More Than 40 Mayors Outline Their Vision for a Green Coronavirus Recovery

An aerial photo shows buildings and a metro train in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus.
An aerial photo shows buildings and a metro train in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus.
Photo: Hector Retamal/AFP (Getty Images)

On Wednesday, mayors from around the world came together to announce how a plan for a just and green recovery from the three crises their constituents face: climate change, coronavirus, and racial inequality.

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Advocates and House Democrats have also called for a green recovery. However, these mayors are the first with the authority to enact their vision, at least on the local level. They’re asking regional leaders and the private sector to stand with them.

“The public health of human beings is something that ties together this moment and our commitment as an organization because every life is sacred,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during a press call for the announcement.

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The plan comes from C40, a global initiative representing 96 cities led by mayors focused on addressing climate change. It outlines steps and nine principles cities can use to reach what many of the mayors on the press call said was a “new normal.” That’s because what used to be normal—air pollution, dirty industries, and displacement—is not the future.

To replace what once was, from Milan, Italy, to Freetown, Sierra Leone, the C40 mayors have said they’ll take action to create green jobs, improve public transit systems, open streets for pedestrians and cyclists, clean the air, and commit to ending fossil fuel subsidies and investments. The plan offers more of a sketch of what needs to be done rather than specific steps, which opens the door for mayors to tailor their approach based on what their cities need and the resources they have available.

The pandemic has been excruciating, but it’s showed us that the world that was doesn’t have to be the world that will be. Traffic dipped as cities went into lockdown, improving air quality. Many cities closed off streets to vehicles to help provide more room for individuals to get outside and exercise while maintaining social distancing. Maintaining those benefits while squashing out the virus could be part of a green recovery.

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On the flip side of that, the pandemic has also shown us how the public health inequities many communities face put them at greater risk. Research has shown that people exposed to air pollution are likely at higher risk of death from the virus. This was a terrifying discovery as communities of color bear the brunt of poor air quality in the U.S. They’ve also lost the most during the pandemic, with higher death and infection rates.

The way to fix these issues isn’t by slapping a Band-Aid on them and calling it a day. It requires addressing them together while pulling people out of poverty instead of throwing them deeper into it, an idea that’s central to the Green New Deal.

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This will be easier said than done, of course, when propping up a fossil fueled economy looms large for some cities, regions, and countries. Creating something new is what’s hard. And all levels of government need to do their part if we’re to succeed.

Yessenia Funes is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children's books.

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DISCUSSION

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Man o’ man, if there wasn’t good old fashioned bootstrap capitalism, financialization of economies, and compliant tax structures for high-net individuals & families, corporations and foundations, we wouldn’t have great organizations like C40 offering up these wonderful green initiatives. The About page on the C40 website is like a who’s who of folks, foundations and corporations that may actually have some money squirreled away somewhere. Compared to many cities that are broke or going broke.

It seems like ages ago when word on the street was that Mayor Lori Lightfoot - mayor of the number one (#1) city on the Bloomberg C40 Top 40 - was thinking about backing Michael Bloomberg for prez. Those might have just been thoughts of others bandied about. Things have changed since early February 2020. Chicago does need a lake wall, though. So climate adaptation funding applies, if climate scientists can narrow in on climate change impacts to the Great Lakes.