At a time when commentators around the world are still taking turns lambasting President George Bush’s decision to withdraw from the 1997 Kyoto agreements for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized nations, representatives from India, Indonesia, South African and the Philippines have been in Berkeley this week studying strategies for reducing such emissions in their own cities.
It’s all part of the Cities for Climate Protection Program (CCP), a global campaign launched by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives in 1993 to help cities around the world create and implement aggressive strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 400 city and county governments in the United States, Europe, Asia, African and Australia are participating in the program today, including, as of Thursday, New York City.
In the United States alone about 100 participating cities managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 10 million tons in 2000, according to Michelle Wyman, director of public affairs for ICLEI’s U.S. office, which is in Berkeley.
Berkeley has been part of the CCP program since the very beginning and has a detailed plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that is in some ways a model for other cities to follow, according to ICLEI Outreach Coordinator Susan Ode. While the Kyoto agreement would have called for the United States to reduce its emission levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, for example, the Berkeley plan approved in 1998 aims to reduce emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010.
“We are thrilled that staff from our international offices are here to learn about how effective local action on climate protection has been in the United State,” said Nancy Skinner, international director of the CCP campaign, in a written statement. “They will take what they learn here to engage cities in their own countries to reduce global warming pollution in their communities.”
A study by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences concluded earlier this month that greenhouse gas emissions could raise temperatures by between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees before the end of the century, contributing to rising sea levels and changing weather patterns.
The visitors to Berkeley this week have little trouble imagining the impact of such a change.
“As an island nation, the Philippine people are concerned about sea-level rise, and the increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes and tropical storms,” said Pam Gallares-Oppus, CCP Regional Manager for Southeast Asia and a native of the Philippines.
In India, climate change is “something people are facing every day,” according to Ramamurthi Sreedhar, one of two visitors from India in the Berkeley ICLEI office this week. Sreedhar said extreme weather events such as droughts, cyclones and floods have helped people at least understand the potential impact of global warming – even if there is still reluctance to acknowledge the ways in which they contribute to the problem, both as individuals and as a nation.
“They have to recognize that there are certain activities of their own that are effecting it: energy use, cutting forests, and industries not following regulations,” Sreedhar said.
But in a country where nearly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty, Sreedhar added, the emphasis tends to be on finding ways to expand industry and create new jobs rather than on environmental protection.
Even the pollution regulations that are in place in India are often not obeyed, Sreedhar said.
“Enforcement systems are weak, so you can get away with violating laws.”
These are just some of the obstacles that Sreedhar, Gallares-Oppus and the other visitors to Berkeley this week must work to overcome when they return home and attempt to persuade municipal leaders to join the CCP campaign, said CCP Technical Program Coordinator Jim Yienger.
“To get cities to agree, you need to go through a political process,” Yienger said. “That’s basically the first step.”
Sreedhar said he plans to concentrate on cities with populations ranging from 300,000 to 1.2 million to start, with the hope that in relatively small communities (both Bombay and Delhi India have more than 10 million people) it will be easier to organize support for the CCP strategies and objectives.
In the past CCP-participating cities have worked to: create building codes that enhance energy efficiency; launch home weatherization programs; promote solar energy use; create energy audit plans for businesses; encourage dense residential develop near public transit hubs; implement and expand recycling programs; and promote greater reliance on “green” power generation, to name just a few strategies.
“A lot of political commitment is required in these kinds of activities,” Sreedhar said. “It’s easier to generate that kind of interest in small places.”
Lorraine Mashiane, a representative from South Africa’s CCP office visiting Berkeley this week, said she has been amazed to see how far Berkeley has come already in its own efforts to reduce emissions.
“The amount of work that has already been done; the efforts by everybody – the whole community – not just a particular group of people; it’s really impressive,” Mashiane said.
The South Africa CCP office has already sent out invitations to 25 South African cities to submit proposals for how they might become involved in the CCP program, Mashiane said. She said she expects to choose five cities to work with intensively in the year ahead.
Leluma Matooane, another South African CCP representative, said some cities in South African have already begun efforts to reduce emissions, in part because air pollution has reached levels where it significantly impacts the quality of life. The cities of Cape Town and Durban, in particular, suffer from a “brown haze” created by automobile exhaust and oil refinery emissions, he said.
But while most of the foreign CCP representatives in Berkeley this week were looking for tools to improve the quality of life at home, the recognized that there was only so much they can do working in isolation.
“The climate change thing is a global issue,” Mashiane said. “It’s not just about a particular country.”
According to Skinner, the United States is responsible for 26 percent of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year, although it accounts for only 4 percent of the world population.
Matooane said Bush’s decision to withdraw from the Kyoto commitments represents a “setback” for those working to reverse climate change everywhere. But, he said, “It doesn’t stop us from doing something about it.”