Yvonne Aki-Saywerr, Laura Jay et Victoria Cerullo

De gauche à droite Yvonne Aki-Saywerr, Laura Jay et Victoria Cerullo, le 20 septembre 2023. CREDIT : Bryan Goldberg Photography.

Les villes à l'avant-garde de la crise climatique : L'éthique de la décarbonisation urbaine et de la résilience climatique

6 octobre 2023 - 57 min regarder

Cet événement a été organisé par Carnegie Council en collaboration avec le bureau des affaires internationales du maire de New York et le bureau de la justice climatique et environnementale du maire de New York le 20 septembre 2023, en marge de la Semaine du climat et de l'Assemblée générale des Nations unies.

Les villes du monde entier sont confrontées à de nombreux défis liés au climat, tels que l'élévation du niveau des mers, les inondations et les chaleurs extrêmes. Ces défis pèsent lourdement sur les économies locales et ont un impact disproportionné sur les habitants les plus vulnérables. Afin de soutenir des environnements urbains sûrs et durables, les dirigeants des villes doivent de toute urgence donner la priorité aux politiques de décarbonisation et de résilience climatique. Cependant, les législateurs doivent faire face à des questions éthiques complexes et à des compromis lors de la planification et de la mise en œuvre de ces politiques.

Ce débat approfondi et ces questions-réponses portent sur la manière de relever les défis climatiques spécifiques aux villes d'une manière éthique. Quelles sont les dernières innovations en matière de politique climatique pour les villes ? Quelles sont les approches éthiques qui permettent d'équilibrer les besoins des résidents actuels tout en garantissant des environnements urbains durables pour les générations futures ?

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JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good evening. Thank you for joining us. I am Joel Rosenthal, president of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and it is our pleasure and privilege to be hosting this event with the New York City Mayor’s Office. Specifically I want to thank the teams from the Offices of Climate and Environmental Justice and International Affairs, who have made this event possible.

To help frame our conversation and to explain Carnegie Council’s perspective, I want to start with a few thoughts on the critical role of ethics in the world today. Humanity has never been more connected yet more fractured. Responsible internationalism, the very idea upon which the United Nations was founded, faces a moment of crisis. In this time of uncertainty new global challenges are emerging at an exponential rate.

For over a hundred years Carnegie Council has worked to empower ethics in public life. We know that ethics is not some idle philosophical pursuit. It is a tool that can be applied to help create a more just, peaceful, and equitable world.

At its core the practice of ethics is about reflection and choice: What values guide us, what standards do we use, what principles are at stake, and how do we choose among them? By reflecting on our own actions while also engaging in a respectful and constructive manner those with whom we may disagree we can create conditions necessary to tackle global-scale challenges.

Time and time again we have seen how ethics has been the power that has built a better world, from the creation of the UN Charter to the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Paris Climate Agreement. None of these achievements would have been possible without a commitment to ethical reflection and action.

Such a commitment must now be brought to bear in addressing the climate crisis. We believe that ethical questions and challenges are at the heart of the climate change issue. This requires us to ask what is fair, what is just, and who is responsible for emissions in the atmosphere.

Given this, are those responsible doing their part to decarbonize their economies and assist those who did the least to cause the climate crisis but are suffering the most from its impacts? Who is allowed at the table to make decisions? Are the vulnerable protected? And who ensures that future generations do not face a catastrophe that our generation has passed on to them?

For city leaders these are not abstract questions. With well over two-thirds of humanity expected to reside in cities by 2050 city governments will be on the frontlines of decarbonizing our economies and transforming society as a whole. Today we will hear directly from municipal and nonprofit leaders who are working tirelessly to grapple with and address ethical challenges related to urban decarbonization. Contrary to the frustratingly slow world of international- and national-level politics, change often occurs most immediately and directly at the municipal level, and this is why we are so pleased to have this opportunity to engage with our panelists this evening.

It is now my pleasure to pass the microphone to New York City’s chief climate officer, Rohit Aggarwala.

ROHIT AGGARWALA: Thank you, Joel, for having me. I am keenly aware of the fact that I am for some reason talking here I guess as host before an actual mayor. Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, it is great always to see you and share an event with you.

I want to thank Carnegie Council for calling us here. One of the things I find is that Climate Week is a busy week for somebody with my title in my hometown. The reality, though, is that even though I have a binder of all of my speaking notes for all of the events I am doing over the course of the week, realistically I say the same thing over and over and over again. I will do a little bit of that now, but what I am really grateful for is the prompt of thinking about how ethics interacts with what we do on a basic level.

