Mayors think green at N.Y. summit

Leaders of the world's biggest cities, which produce the most greenhouse gases, explore how to cut emissions.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The mayor of Austin, Texas, wants to find out how other cities are reducing traffic congestion. Seattle's mayor would like to know how metropolises outside the United States are tackling the issue of climate change. And the mayor of Salt Lake City is keenly interested in emerging technology to reduce greenhouse gases.

Starting Monday, they will get some of their questions answered when 29 other big-city mayors from around the globe arrive in New York to discuss what urban areas can do about climate change.

Many of the mayors will participate in panels to discuss their home-grown solutions. Some of them will visit model projects, such as "green" skyscrapers and solar-powered boats. They will also rub elbows with former President Clinton and high-powered business executives whose companies have made a commitment to reduce their carbon emissions. Most important, the mayors will talk about ways to set an example for other urban areas – since cities consume 75 percent of the world's energy.

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"These cities represent, through their municipal operations as well as the scope of their communities and their population, the ability to swiftly and directly achieve reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions," says Michelle Wyman, executive director of ICLEI-USA, a sustainable-development clearinghouse. "The main thing coming out of these meetings will be a series of announcements that demonstrates the leveraging of joint action … particularly in the marketplace, in alternative technology for more carbon-sensitive alternative fuels."

Called the "C40" summit for the 40 largest cities, this is the second meeting of large cities to discuss climate change. Two years ago, 20 cities met in London. That's when the mayors realized that by joining together, they could have an impact, Ms. Wyman says.

The effort got an even larger boost last summer when Mr. Clinton kicked off his Climate Initiative, an effort to encourage reductions in carbon emissions. This led to more cities wanting to become involved, says Wyman, who adds that at the moment the number of cities is capped at 40 to keep the event manageable.

Last month, in advance of the summit, New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced "PlaNYC" – some 127 initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. New York will have a significant presence at this event, with the involvement of locally based CEOs of companies such as financial powerhouse Citigroup, energy provider KeySpan, and media giant Time Warner.

The city asked the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit with 200 CEOs as members, to raise money and organize the event. The partnership invited some smaller, innovative cities – including Seattle; Austin; Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Salt Lake City – to show the larger cities some of their programs.

Indeed, some of the larger cities, particularly from emerging economies, are coming to learn, says Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the partnership. "It's pretty hopeless for Stockholm and Austin to do anything to fight global warming if Mumbai and Shanghai are not," she says.

The sessions are intended to illustrate how making changes can also result in business opportunities, cost savings, and job creation. The participants will listen to Ken Livingstone, mayor of London, describe the city's use of "congestion pricing" to reduce traffic in London's central business district. Other topics include green buildings, water management, renewable-energy strategies, and waste management.

Most of the cities that were invited have populations of at least 5 million. But smaller cities will be sharing their expertise – such as Seattle, pop. 580,000. It has the largest number of LEED-certified green buildings in the nation, says Mayor Greg Nickels. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) "We have led by example, and the private sector wants to emulate it," he says.

For instance, the city government has reduced its own emissions 60 percent from 1990 levels. At the meeting, the mayor is likely to describe how City Hall captures rainwater and reuses it for landscaping and toilets. "We're saving 1 million gallons of water per year," says Mr. Nickels.

One of Seattle's latest initiatives involves financial incentives for people to turn in their gas-powered lawn mowers for electric mowers. "Each gas-powered mower puts out 80 pounds of carbon a year, so this is something individuals can do and make a difference," he says.

The mayor of Austin, Will Wynn, will meet with business leaders to describe how the city is trying to cut emissions – in what he calls "the most polluted state in the nation." "We start with conservation," says Mr. Wynn. "The cleanest energy is energy you don't have to produce."

Austin gives away tens of thousands of compact fluorescent light bulbs, pays for weatherization for residents, and buys solar shades (screens for heat control), says Wynn. But one of his more innovative approaches is the installation of "programmable thermostats."

"We have the ability to turn off the air conditioning for no more than 10 minutes per hour, but it saves a bunch of money," he explains. "When we have peak demand, we turn the A/C off – shave down demand in a modest but measurable amount."

The mayor of Salt Lake, Rocky Anderson, will be on a "Wealth from Waste" panel. Salt Lake City has vastly increased its recycling program and its recovering of methane from landfills. One unusual program involves a law firm that is renovating a mansion for its offices. It will use heat from sewer pipes to heat the offices.

"The payoff is in 8 to 10 years so you come out economically ahead," he says.

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