Radical Change Requires Radical Action: Inside the C40 World Mayors Summit

Political and business leaders from around the world convened in Copenhagen this past October for the C40 World Mayors Summit, where urgency and excitement fueled heated discussions about the need to take immediate and drastic action to win the battle against climate change. Ninety-four C40 cities participated, representing more than 700 million citizens who are demanding governments make systemic changes to halt and reverse environmental decay. The Vancouver Economic Commission (VEC), including Catherine Warren, CEO, and George Benson, green buildings lead, was proud to be part of the team representing Vancouver alongside its global peer cities.

Inside the Summit

Copenhagen, the host venue, is an exemplar of sustainability. Wandering through town, visitors nod hello to healthy and happy residents, inhaling clean air and enjoying clean and quiet streets; signs of climate action are everywhere, marked by more than 400km of bike lanes and myriad sustainability signage. The city is blanketed by a steely determination that ambitious and strategic action leads to better lives – a feeling that intensified upon stepping into the C40 World Mayors Summit venue, where sustainability superstars from around the world freely mingled with city officials and citizens. The atmosphere was electric with ideas flying freely, plans cemented over coffee and declarations drafted by the minute. Emboldened by the increasingly dire projections of future damages, and the impacts of climate change today, advocates were united in their drive for tangible actions, at all levels and in all sectors of society.

Throughout the summit, some of the world’s most dedicated and knowledgeable city and climate change leaders engaged in ongoing discourse about the path to a better world, one that will be reached through the intersection of climate change, social justice, economic inequality and wealth creation. They remained unreserved and unapologetic, condemning overconsumption for depleting resources and degrading our environment, and emphasizing the need to address inequality and climate change simultaneously. They also debuted the milestone Global Green New Deal, a reaffirmed commitment by all 94 C40 cities to protect the environment, bolster the global economy and slash emissions from sectors contributing most heavily to the climate crisis.

Rallying cities, businesses and citizens around radical action, global leaders like the Mayors of LA, Paris, and Copenhagen, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and economic thought-leader and economist Kate Raworth, delivered powerful talks that left audiences moved and motivated. Ocasio-Cortez earned deafening applause and a standing ovation for her passionate closing speech urging leaders to examine broken systems that champion the unaccountable pursuit of profit. “Our current logic created this mess and operating in the same way will not get us out,” she said firmly.

Regional Solutions Spark Global Insights

Vancouver Economic Commission participated in the summit’s Cities and Business Forum, which convened businesses and cities seeking to pilot new solutions, establish partnerships, and otherwise change the discourse around climate and the economy; as well as the Green Economy and Innovation Forum, an invitation-only gathering of C40’s Sustainable Finance and Economic Network where green economy best practices were shared and discussed. In both forums, VEC spoke about the City and VEC’s successes in linking climate action to economic development, and discussed ideas for future opportunities that could lead to even more transformative action.

Reality Serves as a Powerful Lesson

After three days of intense debates, passionate speeches and ambitious plans to tackle the climate crisis, the C40 Mayoral Summit closed with an address by Mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, who also took over as chair of C40… at least, that was the plan. During the summit, he received word that new forest fires had erupted in his constituency. “This is climate change,” he told the waiting audience, before leaving immediately to return to his home. The irony is obvious – climate change is happening as we make plans to overcome it, and it will continue to build if widespread systemic action isn’t taken now.

Vancouver Economic Commission has already prioritized the climate emergency in its 2020 economic development strategy. Further motivated by the inspiring ideas shared at the C40 World Mayors Summit, the organization is also championing future initiatives for Vancouver that are already being implemented by fellow sustainability leaders. Watch an exclusive interview from Copenhagen with Vancouver Economic Commission’s George Benson, consultant for the Green Building Market, below.

Further Reading