Reflections on Paris COP 21

Why ecomobility is central to reducing the carbon footprints of our cities

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21 Paris, appears to have exceeded expectations and has probably paved the way to a more open and collaborative process to developing the necessary strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and get some sort of control over climate change. The debate about the temperature increase that we can and should accept will carry on, but at least there now is an agreement to maintain a regime of constant review as the evidence and science are better understood.

Cities, for obvious reasons, are the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and transport within and between cities is responsible for about one third of all emissions. We need to change the way we travel, move away from car dependency and switch to more sustainable modes of transport such as public transport, walking and cycling and all the new gadgets that will propel us forward. This is now referred to as ecomobility.

In October ICLEI organised the Johannesburg World Ecomobility Festival - Africa’s first ever car free event – closing much of the Sandton Central Business District to vehicular traffic for the whole month of October. ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability–was founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and is an international association of local governments and national and regional local government organizations that have made a commitment to sustainable development. The Sandton CBD is often referred to as Africa’s richest square mile, but it normally sees 100,000 cars entering and leaving the city daily, resulting in severe congestion, pollution and CO2 emissions.

In the event, streets were given over to walking and cycling, as well as a wide range of ecomobility devices that were available for trial. Cyclists experienced new cycle infrastructure and people reclaimed the streets. The area was calm and quiet and an almost holiday atmosphere pervaded; the flowers could hold their own. The festival was an opportunity to debate the issues, share experiences and hear from cities across the world about what they have done.

A key outcome was the Johannesburg Declaration, drafted by ICLEI and a team of experts (I was one of these), which was presented at COP 21 in Paris recently. It sets out principles for how cities can adopt ecomobility as part of their strategy to reduce their carbon footprints. The full Declaration can be viewed here.

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