Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the International Development Journal, an online journal offering a platform to engage in debate and discussions on global policies and current affairs.
The sixth biennial 2016 C40 Mayors Summit was recently held in Mexico City between 30 November and 2 December. According to its website “C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change.” Each Summit “offer cities an effective forum where they can collaborate, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change.” Major cities on all continents are now part of the C40 network.
Cities were brought into the spotlight at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 21) event held in Paris, France in 2015 because of their ability to implement greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction initiatives and programs that can positively affect many millions of people. By bringing cities together the C40 network helps to ensure that cities can take actions and decisions that “are bolder, more impactful, implemented faster, at a lower cost and with lower resources than if they were to go it alone.”
One such example of collaboration and strong decision making was a decision taken by the mayors of Athens, Madrid, Mexico City and Paris to completely ban diesel engines in cars and trucks by the year 2025. The decision was taken in an effort to improve air quality and has been described by the BBC as being “hugely significant.” It adds that that “carmakers will look at this decision and know it’s just a matter of time before other city majors follow suit.”
Annually, around three million people die due to exposure to outdoor air pollution, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Diesel engines contribute to outdoor air pollution in two noteworthy ways. Firstly, they produce very fine soot particulate matter (PM) which can penetrate a person’s lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illnesses and death. Secondly, diesel engines also produce nitrogen oxides (NOx) which contribute to the formation of ground level ozone which makes it harder for people to breathe including for those who do not have a history of respiratory problems. Across Europe air pollution is responsible for the deaths of over 460,000 people per year.
The mayors of the cities – who manage a combined population of over twenty million people – make no apologies for taking this decision. Paris’ Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said that her city’s “ambition is clear and we have started to roll it out: we want to ban diesel from our city.” Manuele Carmena, Madrid’s Mayor, argued that “as we reduce the greenhouse gas emissions generated in our cities, our air will become cleaner and our children, our grandparents and our neighbours will be healthier.” Mexico City’s Mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, talked of expanding the city’s Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems while simultaneously investing more in cycling infrastructure in an effort to “ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs.”
Other cities and countries are likely to follow suit. Norway also intends to phase out cars fuelled by petrol or diesel by 2025 while Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland are considering phasing them out by 2030. The Telegraph reported that a 2015 decision taken by the Supreme Court in Britain, ordering the government to “take urgent steps to tackle air pollution in cities”, is likely to see similar measures adopted.
Although they are likely to resist such moves it will inevitably increase the pressure on car manufacturers to design and create more energy efficient vehicles. European car manufacturers, who have recently lagged behind American and Japanese manufacturers, when it comes to hybrid and electric car technologies will be forced to catch up or risk going out of business.