I will share just a minute, and my colleague Vickie Cerullo, who is here, can talk more about what New York City is actually doing. One of the great pleasures, privileges, and things I take an enormous degree of pride in is that New York City is and has for 15 years been a fantastic climate leader. We do not get everything right—there is always more to be done—but New York City has been consistently at the forefront of this through three mayoral administrations, through several city councils, and I think we are poised to be as effective and as real about what we do going forward as we have been in that time.

It has not been easy, and it has started slow. In fact I was the city’s first—the title is a little bit different—effective climate lead back when we first started talking about climate change affecting New York City 16 years ago, and we had to fight with people about whether it was “Climate change is happening” or “Climate change may be happening.”

We have moved on a great deal from that. In part we have moved on because there has been so much science. The sad reality is we have moved on because the climate has caught up with us and we now actually read about climate change not from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports but from our weather forecasts, and we understand that it has now hurt us, that climate change has killed New Yorkers, and what we are in a race to do is to prevent more of that from happening. It requires us to act with speed.

One of the challenges—and this is part of what I started thinking about with this prompt of thinking about ethics—is how you balance the need for speed and the need to get it right because you can go wrong on either side of that equation, and it is something that we have to wrestle with. We have seen in New York City—and I will give a lot of credit to Mayor de Blasio for injecting ethics and a just transition into the heart of New York City’s climate agenda, and Mayor Eric Adams has been even more focused on that, especially given his personal background, story, and lived experience, and that is why actually now the office that coordinates this and that I get to oversee in part is called the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, because we have to do both of these things at the same time.

It is a broad agenda. It includes work on transportation. It includes what I think are groundbreaking rules around forcing New York City’s built environment—the million structures of New York City, 50,000 of which account for something on the order of half of our carbon emissions and buildings altogether accounting for about 70 percent of our local carbon emissions—and forcing real estate owners in New York City to make their buildings less carbon-intensive over time on a set schedule. It is effectively a carbon tax.

We have a tremendous amount of work that we are doing on resilience. As a city in the 11 years since Hurricane Sandy devastated us and took the lives of 44 New Yorkers we have invested on the order of $12 billion in resilience efforts. It is sadly still a drop in the bucket compared to what we need to do. We have a handful of coastal resilience projects that are underway and one or two that are actually complete and in service.

We have an entire city to protect. This is a city of 500 miles of coastline, and that is not the whole story of course. Only two years ago we were hit by Hurricane Ida, when New York City was reminded that the water can also come from above in a storm that literally doubled the historical intensity of rainfall—we had never experienced a recorded storm of more than 1.75 inches per hour, and that day we got 3.75 inches per hour. Thirteen New Yorkers died, many of them drowning in their own bedrooms. You think about the horror of that in a city as well-off as this and you wonder, How do we get out of it?

Yet our challenge in many ways is that especially in a democratic society, especially in a rules-based environment, there are constraints on how quickly we can act. The fastest we can build a storm sewer in New York City is like four years.

We are working to build a voluntary buyout program. The essence of a buyout program that is effective is to be able to be there the day something has happened and say, “Yes, I’ll give you the property value of the day before the storm if you are willing to get out of harm’s way.” That is the essence of success.

New York City’s rules—for all the right reasons—say: “Wait a minute. You can’t pay above market value. The day after a storm that property isn’t worth what it’s worth the day before. You have to get a new appraisal.” That is the law. That is the rule we have to follow. Then the law says that New York City cannot acquire property without going through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure in New York City. That takes 11 months. Those are two very good rules there for very good reasons, and yet they mitigate against the kind of action with speed that we need.

We also have in a microcosm the same challenges that Joel pointed out about issues on the global stage: How do we deal with the fact that there are well-off countries that have clearly done far more to pollute and have far more resources and the negative impacts of climate change are going to be felt disproportionately by the people who have not. That is also true here in New York City.

On the other hand, if we are going to outrace this, if we are going to run faster and faster, we have to harness private capital. We have to work with property owners. We cannot have it be a zero-sum game or else we will find ourselves caught in a fight that will delay action and hurt all of us from catching up.

So one of the things that again the prompt for today’s discussion and what Carnegie Council stands for is this imperative of having a moral compass that allows us to make some of those decisions knowing we will get some of them wrong but knowing that we also have the corrective functions that will build in the warning signs that say: “Well, wait a minute. You made that decision, you made it for the right reasons, but you are on the wrong course, so you are going to course correct.”

