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Thirty Major European Cities Pledge to Take on Climate Change

European mayors gathered Thursday in Paris to formalize a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent over the next 15 years.

by Melodie Bouchaud
Mar 26 2015, 9:41pm

Image via Présidence de la République

Representatives from thirty European cities gathered in Paris on Thursday to formalize their commitment to eco-friendly policies and to emphasize the role of major urban centers in the fight against climate change.

Delegates also signed a declaration, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 40 percent by 2030, in line with the European Union's climate change roadmap, and to use an estimated nearly $11 billion combined purchasing power to invest in green products and services.

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In a joint statement published Wednesday in French daily Le Monde, mayors from 26 European cities — including Rome, Athens, Madrid, Geneva, and Stockholm — said they had "decided to join forces and strengthen the instruments that will lead us toward the energy and environmental transition."

Delegates arrived at the conference in Paris in Autolib' cars — the French capital's three-year-old electric car-sharing service — adorned with their national colors.

The conference — a joint initiative by Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo and her Roman counterpart Ignazio Marino — was also attended by France's foreign affairs minister Laurent Fabius and president François Hollande, who alluded to Europe's climate and energy targets for 2030.

"The role of European cities […] is to show that it is possible to live and to live well within large urban centers," said Hollande. "With an urban model that helps tackle climate change."

In their joint statement, the mayors stressed that solutions for the global problem of climate change are local. "Because large cities are at the crossroads of these two levels, they are at the forefront of the fight against climate change," they wrote.

In her welcome address, Hidalgo reminded the European representatives in attendance that by 2050, half of the world population will be living in cities, and will be responsible for 70 percent of all carbon emissions.

And while cities have very little influence over the energy sector, or the way in which energy is produced, they do have the power to make a difference by lowering their energy consumption, or investing in green transport and waste disposal technology.

The conference came just one week after Paris topped the charts earning the title of most polluted city in the world, as a cloud of thick smog blanketed the city's tourist attractions, turning a much-anticipated solar eclipse into a non-event.

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Back in January, close to 100 local elected officials had supported the socialist mayor's plans to impose traffic restrictions for buses and heavy goods vehicles in Paris, as early as 2016. Hidalgo said that funding would be made available to companies who wished to invest in electric or natural gas vehicles.

Speaking at Thursday's conference, European climate action and energy commissioner Miguel Cañete said that cities could no longer "afford to be energy inefficient," and that, "twenty percent of all residential electricity is used unnecessarily. It heats empty houses, lights empty rooms, and charges unused appliances."

Cañete echoed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's ambitions for the EU to become "the world number one in renewable energies." Cañete said that, for that to happen, European cities would have to hit the target share of "at least 27 percent of renewables by 2030."

In February 2014, the EU issued a cost-saving directive encouraging European cities to pool their buying power when ordering public goods and services. The mayors of several of Europe's capitals — including Rome, Paris and Brussels — met in Rome in October to formalize plans to place a collective order for electric cars and low-emission refuse-collection vehicles. As well as saving cities money, officials said, this type of inter-European collaboration will make the clean energy sector more competitive and better prepared to meet the environmental challenges of the future.

Policy makers will gather again in Paris in December 2015 for the UN's Cop 21 climate change conference, with a view to adopting a legally binding international agreement for a transition towards resilient, low-carbon societies and economies.

In the meantime, representatives of Europe's future "clean" cities have called for increased support from the EU to help underwrite their long-term commitment to fighting climate change.

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Follow Mélodie Bouchaud onTwitter : @meloboucho