Update: 9/22/2014: The People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21, 2014 included more than 400,000 participants in New York City alone, making it the largest climate march in history. In total, 160 marches occurred globally with another 2,800 solidarity events in 166 countries. Organizers plan to continue these types of events around the world leading up to 2015 climate negotiations in Paris and beyond.
On September 21, 2014, two days before Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, citizens worldwide will demand action from their leaders in what is expected to be the largest climate march in history. Organizers anticipate hundreds of thousands of people will participate in the People’s Climate March in cities around the world, with the largest demonstration in New York City.
The climate march – a peaceful event – will highlight the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as the window of opportunity to mitigate climate change shrinks. Recent evidence shows that global GHG emissions surged to a record high in 2013, and global temperatures may already have reached dangerous levels. The march will include a diverse coalition of groups calling for firm commitments from world leaders to address climate change. Over 1,000 businesses, faith groups, schools, unions, and social justice organizations will participate in the march.
A global response to a global problem
Climate change impacts are compounded by inequality. Low-income countries and cities are often most heavily impacted, even as wealthy cities and countries disproportionately contribute to the rise in emissions. The World Bank estimates that cities in developing countries will bear 80% of the cost of adapting to climate change impacts, which include sea level rise, extreme weather events, and drought.
Curbing climate change will require commitments from countries and cities worldwide. Currently, 125 heads of state are expected to attend the summit, and citizens everywhere are urging their leaders to take action. According to the People’s Climate March website, People’s Climate events are being planned in over 2,600 cities in 150 countries, with major events in London, Berlin, Bogotá, Istanbul, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Delhi, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Melbourne. In London, about 500 advertisements will run in the metro to encourage citizens to join the march. In Rio de Janeiro, organizers have received permission to project information about the march on the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue.
Cities play a key role in the fight against climate change
Cities already contribute 70% of global greenhouse gases, and they are expected to gain 1.4 billion people by 2030. Urbanizing areas must plan for sustainable growth as they expand and build long-lasting infrastructure. By emphasizing sustainable transport and connected, compact development, cities can curb GHG emissions while also improving quality of life. A recent report shows that economic growth and action on climate change can be achieved together.
With fewer barriers to policy change than national governments, cities can lead the fight against climate change. Cities are increasingly implementing sustainable development solutions and are helping push national policies towards mitigating climate change. For example, New York City launched PlaNYC in 2007 to shift the city’s model for growth, cut pollution, and increase resilience to climate change. The plan has helped the city improve sustainable transport and road safety while cutting its carbon emissions by 16% below 2005 levels, halfway to its 2030 goal.
Leaders from cities worldwide will attend the Summit while their citizens march, including Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Rio de Janeiro Mayor and Chair of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group Eduardo Paes, and United Nations Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg. City leaders will focus on three main areas of action: becoming more resilient to the effects of climate change, tracking GHG emissions and setting reduction targets, and closing the finance gap for low-carbon infrastructure projects.
Citizens play an important role in pressuring leaders to advance sustainable development policies. In São Paulo, for example, strong protests in response to perceived non-productive investments and transport fare increases led to hundreds of kilometers of new dedicated bus and bike lanes, improving sustainable mobility and increasing accessibility to jobs and opportunities in the city. With unprecedented citizen support, the People’s Climate March will increase pressure on world leaders to act on climate change before it is too late.
Climate change is no longer an abstract concept. The dangers are well documented and far reaching. Heads of state, mayors, business leaders, and civil society representatives have an important opportunity to answer the call for bold action on climate change and build momentum for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP) in Lima later this year, and again in 2015 in Paris.