We are doing that. One of the things that Vickie and her office are working on is the city’s first-ever official Environmental Justice Report. It is going to be a two-part process. Right now there is a big effort going on that will catalog and actually start to define environmental injustice in New York City in a quantitative and official way that will lead next year to an Action Plan. Ultimately one of the purposes of combining environmental justice and climate is that that will have to be integrated into all of our climate work.

I believe a lot of it already is. We have learned a number of things. We now think about, for example, a voluntary buyout program very focused on not the well-off neighborhoods where there might need to be relocation where you can say, “Well, if I’m only buying out five homes, they will find homes on the open market,” but if we are going to do that in a low-income community there may not be the resources, so there may need to be more counseling. We are thinking about that.

I have the privilege of not only being chief climate officer for New York City but also commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which is our water utility. My agency has a challenge. We run 14 wastewater treatment plants in the city, 13 of which are in or adjacent to Environmental Justice neighborhoods. Rich neighborhoods tend not to develop around a wastewater treatment plan. It’s a thing.

But one of the things that has emerged over the last 50 years is an accumulation of deferred maintenance at our wastewater treatment plants. We muddle through, we meet our environmental regulations—actually our performance in terms of keeping the harbor clean is fantastic—but when something goes wrong at a treatment plant it is smelly. The first people who suffer are the people who work there, but the second people who suffer are the neighbors.

So among the things my agency is working to do is actually re-craft our maintenance plan and describe our capital program as an environmental justice initiative because if our treatment plants were on the Upper East Side and in Park Slope they would be very well-maintained, so we have to build those guidelines into what we are doing.

That is I think work that is underway. It is something that has Mayor Adams’ full support, but I will simply close and turn it over to this remarkable panel by saying as a reminder—as Joel pointed out and as I am sure Mayor Aki-Sawyerr can attest to even more so—that cities are delivery entities. City governments are not primarily policy organizations.

I am sure many of you have noticed, but sadly it looks like here in the United States we are heading for another federal government shutdown. We did this [five years ago]. The federal government shut down for [36 days]. Relatively few people noticed because the reality is that the federal government operates at this level. I will guarantee you that if my agency stopped producing clean running water you would all notice by about 7:30 tomorrow morning at the outside, and that is true whether it is policing, whether it is managing traffic, whether it is picking up the garbage, or whether it is educating your kids, all functions that are at the city government level.

It is at the daily delivery level that we are not just making policy decisions that have to be informed by ethics, but we are making management decisions that are informed by ethics. Those are actually harder, I would argue, because those happen much more quickly, there are many more of them, and it is not about getting one big question right. It is about improving—pardon the Americanism—your “batting average,” so of the percentage of the many decisions you are taking on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, you are improving the average of the number you are getting right because you know you are not going to get them all right. That is what ethics in climate change at the city level makes me think about.

I am so grateful to Carnegie Council for highlighting cities. Cities are on the frontlines of climate change. There is tremendous work being done, not just here in New York, but we learn from so many cities around the world every day. It is a wonderful community, and I appreciate the Carnegie Council for recognizing that. Thank you so much.

AISSATA CAMARA: Good evening, everyone. How are we doing? Thank you for joining us. I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here with you all tonight, and I want to start by introducing myself. My name is Aissata Camara, and I am the deputy commissioner and Chief of Staff in the New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs, and tonight I get to moderate a panel with amazing, incredible—all of the words you could use to describe how much I respect these women, and I am truly honored to be sitting with you all.

I could tell you that this is going to be an exciting panel, this is going to be a panel where you are going to learn a lot, but we are also probably going to push some of the boundaries because these are women who are living the work and have been doing this for so many years.

I want to start by allowing each of you to quickly introduce yourselves to our guests. Mayor Aki-Sawyerr, go first.

YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR: Thank you very much, Aissata.

My name is Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. I am the mayor-elect of Freetown. When I say mayor-elect, I am the former mayor, served for five years, and have gone through a reelection. There is a bit of a political impasse going on in my country right now, something about rigging elections, so my party is boycotting the government, so I am mayor-elect, but I expect that if everything goes well with negotiations I will be taking up office again, but the climate fight has not stopped through the election. We are still on it, which is why I am here in New York.

LAURA JAY: Hi, everybody. It is so wonderful to be here. My name is Laura Jay, and I have the pleasure of serving as the regional director for North America at C40 Cities. We are a network of mayors from just about 100 cities around the world. I am very pleased to be sitting with one of our leading mayors here today as well as the representatives from New York City, which is also a member. We work with the world’s largest and most ambitious cities that are tackling the climate crisis, engaging with the mayors and providing support on the ground that they need to address policy implementation and development but also how to adapt to what the changing reality is for their residents on the ground.

