Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is a vocal supporter of the Global Green New Deal, which was launched at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen in October as a solution to tackle inequality and the climate crisis together.
In January last year, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr launched the Transform Freetown plan, a three-year vision for the development of the city. It aims to work with residents to address a range of issues from waste management and housing, to improving urban planning and tackling environmental degradation. In 2020, Freetown committed to planting 1 million trees to build resilience against flooding and absorb carbon dioxide. Freetown is a GEF-7 Sustainable Cities Impact Programme (SCIP) city; the programme supports cities pursuing integrated urban planning and implementation that delivers impactful sustainable development outcomes with global environmental benefits.
We are still dealing with the pandemic and cities are very much on the frontline. Can you tell us what kind of challenges you’re facing in Freetown?
Numbers are low here. We just have over 800 confirmed cases in the city, about half the numbers in the country. But the outbreak has meant that people have been nervous about using health facilities. It’s a risk because health conditions, which otherwise would not have been as challenging, are becoming problematic.
The other thing is the impact on the economy. Much of our economy is import-led, so restrictions on commerce mean not being able to get things in as supply chains are disrupted. There were anecdotes of trucks with fresh produce going rotten at inter-district border crossings when travel restrictions were put in place to limit the spread of the Coronavirus disease. This led to increases in prices of fresh produce in markets in Freetown.
We are trying to implement preventive measures in a city where there is a great informality, particularly informal housing; Freetown now has up to about 74 informal settlements. Where there are dense populations and overcrowded housing, it is very challenging to have social distancing. The Freetown City Council COVID-19 preparedness response plan was designed to address these challenges as best as we can.
Can you talk a little more about this response plan?
We are looking to make sure people take the virus and measures seriously. We also need to make it possible to follow measures like washing hands and wearing masks. We have put over 100 water tanks – some of which come with rainwater harvesting systems – in communities, in health clinics, and in marketplaces. We have distributed about 90,000 locally produced masks to the most vulnerable, with a target of 120,000. We are developing urban farming projects in informal settlements to improve food security and resilience amongst their residents.
Even though scientists warned a pandemic would come, the world wasn’t ready. What does the pandemic tell us about the need to prepare for climate change?
Climate change is on us, and a pandemic like this means that the impacts of climate change can translate into increased vulnerability of populations like people living in informal settlements, in inadequate housing and sanitation. There is a real need to ensure both climate change mitigation and investment in infrastructure, as well as reducing rural-urban migration happens now.
Informal settlements in Freetown have grown as a result of rural-urban migration. These informal settlements are created along the coast near mangroves, which is destroying the natural habitat, and along the hillside of Freetown, which results in massive deforestation with the result of denuded hill sides. With abnormal rainfall, this leads to flooding.
As part of our response to climate change, we have invested in sanitation and flood mitigation, as our city has been plagued with floods. As the rainy season starts, we do a massive clearance of gutters and waterways. We are also implementing the #FreetownTheTreeTown campaign, through which we aim to reduce erosion and run off, and increase vegetation cover in the city by planting one million trees.
You mentioned a need for infrastructure investment. How does the development of green infrastructure help? And what kind of things are you doing in Freetown beyond tree planting?
Investment in green infrastructure is absolutely necessary: from a biodiversity perspective, from a carbon sink perspective. It is also about how we create our cities so that they are more liveable; green infrastructure has benefits for quality of life.
Moving beyond green infrastructure, sanitation, waste management and the circular economy is key. I mentioned that one of our investment areas is urban farming. We have given tricycles to youth groups to collect household waste and create employment. With the urban farming element, you can separate waste and have compost brought back for urban farming at the community level. Investing in the circular green economy is where we’d like to go.
You joined the C40 demonstrating a great climate change effort and commitment. What exactly is your commitment and what exactly is your strategy apart from what you have already presented?
Everyone’s climate change commitment reflects their climate change impact. With us, we have two sectors that are high greenhouse gas emitters: waste management and transport. When I came in as Mayor, we had 21 per cent of solid waste and 6 per cent of liquid waste being collected. Our ambition is to increase both to at least 60 per cent by 2022. We are finalizing the design of a sanitary landfill park. We are working on a cable car system to carry an estimated number of 6000 people per hour, with a target date of 2022 to reduce reliance on the current informal low-occupancy public transport system.
How are you working with the private sector? Are you seeing more awareness and money coming in from businesses?
The cable car investment is a clear example, as there is a business interest in running mass transit. Then there is the flood mitigation project: this year it is paid for with the support of development partners, but before we had support from private sector players. We are launching a new green space, which used to be a big roundabout which was in disrepair, in partnership with a bank. These are examples of collaboration. Even with the sanitation, there will be private sector players and they are private suppliers in every element.
How engaged are local communities? Are people getting the impacts of climate change and changing their behaviour?
We had a very large mudslide in 2017 that killed over 1,000 people; that has really focused minds. I think people understand the issue of flooding and their causes on a large scale. When it rains now, we put posts on Facebook and on WhatsApp to explain our flood mitigation work. People can see that what we are clearing away from the gutters is soil coming from the hills because of deforestation. But a person who cuts down trees to build a home or make charcoal to feed their family needs an alternative. That’s where we have to come in with solutions. This is where the investment is needed and that is why subnational government need access to resources.
