How Anne Hidalgo plans to get cities to adopt climate action plans by 2020

"To deliver the changes we need to see to protect public health and tackle climate change, we need to dare being as determined as concrete," says Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. (Frederic Legrand/COMEO/Shutterstock)

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was once a labour inspector and upon taking office in 2014, insisted housing was her “absolute priority”. But it’s another issue — climate change — that has since become her signature.

From instituting popular car-free days to hosting over a thousand local leaders during a major United Nations climate conference, the Spanish-born Hidalgo, who became a French citizen as a teenager, has become one of the world’s de facto leaders on climate issues.

That’s thanks in no small part to the international accord that bears her city’s name, the Paris Agreement on climate change. Over the past week, both she and French President Emmanuel Macron have staunchly defended that 2015 agreement in the wake of Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the global effort to reduce carbon emissions.

[See: 4 ways U. S. local leaders are starting to respond to Trump’s climate withdrawal]

Hidalgo, Paris’s first female mayor, has another bully pulpit from which to advocate for climate issues, as well. She is the chair of the C40 Climate Leadership Group, a network of 91 of the world’s largest cities, which have agreed collectively to act on climate change by benchmarking and reducing their emissions.

Citiscope’s Gregory Scruggs recently interviewed Hidalgo via e-mail to ask about her initiatives in the French capital and her global vision as C40 chair.


Gregory Scruggs: On climate change, what can other cities learn from Paris, and what can Paris learn from other cities?

Anne Hidalgo: I am proud of the progress we have made in Paris, and many of the ideas we pioneered are being copied elsewhere. For example, we introduced the Vélib’ bike-hire scheme when just six cities in the C40 network had such a scheme. Today, 43 C40 cities have bike-share schemes. That represents hundreds of millions of bike journeys in cities each year, not generating any greenhouse-gas emissions.

In March, together with the mayors of Seoul and London, we announced Air’volution plans to introduce a scoring system for cars, helping citizens understand exactly how polluting their vehicles are, based on real-world tests. Many other cities, including Madrid, Mexico City, Milan, Moscow and Oslo, have taken inspiration from our leadership and committed to work with C40 to develop a global scoring system.

[See: Can cities get the global car industry to ‘clean up its act’?]

The adaptation strategy we developed in Paris drew on expertise and knowledge from many other cities facing similar threats from the climate change already underway. It is a pleasure to see that the city of Rotterdam just hosted the C40 Adaptation Academy, supporting cities around the world to create robust adaptation strategies.

The key thing to recognize with all of these initiatives, and the sharing of ideas between cities, is the urgency of the climate crisis we face. C40’s Deadline 2020 research revealed precisely what cities need to do to deliver on the Paris Agreement. The short answer is that action needs to begin now, at full speed and scale to tackle climate change.

To achieve that level of ambition means cities need to share knowledge on what policies, projects and approaches work best, so other cities can learn from them and act without delay.

Q: Will central Paris eventually go entirely car-free?

A: In Paris we are investing heavily in our public transport system, developing cycling infrastructure to make it the most cycle-friendly city in the world and calling on car and bus manufacturers to accelerate the rollout of electric and low-emission vehicles. Our goal is not to remove cars entirely but to create a city with clean, safe air to breathe and which is sustainable for generations to come.

We have restricted the oldest, most polluting vehicles from entering the city thanks to the creation of a low-emission zone and the implementation of the Crit’Air stickers, combined with the development of clean public transportation. By pedestrianizing the right bank of the River Seine, we have created a wonderful new space for Parisians and those who love Paris to enjoy.

We have also committed, with Mexico City and Madrid, to ban diesel vehicles by 2025, which cause the most damage to public health, from entering the city altogether. These policies are based on the urgency of both the health crisis and the climate crisis we are facing.

[See: Four cities announce landmark ban on diesel vehicles]

Air pollution kills more than 3 million people worldwide every year, according to the World Health Organization, and the majority of these deaths occur in cities. To deliver the changes we need to see to protect public health and tackle climate change, we need to dare being as determined as concrete.

Q: What are your priorities as C40 chair?

A: C40 is a powerful network of the 91 most important cities in the world, representing more than 650 million citizens around the world and more than 25 percent of global gross domestic product. Its concrete role is to shape our collective future, building an alliance between cities, citizens and business to save the planet.

The Deadline 2020 is our milestone, setting out exactly what our 91 cities need to deliver in the years to 2020, to concretely avoid catastrophic climate change. If cities do not deliver, then there is no hope of realizing the goal of the Paris Agreement. Fortunately, the C40 mayors have already shown their determination to make happen the urgent reforms needed.

[See: Buildings, transport must help ensure emissions ‘turning point’ by 2020, new initiative warns]

My priority is to ensure that by 2020, every C40 city will have adopted an action plan that allows them to deliver their part of the Paris Agreement. This is how we will get the job done, concretely and collectively.

Facing the Deadline 2020 will only be possible if cities and businesses work more and more together. As a C40 chair, I want to attract more investment and financing for sustainable infrastructure and policies in our cities. This will come both through the direct support of the C40 Cities Finance Facility and our City Finance Programme, but also through greater collaboration between cities and the private sector.

[See: Initiative aims to make more green infrastructure projects ‘bankable’]

Hidalgo, at front centre with former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, hosted more than 400 mayors at Paris City Hall for a key event on the sidelines of the December 2015 climate negotiations. (C40)

When I was elected as the new C40 chair, I presented several key priorities of my term that C40 already started implementing. The first one — and I care a lot about — is the Women4Climate Initiative. I am convinced this initiative will have a major positive impact on our future. The scheme will use the power of C40’s women mayors, as well as our male counterparts, to support and mobilize the next generation of women leaders fighting climate change. We will empower the 500 most promising young women around the world by 2020 to help them achieve their goals, projects and activities that help fighting climate change and air pollution.

Another one of my key priorities is the Reinventing Cities initiative. We will launch a competition, based on the very successful Reinventing Paris contest. Reinventing Cities will stimulate sustainable and green development across the world’s most important cities and implement innovative solutions to environmental and urban challenges.

Finally, I also launched Air’volution last March in Paris. This initiative will create a scoring system for cars to help citizens to make informed choices about how polluting their cars are, based on real-world tests. This will empower consumers to understand the impact that their choices have on air quality and the climate of their city. Air pollution is a major health issue for every single city, and our citizens expect from us bold and courageous action on this.

[See: Paris launches global urban air-pollution watchdog]

Q: How does women’s leadership influence political action on climate change?

A; It is a matter of fact: Women are leading the way on climate and environmental issues. Perhaps because for a long time these issues were unfairly considered as secondary issues. So men let women be in charge of these issues, and obviously they got the job done, becoming today inspiring and impressive experts. Christiana Figueres, Laurence Tubiana and Patricia Espinosa are all impressive women leaders who inspire me day after day. They were the women that made possible the Paris Agreement, and now they are leading on its implementation.  

Last March in New York City, C40 launched the Women4Climate Initiative with the key support of L’Oreal, founding partner of this initiative. We brought together women mayors, business leaders, activists, “startup-ers”. This initiative makes sense because we know that women are more vulnerable to climate change. Women need to be more than just at the table in developing solutions to climate change — they need to be at the head of the table.

C40’s Women4Climate initiative will empower and inspire women around the world, because we want and need them to deliver on their projects and activities that will build the climate of hope, may they be CEOs, startup-ers, NGO leaders, etc.

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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