VICTORIA CERULLO: Hello, everyone. I am Vickie Cerullo. I am the acting executive director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice. I also get to work with my colleague Aissata every day, and I want to echo what you have said. I am so proud to be on this panel with Mayor Aki-Sawyerr—it is incredible work you are doing in Freetown—and Laura Jay, the work that we get to do with your organization and cities around the world to drive climate action.

As Rohit mentioned, Rohit is my partner in good crime, climate and environmental justice as Executive Climate Officer. I am so thrilled to be here. Thank you.

AISSATA CAMARA: For the sake of this conversation we will all remember that Mayor Aki-Sawyerr is mayor-elect, but in our hearts she is always the mayor. Even if we are referring to her as mayor, it is Mayor-Elect Aki-Sawyerr.

Let’s dive right into our conversation. We are doing this event on the margins of the UN General Assembly. I would like to ask each of you: Why is it important for cities to be at the forefront of the climate discussion?

Mayor-Elect Aki-Sawyerr, why don’t you go first?

YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR: Thank you. I was in a discussion early on this afternoon and a couple of numbers came to mind. Today we are 70 days away from the Conference of the Parties (COP). Today we are seven years and a little bit away from the 31st of December 2030. That is the year many set as a target for getting us much closer to net zero and making sure that we bend that curve so that global temperatures do not increase beyond 1.5°C. So there really should be a sense of urgency. If there is a sense of urgency, it cannot be understated because we are seeing it, as Rohit said, there is a time when you were reading it, it was discussed, and it was debated, but now it is in the weather forecast, people’s testimonies, and news reports. Climate change is here.

It goes without saying that cities have to play a role because by definition of who we are and what we do you are all living maybe not in a city but definitely in a local authority. There is a subnational government that is closest to you and that is going to respond if there is a flood or fire. In the cases of so many people in other parts of the world—it is very, very tragic when you hear that 13 New Yorkers lost their lives or 44 New Yorkers lost their lives. I can tell you that millions of people are losing their lives in other parts of the globe, millions of people who had nothing to do with the emissions and yet are suffering the consequences, and the local authorities—the mayors and governors—responsible for those constituents have to deal not only with those impacts but also in many instances with migration caused by the impacts in other peoples’ territories.

When we talk about migration, as we were doing a little while ago before the start of the panel, people often think of the scenes you see of people on the Mediterranean, desperately moving to get away from sometimes economic poverty, but that itself is now increasingly driven by climate-related incidences and situations.

In my city I am an originator of migrants if you are looking internationally, but I get far more migrants coming into my city than trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and that is because 60 percent of our population are rural subsistence farmers. When it does not rain they lose their crop. That is poverty in two cycles, and then people are moving to the city to look for a better life. The vulnerable become more vulnerable from flooding and from landslides.

The urgency of the issue cannot, I say again, be overstated. I think tonight and this week are about what we do to move it along, understanding that it is urgent.

AISSATA CAMARA: I will go to Vickie, and then I will have Laura. Vickie, why don’t you tell us why it is important for us to lead the charge?

VICTORIA CERULLO: I will just say that cities have been at the forefront for a long time. Rohit mentioned back in 2007 when this office was created it was actually called the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, but since that time in New York City we have experienced Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Ida, Hurricane Irene in between, the wildfires that we have experienced impacting Canada and the air quality in our city, and extreme heat, which is something that I think is not talked about quite as much. Of course coastal flooding is something we are addressing as a city, but cities have always had to step in and take care of our residents, protect residents, and create resiliency regardless of what the national government is doing. We believe that there is a climate emergency because we face that every day and we have to step in and deliver. As Rohit said, we are a delivery entity.

At the same time, we know that cities are also places where there is innovation and solutions. We know what we have to do. We have been able to innovate and adapt pretty quickly given the circumstances. Back in 2007 Mayor Bloomberg at the time put out PlaNYC, which was the first strategic climate plan for New York City.

Fast-forward to Mayor Adams’ administration. We have called it “PlaNYC: Getting Sustainability Done (GSD)”. Our mayor wants to GSD. We call it “getting sustainability done,” but we are really focused on the action: What can we do? We have had long-term policy, we have had long-term plans, but what are we doing now in the short term? As the mayor said, we do not have any time to wait. It is here, we are dealing with it, and cities are an important part of this conversation.

As a New Yorker, with the UN General Assembly and everyone coming to our city at this time, the focus on climate this week is important to us so that we can have conversations like this one, and that is what we are here to do.

