TEDxDaringCities opening showcases real local action while imagining a zero carbon future

The climate emergency is happening right now, in our cities, towns and regions around the world. But what if we have all the solutions and political will we need already within our grasp? The global initiative Countdown, a unique collaboration powered by TED and Future Stewards, and supported by a huge array of partners, including ICLEI, champions and accelerates these solutions to the climate crisis, turning ideas into action.

As part of Countdown, TEDxDaringCities was convened to tell the story of how cities, towns and regions are already on the road to climate neutrality.

In this opening session, Cathy Oke, First Vice President of ICLEI, set the scene. “The climate emergency requires us to set our sights not only on 2050, but only 2030. We have only 10 years left to implement the measures agreed upon in Paris and to avoid a climate catastrophe. This urgency is the reason for the Daring Cities Forum.”

Throughout the session, local leaders working towards climate neutrality goals in their own cities or regions spoke about their commitments and strategies to reach this goal, and the critical importance of an equitable transition to a net zero future. 

For example, on June 5th, World Environment Day, all 226 Korean local governments declared a joint climate emergency, and on July 7th, 80 local governments announced the net zero coalition of local governments to aim for net zero by 2050.

Yeom Tae-young, Mayor of Suwon in the Republic of Korea and President of the Korean net-zero coalition of local governments emphasized that neutrality is more than just reducing emissions. “Climate neutrality is not confined to net zero, climate neutrality is also aligned with the values of environmental justice, restoring resilience of cities, and strengthening the capacity of the vulnerable in our cities to better adapt to the climate crisis is another challenge that local governments face.”

The City of Bogor is known as one of the few cities in Indonesia that is championing environmental protection, explained its Mayor, Bima Arya. He elaborated on how the city is working towards climate neutrality by focusing on energy preservation, land use optimization, waste management and health. 

But Arya also focused on the critical importance of coalition building to achieve a carbon neutral and sustainable future. “Going carbon neutral is not an isolated movement but rather a joint contribution from all parties – citizens, businesses, municipal staff and the elected leaders. Only together can we respond to the global climate change emergency” said Mayor Arya.

“Going carbon neutral is not a luxury, it is a necessity… We cannot belittle the impact of not going carbon neutral,” he said.

Abe Shuichi, Governor of Nagano Prefecture in Japan, also focused on the importance of collaboration and unity. “Together with the residents and people around the world, we want to work together to tackle this issue of climate change. We know the path ahead of us is not smooth or easy but the earth has been facing many challenges, and we have overcome those… We are the first generation that understands scientifically this issue of climate change. We are the generation that has to stand up. If we don’t do that, who will?”

Nagano Prefecture has made great strides towards their climate neutrality goal by focusing on their environmental energy policy. “We have steadily tried to promote natural energy and energy conservation,” explained Abe. As of 2018, 98 percent of energy in Nagano Prefecture was locally produced renewable energy, whereas in 2010, it was only 58.6 percent. “During this time, the volume of renewable energy has increased thirteen-fold,” said Abe.

These local actions exemplify some of the key tenets of ICLEI’s climate neutrality framework which was launched during the session and focuses on the importance of integrated climate action.

Rounding out the session, UK High Level Climate Action Champion Nigel Topping and Apolitical CEO Robyn Scott discussed the criticality of ambitious climate action and the key role of cities, towns and regions in not only setting ambitious climate targets, but in implementing and accelerating bold climate action worldwide.

Nigel Topping framed the session with an introduction of Race-to-Zero, a global campaign to mobilize leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient and fair, zero carbon recovery. “The race idea is obvious – this is urgent. It’s worth reminding ourselves how urgent it is… We are in a race between the changes we have already set in motion and the changes we have to make to prevent the worst outcome… This is a race that we can only win if we are all in it.”

Topping also explained why it is so important to drive action from every possible angle and why the role of local and regional government is so critical. “Ultimately it comes down to what we call the ambition loop. This is a systemic change and nobody is in charge of a system… There’s a feedback loop. The bolder that cities and businesses are, the easier it is for national governments to be bold, and vice-versa.”

Scott and Topping closed out the session by imagining a new future and emphasizing how important storytelling and optimism will be to get us there.

Imagining how to support political leaders in creating this new future, Scott says “it starts with celebrating bright spots. Because inevitably, on any of these frontiers, there are some amazing political and governmental leaders somewhere in the world who have embraced [new solutions]. And historically, government hasn’t had great platforms – that’s why organizations like ICLEI are so important… for elevating the leaders, giving them a voice and helping them tell their stories.”

Scott also highlighted the immense potential of networks to spread ideas and solutions. “Governments have been quite siloed. There has been a really unhelpful and amazingly persistent belief that context is everything and ideas don’t travel. And in a world where problems are more shared and solutions are so often underpinned by technology or new business models, that is just not true anymore. We still have to overcome that cultural barrier and build connection… And that feeds into this ambition and optimism loop which is so critical.”

This focus on imagining the future depends on trust in the power of human potential. “Human resources and human capacity are our biggest asset to build a new world,” concluded Yunus Arikan, Head of Global Advocacy at ICLEI.

Scott also focused on the potential of learning from the current moment. “So many of the barriers that exist in government are perceptual rather than real. One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that it has broken down those phantom barriers and shown how much is possible. The scope for ‘daring’ after COVID will be a whole lot greater and that will benefit us in taking on the climate crisis.”

Watch this Daring Cities session, entitled “TEDxDaringCities: Daring to Go Neutral”. TEDxDaringCities is a part of the global Countdown initiative designed to accelerate solutions to the climate crisis and supported by partners including ICLEI.

Check out further coverage of TEDxDaringCities Session 2 and Session 3!