I would say 90 per cent of what I described has been paid with development funding, but that is not the story we want, that is not the resilience experience as it is not sustainable. How do we build investment into jobs – green and circular jobs – so that we have a cycle that will enable residents to pay their local taxes and property rates and in turn enable the city to make these investments without external funding?
Let’s talk about how the plan “Transform Freetown” promotes integration across sectors. What sectors are you prioritizing to achieve cross-cutting results?
Our three-year plan for the city is called Transform Freetown. It is four clusters and 11 priority sectors, with the clusters being: resilience, human development, a healthy city and urban mobility. Everything ties into resilience, climate change adaptation and mitigation. It’s recognizing that to deal with these issues you’ve got to look at water, housing, sanitation, job creation and skills development amongst other things. The 11 priority sectors are our commitment to integration and building a sustainable city.
What message do you have for international organizations in terms of how they can support your and other cities to become sustainable?
When you look at climate change action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I believe that implementation happens locally, on the ground. To save our climate and world, we need operational action to be taken, as well, of course, as policies at the national level. The point that is made repeatedly by the mayors I talk to is that city governments need access to financial resources, from the private sector as well as institutional development partners. It is so important for subnational governments to have access to development partner funding directly.
More Than 2.5 Billion Trees to be Conserved, Restored, and Grown by 2030
Companies from across sectors are working to support healthy and resilient forests through the World Economic Forum’s 1t.org trillion tree platform. With the launch of 1t.org’s global pledge process this September, over 20 companies have pledged to conserve, restore and grow more than 2.5 billion trees in over 50 countries by 2030.
The trillion trees goal does not replace net-zero emission programmes – business and industries still need to decarbonize to meet our climate targets. 1t.org was launched to support the growing momentum around nature-based solutions, to mobilize the global restoration community and to empower anyone who wants to play a part. The community shares best practices, promotes responsible forestry practices, and scales solutions to have global impact.
Nicole Schwab, Co-Director, Platform to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions, World Economic Forum said: “We are at a tipping point. It is our collective responsibility to leave behind a planet that is habitable for future generations. The private sector has a key role to play in bringing their expertise to the table and investing in natural climate solutions, such as restoration. It is encouraging to see more and more companies embracing this needed transition towards net-zero, nature-positive business models.”
The initial wave of companies making global pledges to 1t.org include: Amazon, APRIL Group, AstraZeneca, Brambles, Capgemini, Clif Bar, Daterra Coffee, Eni, HP Inc., Iberdrola, Mastercard, Nestle, PepsiCo, Salesforce, SAP, Shell, Suzano, Teck Resources Ltd., tentree, Travelers, Unilever, UPS, VMware, and Zurich Insurance Group. Their pledges can be viewed here as of Thursday 23 September at 16:15 CEST.
“Pledging to 1t.org was a natural fit for UPS,” said Nikki Clifton, president of social impact and The UPS Foundation. “UPS’s commitment to plant more than 50 million trees by 2030, in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is promoting global equity and well-being for underserved communities in cities and developing countries worldwide. It’s another example of UPS’s 543,000 employees moving our world forward by delivering what matters.”
Companies also work collaboratively through the 1t.org Corporate Alliance to drive impact by committing to leadership, action, integrity, transparency and learning. The alliance allows companies to jointly tackle common challenges and connects companies with 1t.org’s community of innovators, partners and regional chapters.
“1t.org Corporate Alliance discussions have given us valuable insights into how other companies are devising and managing their own restoration and conservation projects. The platform provides a great space for mutual learning and ideas,” said Craig Tribolet, Head of Sustainability Operations, APRIL Group. “1t.org also allows us to share updates on our own journey to champion thriving landscapes, as part of our production-protection approach, and on the progress we have made against our long-term sustainability commitments,” he said.
How Trees Can Play Their Part
Healthy and resilient trees and forests are one part of the efforts needed to combat climate change. Studies have shown trees can reduce urban heat island effects by up to 5°C and energy costs by $7.8 billion a year. Globally, sustainable management of forests could create $230 billion in business opportunities and 16 million jobs worldwide by 2030. From a health perspective, trees absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants a year, helping to prevent 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually. The chance of extreme wildfires occurring also decreases dramatically when forests are managed properly by, for example, growing specially-selected tree species in burned areas and using novel planting techniques for resilience to future wildfires.
1t.org encourages all corporations that have set a Paris Agreement-aligned emissions reduction target to get in touch and submit a pledge.
Paris climate deal could go up in smoke without action
Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” to 2.7-degrees of heating by the end of the century, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday.
This is far beyond the one to 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, agreed by the international community as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The UN chief’s remarks came after the UN’s climate agency (UNFCCC) published an update on national climate action plans (officially known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) submitted by the 191 countries which signed Agreement.
The report indicates that while there is a clear trend that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced over time, nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent disastrous global heating in the future.
The document includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the European Union and the United States.
Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. “This is an important step,” the report points out, but insufficient, as highlighted by Mr. Guterres at Friday’s Forum of Major Economies on Energy and Climate, hosted by the President of the United States, Joe Biden
“We need a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century…It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities”, he emphasized.
70 countries indicated their embrace of carbon neutrality goals by around the middle of the century. If this materializes, it could lead to even greater emissions reductions, of about 26% by 2030, compared to 2010, the report explains.
However, with national plans staying the way they are right now for all 191 countries, average global emissions in 2030 compared to 2010, instead of decreasing, will increase by around 16%.
According to the latest IPCC findings, that would mean that unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C, by the end of this century.
“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time”, the UN chief highlighted.
The Secretary General highlighted a particular challenge: energy still obtained from coal. “If all planned coal power plants become operational, we will not only be clearly above 1.5 degrees – we will be well above 2 degrees. The Paris targets would go up in smoke”.
Mr. Guterres urged the creation of “coalitions of solidarity” between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support transitions to cleaner energy sources.
Without pledges and financial commitments from industrialised nations to make this happen, “there is a high risk of failure of COP26”, Mr. Guterres continued, referring to the pivotal UN Climate summit in Glasgow in six weeks’ time.
“G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Their leadership is needed more than ever. The decisions they take now will determine whether the promise made at Paris is kept or broken”, he warned.
There’s still time
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, clarified during a press conference that countries can submit or update their national plans “at any time”, including in the run-up to COP26.
The agency highlighted some good news. The new or updated plans included in the report, show a marked improvement in the quality of information presented, for both mitigation and adaptation, and tend to be aligned with broader long-term, low-emission development goals, the achievement of carbon neutrality, national legislative/regulatory/planning processes, and other international frameworks such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UN chief was clear that by COP26, all nations should submit more ambitions plans that help to place the world on a 1.5-degree pathway.
“We also need developed nations to finally deliver on the US100 billion commitment promised over a decade ago in support to developing countries. The Climate Finance report published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that this goal has not been reached either”.
A sizeable number of national climate plans from developing countries, which define targets and actions to reduce emissions, contain conditional commitments which can only be implemented with access to enhanced financial resources and other support.
Stop ignoring science
For Mr. Guterres, the fight against climate change will only succeed if everyone comes together to promote more ambition, more cooperation and more credibility.
“No more ignoring science. No more ignoring the demands of people everywhere. It is time for leaders to stand and deliver, or people in all countries will pay a tragic price”.
Act now to slow climate change and protect the planet
The ozone layer – a fragile shield of gas that protects the Earth from the harmful rays of the sun – is “on the road to recovery”, the UN chief said on Thursday in his message for the World Ozone Day.
Crediting the Montreal Protocol, which “began life as a mechanism to protect and heal the ozone layer”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that over the course of three decades, “it has done its job well”.
The multilateral treaty to phase out ozone-depleting substances has, by healing the hole in the ozone layer, protected human health, economies and ecosystems.
“The cooperation we have seen under the Montreal Protocol is exactly what is needed now to take on climate change, an equally existential threat to our societies”, he said.
Until the protocol, old equipment such as building insulation foam, fridge-freezers and other cooling systems, were manufactured using ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which leaked the damaging gas into the atmosphere as equipment deteriorated.
Other critical services
This year’s World Ozone Day highlights that the landmark environmental agreement also slows down climate change and helps to boost energy efficiency for cooling products such as freezers, which then also contributes to food security.
“The Montreal Protocol is more than just an example of how multilateralism can and should work, it is an active tool to help meet our global vision for sustainable development”, said the UN chief.
And under the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol, nations have committed to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases used as coolants, which are less harmful than CFCs as they contain hydrogen, but are nonetheless still an ozone risk.
When fully implemented, the Kigali Amendment could prevent 0.4 degrees Celsius of global warming this century.
“Furthermore, as we prepare for the Food Systems Summit this month, we are reminded that the Kigali Amendment can also help us to increase food security”, flagged Mr. Guterres, explaining that by reducing HFCs, increasing energy efficiency and creating more ozone and climate-friendly technologies, “the Kigali Amendment can bring sustainable access to vital cooling services to millions of people”.
These services would reduce food loss in developing countries, where it often spoils before reaching markets.
Getting produce from farmers to where it is needed would, in turn, help reduce hunger, poverty and the environmental impact of the agricultural sector.
Another important benefit of expanding access to safe cooling systems, is to store medicines and vaccines, including those needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment show us that by acting together, anything is possible”, said the UN chief. “So let us act now to slow climate change, feed the world’s hungry and protect the planet that we all depend on”.
The work continues, with scientists still providing the first line of defence.
UNEP leads a joint effort of over 100 governments, businesses and development organizations that supports countries and industry in tackling growing cooling demand, while contributing to the Paris Agreement, Montreal Protocol and Agenda 2030 called the Cool Coalition.
Together with its partners, the Coalition fosters advocacy, knowledge and action to accelerate the global transition to efficient and climate-friendly cooling.
In 1994, through resolution 49/114, the General Assembly proclaimed 16 September as the International Day, commemorating the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.
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