LAURA JAY: Building on that, 75 percent of C40 cities around the world are reducing their emissions faster than the national governments. That is the reality. That is I think not only why it is so critical that we are here this week and that national governments are hearing from mayors. In C40 we do a lot of work making sure that mayors like Mayor-Elect Aki-Sawyerr can speak with the secretary-general so he can hear those voices.

Cities are doing things right, and national governments need to look to that innovation and success to accelerate action. We are already starting to see that on the ground in cities around the world, and it is time to step up. I think that is why it is so critical that there is an active momentum of events this week. We have about 14 mayors from big cities around the world in New York this week. A number were at the United Nations today to bring that message: “This is what we are doing. We are making the hard choices. We are making the ethical decisions that are going to protect and save lives in our communities.” That is one piece of it.

The second piece is related to what Rohit said, that the national-level conversations are very detached from what the reality is on the ground, so the voice and experience that mayors can bring to the table to talk about what is needed in the community—What are we struggling with? What is actually going to make this happen, and what do we need from those national leaders?—is so critical, and for a long time that dialog has not happened.

I will say it is “baby-stepping.” It is getting better, but it is baby steps, so it is important that we are still there, we are still knocking on the door, still having the conversations, and pushing the envelope as we can because we are seeing this in our communities every day. Parts of the world are seeing this a lot more than any of us in North America are, and that is the reality, so that is why we need to keep showing up and engage with the entities that exist that are going to allow us that platform.

AISSATA CAMARA: Thank you for that perspective. I think it is clear that cities are getting it done, so we are getting sustainability done, Vickie.

The next question is going to be: What ethical considerations are most pressing in your cities as you decarbonize? For example, when we think about congestion pricing in London and the maximum indoor temperature in New York City, what are you actually thinking about when you are making these decisions when it comes to ethics?

Vickie, get us started.

VICTORIA CERULLO: I did mention extreme heat, and you brought up the maximum indoor temperature. Yes, we are decarbonizing our buildings, yes, that is of course part of our strategy, and we are leaning in as Rohit mentioned. Local Law 97 is a critical piece of legislation that was passed that we are now looking at to getting sustainability done. But as we think about new construction, new buildings, and the rules that are in place, we are focused—the name of our office is the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice—and thinking of course about everything through an equity lens and our Environmental Justice communities.

When it comes to some of the stats that we have heard I think not a lot of people know that 370 New Yorkers die every year because of extreme heat, and the majority of those deaths are Black and Brown New Yorkers within Environmental Justice communities, who actually die in their apartments because they do not have access to cooling and cannot pay their air conditioning bills. It is something that we have taken very seriously in this administration and focused on new mandates that new construction must have cooling. Plus we have all this new technology that can make our cooling energy-efficient, whether it is heat pumps or other technologies. We are very focused on not solving the climate crisis on the backs of poor and most vulnerable New Yorkers, which is a very critical piece of the way we are looking at our policies.

Regarding maximum indoor temperature, we are a Northeastern city in the United States. Historically we have experienced cold winters and a lot of our policies have been around keeping vulnerable New Yorkers protected during those colder months with a lot of assistance for heating. We are experiencing hotter and longer summers, and we know that is expected to continue, and the New York City Panel on Climate Change—academic experts who work with us to imbed science into all of our policies—are telling us that.

So we are flipping that around and thinking that along with the way we are working to protect New Yorkers during colder months as we have done historically we have to think about our summer months, so we are working on making sure that our national government can help us with utility assistance for New Yorkers for air conditioning and creating this indoor temperature that building owners will be required to keep buildings at to protect the most vulnerable.

AISSATA CAMARA: That is great. Thank you for sharing those examples.

Mayor-Elect Aki-Sawyerr, what do you think? What are some of the ethical considerations that you have?

YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR: I like to think about ethics on two levels. The first is what we have alluded to already, the fact that the emitters are not paying for the costs of emissions. As a C40 mayor we have a two-pronged approach to the climate crisis, two big goals. One is to decarbonize so that we halt climate breakdown. As a youth activist said to me the other day, “If you are in a hole, stop digging.” We are in a hole. We should stop digging. The second goal is to work toward addressing the impacts and the climate injustice.

I just want to say that when it comes to ethics there are big questions to be asking the fossil fuel industry about ethics. Today at the United Nations the governor of California put it this way: “We have one problem, and it is that we are burning fossil fuels.”

There may be different views on that, but I tend to believe that that is the heart of the problem of the climate crisis, and the ethical question there is: Does it make sense for some shareholders to keep on getting the returns they want when the rest of the planet is increasingly being put to, as António Guterres put it: “We do not now have global warming. We have global boiling.” Temperatures are the highest they have ever been in 2023.

