By Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York
This month’s global summit in Copenhagen will bring together world leaders and national
delegations who will work together to develop a meaningful framework for combating climate change.
Although the prospects for achieving a binding international treaty are unclear, there is still
reason to be hopeful. The Copenhagen gathering will include not just representatives of national
governments, but also mayors from many of the world’s largest cities, regional government
officials, CEOs, labour leaders and activists representing a broad range of issues. These leaders
will participate in hundreds of additional events that are not part of the international
The most important action on climate change is already happening outside of the official actions of
national governments. Many companies have realized that being carbon-efficient is smart business.
Entrepreneurs recognize the growing demand for carbon-efficient products and technologies. Labour
unions see the growth potential of green jobs. And local and state elected officials understand that
voters care about climate change and expect their cities and states to do their part.
That’s why seven western states and four Canadian provinces have joined together to form a
carbon-trading market, as have ten states on the east coast (including New York). And it’s why
cities from Los Angeles to Boston, and Miami to Seattle, have taken bold steps to address climate
change through transportation policy, energy efficiency and urban planning.
Many cities, because of their density, have relatively small carbon footprints. In New York City, less than
half of all residents own an automobile and we use less than half the electricity per year of the average
American. But we recognize that every city has a responsibility to take action – and also that the
actions we take will not only help fight climate change, but also have other major long-term benefits.
For instance, by adopting policies that reduce our carbon emissions, we can cut our energy costs, improve our
air quality and fight obesity. Around the world, economies with lower carbon intensity have longer life
expectancies compared to economies (of similar income levels) with higher carbon intensity. Fighting climate
change will not only help save the planet; it will help save lives.
To achieve both goals in New York City, we launched “PlaNYC,” a long-term sustainability agenda
that holds city government accountable for meeting interim goals. For instance, we’ve already begun
taking steps to achieve our PlaNYC goal of reducing municipal government’s output of greenhouse gases
30% below 2006 levels by the year 2017, and to reducing the city’s total greenhouse gas emissions 30%
by 2030. The plan includes 127 initiatives that range from transit-oriented development to revitalized parks,
to hybrid taxicabs, to building our resilience to climate change.
One of our most important PlaNYC priorities is making our existing buildings more efficient, because 75% of
our overall carbon emissions are related to energy consumed in buildings. Working with our City Council and
its leader, Speaker Christine Quinn, we have developed a “Greener, Greater Buildings Plan,” a
comprehensive package of legislation to ensure that existing buildings take cost-effective steps to become
The plan includes a number of major steps forward, such as:
(1) Creating a local New York City energy code will allow us to tailor energy standards to our larger
buildings and ensure that as buildings perform renovations they will get more efficient;
(2) Requiring large commercial buildings to retrofit their lighting over the next 15 years and install
submeters will address the majority of electricity use that takes place in tenant-controlled spaces;
(3) Requiring building owners to benchmark their energy usage online to allow owners and potential purchasers
to compare buildings’ energy consumption, which will reward the most efficient buildings; and
(4) Requiring each building to conduct energy audits once every decade and implement energy-efficient
maintenance practices, which will realize major savings and identify opportunities for investments that will
pay for themselves. All told, this comprehensive approach will have the equivalent impact of making all of
Oakland, California carbon neutral.
As important as an international framework is, these initiatives show that climate change must also be fought
at the local level. Across the country, building codes are typically regulated by state and local laws. The
same holds true for energy systems and zoning codes. All have a major impact on carbon emissions, as do
private investment decisions by businesses. And it’s not the federal government, but labour unions and
colleges that run our most effective training programs. Regardless of what national policies are put in
place, we cannot expect national governments to solve the climate change problem on their own.
In Copenhagen, national government leaders will have an opportunity to converse with many other participants,
and I hope the dialogue will be a two-way street. Because for any international climate change agreement to
be a success, it will have to recognize the crucial role cities, states and private organizations must play
in achieving national emissions targets. National programmes must empower cities to play the roles they are
best-suited for, and provide the resources and policy support that cities need to help deliver national
Traditionally, side events at U.N. summits provide inspiration to national delegations. In Copenhagen, these
side events should be viewed as much more than that. National leaders should look to them not only to draw
inspiration, but also to form stronger partnerships. The success of the summit rides both on the shape and
scope of an international framework, and also on whether those on the front lines of the climate change
battle – local and regional elected officials, business leaders and issue activists – are
empowered to help shape solutions.