to the C40 summit, the Mexico trip has focused on business networking. Adler posted via social media that, in a meeting with representatives of Aeromexico, they announced plans to increase the frequency of recently launched nonstop flights from Austin to Mexico City.
When Austin representatives were in Guadalajara on Monday, they met with various businesses about potentially expanding to Austin or appealing to possible Austin clients.
“There was something akin to speed dating where there were 50 businesses, and each was given 45 seconds to say who they were and what they were looking for,” Adler said.
On Thursday, Renteria and Austin’s business delegation headed to Monterrey and Saltillo, while Adler stayed at the C40 conference. The whole group will return home Friday.
Austin officials said they haven’t yet calculated the trip’s cost. Adler and his wife paid for themselves, and the C40 conference covered the travel expenses of at least one of the three city staff members.
Renteria described the trip as a goodwill mission in the wake of Trump’s election, with all its talk of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and deporting immigrants who aren’t here legally.
Renteria hasn’t heard much distress from elected officials and business people, he said, but he has from Mexican journalists. He said he and Adler are trying to calm concerns.
“Austin offers to build bridges,” read a Spanish headline in Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper Wednesday, in an article saying Adler had committed to continuing economic projects with Mexico and keeping Austin safe for immigrants.
“We tell them, ‘well, Austin’s not going to change,’” Renteria said. “Austin’s still going to be open. We’re going to be a welcoming town. Our commerce with Mexico is not going to change.”