If we are going to talk about ethics, let’s start there. Let’s start with the big picture on ethics, and then you can begin to look at the choices we have to make because of the wider context within which we are working, which is definitely very unjust, and that is something that needs to be continuously called out now.

In COP 27 there was an agreement for there to be a loss and damages account to recognize that there is a huge cost to those who are not responsible, that the money I should be spending on improving schools or money I could be spending on doing nurseries and markets, we need to divert to dealing with roof covers because of increasing temperatures that we are not responsible for. That is my big ethical issue.

Coming down to more of a micro level and to get a sense of the challenges that one has, like many cities we are facing extreme heat, so heat stress. Sixty percent of our women actually are traders in markets, and many of them are open-air markets. We have water scarcity. We have flooding in the rainy season and water scarcity in the dry season. It is so frustrating.

One of our major projects—and yip, yip, we were shortlisted for the Earthshot Prize yesterday—is called #FreetownTheTreeTown, and Bloomberg knows it well because we won the Global Mayor’s Challenge two years ago now with that; #FreetowntheTreetown is our commitment to plant and grow a million trees in our city. Our city has about 1.5 million people, so it is a tree for about every 1.5 people. Speaking to my colleague Eugenia before I came, by the end of October we will have those million trees in the ground. It has taken us longer than we thought. We thought two years when we kicked off, but we have done it in just under three.

It is growing. It is creating green jobs. It is protecting water. It is cooling. It is providing not just direct jobs in terms of economic input but economic trees, so fruit trees and trees that actually have benefits to the community.

But guess what? What is the other side of this? In Freetown 82 percent of cooking fuel is wood or charcoal, so there is a pressure on people to cut trees because there is no alternative fuel source for cooking. There is no liquefied petroleum gas. Of course we are working hard on creative alternatives.

I do not know if this is so much an ethical question because this is a question of survival. The short-term gain of cutting down a tree is far outweighed by the long-term cost. Communicating that to communities and getting by—which we have been able to do. We have over 1,500 climate ambassadors and we have about the same number of tree stewards, and people are looking after the trees. Each has a unique identifying number and each tree is tagged and monitored by a tree grower, and they get paid based on the growth of the trees.

If there is an ethical consideration, it is just that knowledge that we have to move as fast in the direction of providing alternative clean cooking and the costs and investment in that as we are moving forward with planting the trees. We have done the million trees, and the plan we have set ourselves is increasing. We said in 2020 we are going to do a million trees. Now we are going to do an even crazier one—5 million by 2030.

We are providing a carbon sink. We are removing carbon from the environment, we are cleaning up the air, we are providing jobs, and we are protecting our water sources.

AISSATA CAMARA: Incredible. I think you brought up a really good point about survival versus ethics and also people needing to be able to just lead their daily lives while trying to protect the climate.

I got two things from your answer: Young people are wise; the whole “stop digging” thing. We need to tell everybody.

YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR: That was incredible.

AISSATA CAMARA: The second thing is that you mayors are really good at tag lines; “Freetown is Treetown."

LAURA JAY: The mayor-elect is particularly good at that, I will say. I will say our Parks Department is following your progress closely. We have planted a million trees, but I think now we have a challenge.

AISSATA CAMARA: When you plant those 5 million trees we will bring you back so you can tell us how you did it.

Laura, why don’t you answer the question for us?

LAURA JAY: We have touched on this a little bit. I work for cities in North America, particularly cities in the Global North that have been historically the largest emitters—we have grown our economy on it—and we have had a lot of personal freedom, how much we can grow, where we can drive our cars, how we can build our buildings, and as a result of that we have helped fuel the climate crisis that now is impacting places like Freetown, so there is not only an ethics around reducing our fair share of emissions, but also when it comes to those policy decisions.

I think that is where it becomes challenging but important to look at the broader picture as you are saying, mayor-elect, of what are the ethical questions around this because a lot of it is coming down to: “Hey, we kind of need to rethink all of those privileges we had for a long time because they have choked our environment and we have not been paying the true cost of the externalities of those decisions that have been made over decades.”

Mayor Khan of London just expanded the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which was an incredibly controversial policy decision that many have said is unfair, but he does it because he knows it is going to save lives. He is incredibly passionate about improving air quality in the city of London, he knows that it is going to help tackle the climate crisis, and that the assumption that one should be able to drive around the city of London at ease needs to be rethought. I think that forces the ethical questions of “Why did we think that was okay to begin with and look at where it has gotten us.” I think more and more cities are beginning to make those tough choices, particularly those cities that I work with that are those largest emitters and that need to put those tough choices into policy and action. And that means more when there can be collaboration and more when there can be partnerships.

