The world looked on with bated breath for the outcome of the 2020 US election. With one of the candidates opposing the construction of a wind farm because it spoilt the view from his golf course, Biden's victory was a huge win for the environment. Perhaps we've seen the last of the dinosaurs. But, it's not just at the national level where politics matters.
Local governments on the front lines
According to the United Nations, 70% of climate change reduction measures and 90% of climate change adaptation measures are carried out by local and regional authorities. They are tasked with tailoring green initiatives to the needs of their communities in areas such as transport, urban planning, biodiversity and waste management. As more people move to cities—it's predicted 70% of people will by 2050—city councils are becoming increasingly key to developing a greener way of living.
Copenhagen’s carbon-neutral city initiative
A stellar example of how local authorities are leading the way with regards to sustainability is Copenhagen. The city has set an ambitious target of becoming the first carbon-neutral capital city by 2025. It’s a collaborative project incorporating the mayor’s office, architects, tech companies and, of course, ‘Copenhageners’ themselves.
The methods are a mix of relatively low-tech solutions, like more cycle lanes, and next-gen technologies such as a super-efficient district heating system and state-of-the-art sensors to track air quality. So far, the city has cut carbon emissions by 40% since 2005, despite a population increase.
In 2016, Copenhageners covered a total 1.4 million km by bike. Phew!
It’s been so successful that they’re now sharing methods and technologies with other cities through collaborations like the Covenant of Mayors for Climate Change and Energy, a large community of local governments committed to tackling climate and energy objectives.
(If you’re interested, you can read more about other sustainable cities here.)
National governments can get it right
Moving up a level, national governments have the power to make or break entire industries. The sharp rise of renewables globally can, in no small part, be attributed to governments subsiding renewable energy and investing in renewable projects. Without their help, it’s highly unlikely we would have made the progress we have.
Of course, governments can also pass laws on land use, deforestation, pollution and a bunch of other important areas. In many ways we don’t envy them their task, but some get it more right than others.
Costa Rica blooms back green
During the mid-twentieth century, intense logging depleted Costa Rica’s rainforests, so in the space of thirty years they were down to a third of their original size, and many indigenous species were at risk of extinction.
Realising what they were at risk of losing, the government started to limit logging permits and reward landowners for better land preservation. The result: in the succeeding thirty years Costa Rica's rainforest coverage has doubled, and the economy got a significant boost in tourism because of the country's new green reputation and areas of outstanding national beauty. Evidence that boosting nature can also nurture economic growth.
La Fortuna Waterfall, Alajuela, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
As individuals, especially those of us in more developed countries, we have a responsibility to do what we can to protect our planet. Businesses and organisations, too. But, as our representatives and with vast resources and power at their disposal, national governments are perhaps the most important actors of all. This is why your vote, and other political action, is so important!
The EU, UN, Paris Climate Agreement and SDGs
The climate crisis is a global issue, so it’s crucial for nations to cooperate and pool resources to tackle it. In 2019, the European Union (EU) announced the European Green Deal, a bold economic and social initiative for the EU member states to achieve total carbon neutrality by 2050.
On a global level, the United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organisation, consisting of 193 member states, who contribute resources and expertise to protect human rights and tackles issues such as poverty and climate change.
The UN developed the Paris Climate Agreement, from which Trump infamously withdrew the US from upon his election (but Biden is going to rejoin, yay!), and also developed the sustainable development goals. These act as a crucial roadmap for many countries, organisations and businesses around the world working toward sustainable development.
The 17 UN SDGs
Finally, some words from Greta Thunberg
In a brilliant New York Times interview, our favourite teenage activist spilt the beans on her personal interactions with global leaders:
“I’ve spoken to many world leaders, and sometimes I wish I had a hidden camera. People wouldn’t believe what they say. It’s very funny. They say: “I can’t do anything because I don’t have the support. You need to help me.” They become desperate. It’s like they are begging for me to help them persuade the public that we need climate action. What that tells me is people are underestimating their power and the power of democracy and of putting pressure on people in power. They can’t do anything without support from voters.”
It’s true, exercising your democratic right to vote is one of the most powerful ways you can contribute to the environmental movement. In the same interview, Greta also said that no world leader she's met so far fully grasps the seriousness of the climate crisis. We need to vote in ones that do.
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