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Trump's Election Is No Death Knell For Climate Progress

Australia offers proof.

29/11/2016 10:02 AM AEDT | Updated 29/11/2016 10:03 AM AEDT
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American students protest outside the UN climate talks during the COP22 international climate conference in Marrakesh in reaction to Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election, on November 9, 2016.

This week, the mayors of 37 cities across the United States of America penned an open letter to President-elect Trump urging him to join them in their efforts to tackle climate change, to help clean the air, strengthen the economy and ensure their children inherit a nation that is healthier and better prepared for the future than today.

I share their optimism that the U.S. can meet the climate action commitments made in Paris last year, but even if Mr Trump decides to withdraw, I'm convinced the U.S. can meet the pledge -- because I know it's cities, their communities and businesses who are ultimately getting on with the massive job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, my experience in Australia offers proof that the election victory of Donald Trump is no death knell to progress.

As I prepare to join more than 40 mayors committed to tackling climate change, many of them from U.S. cities, in Mexico City for the C40 Mayors Summit, I have relevant experience to call on. Six Australian Prime Ministers and six state Premiers have held office while I've served at Sydney Town Hall. And in that time, in Australia, there's been a profound, even hostile, lack of long-term leadership on climate change.

It's not as if we haven't had anything to talk about -- the monster storm that struck the East Coast of Australia; the shocking evidence of bleaching coral on the Great Barrier Reef; the global temperature records that we keep hitting month after month.

By 2070, Sydney could be up to three degrees hotter with more extreme weather such as heatwaves, storms and flooding. We've received warning after warning from scientists and seen for ourselves the increasingly wild weather.

In the absence of national action we've knuckled down to the job ourselves. Across Australia, city and state governments are bypassing the recalcitrant Federal Government, working to ambitious targets and rapidly cutting the emissions from our cities.

In Sydney, we've reduced greenhouse emissions by 27 percent in our own operations. We've helped drive city-wide emissions down by 19 percent, while also growing our economy by 37 percent. Our carbon intensity -- the amount of greenhouse emissions for each dollar of economic output -- has fallen almost 36 percent, showing action on climate does not need to be an impediment to economic growth.

What advice will I share with my U.S. counterparts from the C40 network of megacities committed to action on climate change when we meet in Mexico City?

First is to begin planning for the long term. When I became Lord Mayor, I wanted a long-term plan that would continue no matter who was in Sydney Town Hall, or the Parliaments of New South Wales or Canberra. We undertook the largest ever community consultation in the City's history. The result -- Sustainable Sydney 2030 -- is the cornerstone of everything we do. We set ambitious targets for reducing waste, water and energy, with concrete actions in our own operations, as well as identifying advocacy targets for critical issues outside our jurisdiction.

We've now set a target for net-zero emissions by 2050 -- one of the most ambitious targets of any government in Australia -- and released an action plan that identifies steps we will take to reduce our emissions 44 percent by 2021.

Presidents, Prime Ministers and even Mayors will come and go but these city-based targets and plans will deliver the sustainable, equitable cities of the future that our communities demand.

Second, our cities must become the change we want to see. We installed rooftop solar panels on our buildings and retrofitted our properties to cut electricity and water use saving more than $1 million each year. Inspired by Los Angeles' leadership, we rolled out energy-saving LED lights, saving at least 40 percent on electricity and maintenance costs.

Finally, never let up the pressure on every level of government and mobilise the voices of our communities to demand change. Water has always been scarce on our parched continent, but our state water regulator's approach to pricing water was discouraging a potential boom in commercial water recycling. The City of Sydney joined forces with recycled water companies, developers, universities and environmental groups, and together persuaded the regulator to update its approach. The result was a new regulatory and pricing framework that allows these big projects to go ahead.

If we can do it in Australia, it can be done anywhere. Australia is the largest exporter of coal in the world and until recently our state sourced more than 90 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power.

After the incredible diplomatic success of the Paris Agreement, there is now a global system in place that offers a clear path for nations to limit global temperature rise to under two degrees and try to drive even further down to 1.5 degrees. The Paris Agreement formally came into force on Friday 4 November. The result of the 2016 US election means more than ever, that there's no room for complacency.

I've met mayors from around the U.S. and have been inspired by their record of action and determination to keep striving for progress. In the aftermath of this election there's never been a more important time for those city leaders to stay on course -- the whole world is counting on them.

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