The other critical lens of that that Vickie talked about is that within those ethical questions and policy decisions that need to happen is how do you really address the Environmental Justice communities that have already so negatively been impacted by these externalities to make sure these tough policy decisions that we need to put in place are not going to disproportionately impact them further. That is a challenging thing that all of our cities are grappling with in unique and innovative ways. At C40 we try to provide that platform for them to learn from each other, to answer those tough questions, and to look at what legally can we do on this, where can we find money, how can the federal government help step in, and I think that is where cities are at: “Hey, we need to make these tough choices. How do we do that in a way that is going to support and uplift our most vulnerable but also make sure that they are not negatively impacted by these tough policy decisions that we have to make?”

AISSATA CAMARA: Very well-said.

I want to make sure that we get to the Q&A, but I want to ask you a final question: How do we engage our constituents in climate action? I know I have seen you on social media meeting up with your constituents. What are some of the best practices that you have? Maybe you could get us started.

YVONNE AKI-SAWYERR: I ran for office because of climate change. I was in the private sector my whole life and had never been in politics before but was concerned about the environmental damage I was seeing in my city and issues of sanitation. Having not been in this sort of space with Sustainable Development Goals and MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) and all the other acronyms I came at it from a practical perspective of: What do we need to do and how are we going to know that? We need to talk to the people.

We had focus groups with 15,000 of our residents, 322 focus groups over about a two-month period, and then we had planning labs with professionals. Out of that came another one, #TransformFreetown, which was 11 sectors and 19 targets. What mattered and what I think the difference was was that we were not aiming to speak a language. We just communicated with people. We knew what the problem was. People’s houses were flooding. We had a landslide on August 14, 2017, in which a thousand people died in less than five minutes. People had pain. People’s water sources were drying up.

You talk to people not in terms of how do you get people to talk about climate change. You do not talk about climate change. It is not the phrase “climate change” that is the issue. We know what it really means. What does it mean to you? What does it mean to you? You talk to people about what it means to them.

I got voted in on climate change, but I never said it was climate change, but now in Freetown people say, “The mayor talks about climate change.”

Just rounding up on that, it is making sure that ultimately we are addressing the issue. We do not need to choose big fancy words. People’s lives are being negatively impacted because fossil fuels are being burned, and in the simplest way—I remember there was a time when I was trying to promote the trees, and I would be in a community and say: “Okay, here are two saucers with water. Put one in the open air and put one under a tree. What is going to happen to the one under the tree? It stays. So if you cut the tree, you cut your water. The water is going.”

It is relating, and when it comes to the solutions—we cannot end this conversation without talking about one of our biggest challenges, and that is finance. Obviously the city of New York has a huge budget compared to mine. I have so much budget envy this week. I have to be real and admit it. My budget is minuscule, but thankfully with organizations like C40 Cities and Bloomberg those funding gaps are being filled and we are able to punch above our weight and do things that we could not do just with our domestic resources, but it is not enough.

It is not enough just in terms of my city. It is not enough—full stop—to address the challenge of the crisis continuing, people moving, the need for adaptation and protection of people who are already poor. We need to actually talk about the money moving, we need to talk about cities having more space, and we need to talk about national governments being more accountable, so I am excited that when we go to COP this year with C40 Cities for the first time ever there is going to be a summit dedicated to the role of local governments in this because we are the ones who are going to solve this. We are not on our own—we don’t want to overstate our importance—but we are very important. If you are in a crisis and in a war, don’t leave any of your ammunition in the box. Take it all out. The cities are part of the answer, and the national governments need to give us the space.

You may not appreciate this, but in many cases we do not necessarily have the space. I do not have planning permission as a function. I don’t have building permits as a function. These are critical in the environmental war. If they are not being done, then we are leaving gaps.

I will end it there. Remember what the question was that we asked at the beginning?

AISSATA CAMARA: How do we engage the constituents? I think you answered this well.

Vickie, the mayor-elect talked about budget envy, and I think our colleagues from International Affairs live that every day, so we join you in that. What are we doing to engage our constituents, and how do we make this meaningful for them?

VICTORIA CERULLO: I will say even with our large budget it is still never enough because what we are trying to solve and what we are doing in implementation action is expensive. We have decades-old infrastructure that needs to be replaced, not that it has not been invested in, but it was not built to handle the types of storms, rainfall, and coastal inundation that we are experiencing, so I totally appreciate that point.

