Drastic shift in city lifestyles urged to avert climate crisis

Cities need to at least halve their emissions by 2030, urbanites need to cut their meat consumption and fast-fashion has to be ditched to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C.

cyclists in Mall of Asia
Cyclists at the Mall of Asia cycling lanes in Manila, Philippines. Urbanites must make drastic lifestyle changes to help avert a climate breakdown. Image: Ethan McPein Yockam, CC BY-SA 2.0

 You bound out of bed in your wood-framed eco-home, throw on a rented dress, jump on an electric bike and head to the “tool library” to borrow a trowel to plant your vegetable patch.

This is the kind of lifestyle urban dwellers need to adopt in just a decade’s time to play their part in keeping global warming to a relatively safe 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels, the C40 cities network said on Wednesday.

“Everything and everyone will have to change,” said Mark Watts, executive director of C40—nearly 100 big cities acting on climate change.

“But the first step is understanding what needs to be done.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement set a goal to limit average global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F), and to “pursue efforts” for 1.5C. But emissions are currently on track to fuel at least 3C of warming, climate scientists say.

The C40 study by London-based engineering firm Arup and Britain’s University of Leeds measured the carbon footprint of urban areas in a new way to include what businesses and citizens use, eat and wear, and how those items are made and transported.

You have to demonstrate that what looks difficult or impossible today is possible.

Mark Watts, executive director, C40

Up to now, cities have focused on curbing emissions from buildings, energy, transport and waste produced locally.

But 85 per cent of emissions associated with the goods and services consumed in C40 cities are created elsewhere in the world and need to be addressed as well, the network noted.

Cities need to at least halve their emissions—already 10 per cent of the global total—by 2030 to have a chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C, it said, by transforming their use of food, clothing, electronics, transport and building methods.

Urbanites would need to cut their annual meat consumption to 16 kg per person from an average of 58 kg now, the study said.

And fast-fashion would have to be ditched, with clothing business models focused on recycling, upgrading and renting so people would only buy three new items each year.

Watts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation some C40 mayors turned “slightly pale” when they learned of the drastic changes required, but recognised the analysis “helps them do their job”.

None were available to comment on the report.

Safia Minney, who set up UK-based fair trade fashion brand People Tree, said at a sustainability summit in Barcelona last week the need to consume less was “the elephant in the room” but she detected a change in attitude among people in their 20s.

“There is a sense here of younger people being very frustrated with the middle-age leaders of business and brands—and that impatience is going to start driving a whole new market and economy,” she said in an interview.

City governments should show consumers how to change their habits, C40 said, highlighting initiatives like London’s congestion charge which has boosted use of public transport and Sao Paulo’s push to serve more plant-based food in schools.

“You have to demonstrate that what looks difficult or impossible today is possible,” Watts said.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate.

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