Political dream team unite to save the world
“This is enough to choke a horse,” confided Bill Clinton - “this” being climate change, “one of the two or three biggest challenges in the world”. Clinton was speaking in April in a joint interview with New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Together, the “big dawg” former president and the diminutive, billionaire mayor have formed what amounts to an informal, two-man committee to save the world.
It’s not a new concept. The original ‘committee to save the world’ was conjured up in 1999 by the journalist Joshua Cooper Ramo, who appointed the then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, US Treasury secretary Robert Rubin and the man who would succeed him, Larry Summers.
That ‘committee’ was concerned with warding off global financial instability, a story that ended badly. This one wants to actually save the world, from runaway climate change and, quite explicitly, from what many see as the dangerous intransigence of national governments on the issue.
The two leaders have teamed up in an effort to dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the world’s major cities. Bloomberg is chair of the C40 group of world cities, which includes Melbourne and Sydney. Clinton’s eponymous Climate Initiative has partnered the C40 outfit since 2006.
In April, the collaboration was scaled up. A plan to double the budgets for participating cities and expand the group’s membership was announced. Former Clinton staffer Jay Carson was hired as the C40’s chief executive in May. Bloomberg had already pledged US$6 million annually to fund the C40 for three years.
This ramped-up commitment seems to have brought an immediate payoff. Meeting in São Paolo last week, the C40 announced a funding agreement with the World Bank, under which member cities will have ‘one-window access’ to the Bank’s climate investment funds. According to Bank president Robert Zoellick, these amount to around US$6.4 billion and could be supplemented by tens of billions in private funding.
Mayor Bloomberg said the promised World Bank support ‘will help drive local emission cutting actions that will have a significant global impact’. Clinton labeled the World Bank agreement ‘terrifically important’, adding: ‘It will give credibility to these [city] projects to get private capital’.
Out of these projects, the retrofitting of New York’s Empire State Building - to cut energy consumption by a planned 38 per cent - is an unusually iconic example, but is characteristic of the C40’s focus on improving energy efficiency. And potentially just as valuable as any one project is the C40’s effort to develop a single standard for reporting greenhouse gas emissions. ‘If you can’t measure it’, says Bloomberg, ‘you can’t manage it’.
The most obvious rationale for city-to-city cooperation on climate change lies in the numbers. While around half the world’s people live in cities, cities account for an estimated 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The C40 cities collectively account for an estimated 12 per cent of global emissions. Plainly, what cities do matters.
Then there is the matter of the diplomats’ quest for the ever-elusive global deal on reducing emissions. This, coupled with still-inadequate national climate policies, puts city leaders in the position to make a virtue out of necessity.
Kevin Sheekey, Bloomberg’s political adviser, puts the case bluntly: ‘We are putting a stake in the ground around the idea that national and international governments have failed, possibly quite permanently, or at least in a way that they will not make any serious progress before it’s too late. If you address the problems of the cities, there will be no need for China and India to sign onto some international accord. And thank God, because that’s not going to get done. It’s time to say it.’
After April’s deadlocked UN climate meeting in Bangkok - where national delegates spent much of the week arguing over the agenda - a strong international agreement does indeed look a distant prospect. The UN talks resumed on Monday in Bonn. The key points of contention are all still on the table.
Succeed or fail, the Clinton-Bloomberg partnership could be the biggest challenge yet to the established UN climate process – or the biggest spur to more effective action than has yet proved possible.
Last week, government climate change adviser Ross Garnaut challenged Australia not to be a ‘pissant country’ when it comes to climate change. The national negotiators meeting this week in Bonn face the same challenge, while Clinton and Bloomberg, whatever else they’ve been accused of in their long, storied careers, are anything but pissants.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…