When it comes to communication I echo a lot of the things you said, mayor. We do not always speak in accessible language. There is an alphabet soup of acronyms, the GSD and all these things. We have worked hard to speak in language that is accessible and understandable.

Also, New York City is a city of residents who speak many, many languages, so when we go out to communities and talk with residents we make sure that there are interpreters and that we are speaking to everyone. When we create our strategic climate plans we do not work on them in our office in a bubble. We make sure that they are cocreations and that we are working with residents and stakeholders from across the city, across sectors, and from all communities. That is something that is very important as well.

I will just say that I think there is at this moment a lot of distrust in government. I think it is the moment we are in, and under Mayor Adams’ leadership this administration has looked to trusted messengers—our faith-based partners and people who communities trust—on a regular basis to get their information. We go to them and say: “This is what we are doing. We would love to partner with you and get the message out.” We have done a lot of work from that perspective as well.

LAURA JAY: There is not much more to add because I completely echo my panelists on this. I think it is about meeting people where they are at. It is about speaking their language, and it is about showing up in their communities and building that trust.

I live in the city of Chicago. We have a new mayor, and he is at every event right now. He is building trust with the community, and it is incredible to see. I think the media is hounding him a little unfairly around it because they are like, “Hey, get to work a bit more,” and I think he has seen very much: “Hey, I need to be out there. I need to be with the community. I need to be building those trust relationships because when I need to do the hard things I need them to have my back and know that I am there for them.”

I think that is meeting people where they are at. Taking time to build trust in a community is so critical. Change moves at the speed of trust, and that is so much of where we are at in all of this, taking that time to build the trust and meeting people where they are at.

AISSATA CAMARA: Amazing. Thank you.

Now we get to open it up to you all. You have heard everything that we have had to say. Please raise your hand, and there is a mic going around.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Patrick Duffy. I am the founder of something called Global Fashion Exchange. My question actually addresses the civil society, the consumer. My project is based in sharing economy. I started ten years ago with a clothing swap, which I have now expanded to a hundred countries, and I use it as an educational tool to get people excited about taking care of people and planet.

One of the biggest challenges that I had along the way was getting people excited because they felt like they could not make a difference and felt like they did not have the tools to make an impact.

My question—I will keep it simple—is: How do you engage or how do you plan to engage with civil society or “consumers,” the word we use in the fashion industry, to get people onboard with the programs that you are creating?

LAURA JAY: I think it stems from the answer we gave a little bit to the last question, the bit about meeting people where they are at. In order for somebody to get excited about something, it has to be something that they are passionate about. It does not necessarily mean that it needs to be framed the same what you are passionate about it. It is about putting in the language of something that is going—“Hey, do you hate that all of your clothes are cheap because you can’t afford nice ones and they break all the time?”

I think it is a lot of that. It is about understanding the community, understanding who you are working with, and putting that in the context of something that they are passionate about. It is not always about making them care about climate change, as you are saying, but making them understand why what they care about is being impacted and what actions they can take to make their lives better. I think that you have seen success with that and you have seen where it has not worked. I think a lot of this is about trial and error, about being honest when things don’t work, adapting, and finding new solutions.

VICTORIA CERULLO: I wanted to address the question from earlier. Something that we are focused on and take very seriously is data and making data open and accessible to everyone and not just policymakers.

Rohit was speaking about our Environmental Justice Report. We are also launching it with a data portal that will have 90 data sets all in one place. It will be open data, data sets that have not been available before. So once again, not just policymakers can use this to make decisions.

We know that environmental justice is not something that government does for communities. We do not do environmental justice. It is really about Environmental Justice communities having access to decision making, to our data. “Showing up” is a tenet of environment justice and the whole movement and being apart of that process. That is something that is important to us in making that accessible and transparent, holding us accountable as well.

AISSATA CAMARA: I think we will end the Q&A here, but I want to use the opportunity to thank Carnegie Council. Thank you all for the work that you did and for having us here. I want to thank Vickie, Ahmed, Kristen, our entire team, for the work they did for this event to be possible.

I think it is clear that cities are not only at the frontline. We are in it. We are the first line of response, and we have to continue to work together.

Enjoy the rest of the evening. Thank you, everybody.

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Carnegie Council pour l'éthique dans les affaires internationales est un organisme indépendant et non partisan à but non lucratif. Les opinions exprimées dans le cadre de cet événement sont celles des panélistes et ne reflètent pas nécessairement la position de Carnegie Council.

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