Cities can’t wait for national governments to act. They must find their own ways to help people protect themselves affordably.” So declares Michael Bloomberg in this important new book, co-authored with Carl Pope, on the fight against climate change.
Bloomberg is best-known as a global media magnate and the mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013, while Pope is a distinguished environmentalist who was executive director and chairman of the 125-year old US conservationist group, the Sierra Club. What makes Climate of Hope distinctive is the fusion of their respective talents: business sense and a deep familiarity with public policy are intertwined to great effect with idealism and social responsibility.
The result is a book that eschews the finger-wagging puritanism of many green texts and concentrates remorselessly upon practical solutions that will not only help to save the planet but stimulate economic growth and enhance our quality of life. It liberates discussion of climate change from the phony row between science and denial, and reframes it in a spirit of pragmatic optimism: what can be done, efficiently and urgently, and who is best placed to do it?
There is plenty here for national policy-makers, especially on the need to phase out coal, reform subsidies to fossil fuel producers, disrupt utility monopolies so that sustainable energy can compete, improve liquidity to encourage climate-friendly projects (capital-intensive but cheaper in the long run), and radically increase transparency on climate-change risk.
Yet the authors’ central contention is that the grinding, often-exasperating debate between national governments is only part of the answer. “More than any national law or policy,” they write, “devolving power to cities is the single best step that nations can take to improve their ability to fight climate change and, with it, the health of their citizens and economies.”
After Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, Bloomberg responded with more than 250 achievable measures — having already launched “PlaNYC” in 2007, a green civic initiative, to prepare for such moments. To build resilience, he argues, cities need to ensure that they have the best possible topographical data and make intelligent use of it; that insurance premiums are fair and don’t force people from their homes; that utility companies are held accountable for their conduct during, and preparation for, emergencies; and that developers are similarly incentivised to build responsibly.
The book also has plenty to say on how enlightened city governance can reduce emissions in the future, not least by encouraging smart construction as well as green transport. Bloomberg has been UN special envoy for cities and climate change since 2014, and is the driving force behind the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a coalition of 7,000 cities in 112 countries. Because mayors are engaged in such a specific and detailed way with the needs of their cities — and are daily accountable to their voters — they are perfectly placed between individual citizens who often feel powerless and national governments that move at a snail’s pace in their quest for global collaboration.
Accordingly, there is much here for our own city authorities — and every newly-elected metro mayor — to learn from. It is a model text for those who argue that decentralisation works best and that most of the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century require localised solutions.
But this is emphatically not a tract for policy wonks alone, or purely for those with an interest in environmentalism. Coursing through every chapter is a lively, rigorous recognition that we live in a world of hectic change, matched by an infectious optimism that the challenge can be met. In that sense, the book is an indispensable manual for our times.
Frontpage November 20, 2019