UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his new U.N. job, said Tuesday that cities hold the key to confronting climate change because they account for 75 percent of the heat-trapping gases and their mayors have executive powers to reduce emissions.
The three-term mayor and billionaire businessman was a keynote speaker at the opening of a three-day U.N. meeting on making urban areas — where about 70 percent of the world's population is expected to live by 2050 — more livable, sustainable, economically successful and environmentally friendly.
Appointed on Jan. 31 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as the U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change, Bloomberg urged cities to act urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change and "climate risks" such as flooding — and he encouraged all governments to empower their cities to take climate actions.
"Those actions will save lives, they'll strengthen and protect the national economies, they'll make cities more healthy and economically vibrant and together they'll make a difference in the global fight against climate change," Bloomberg said.
He pointed to a 19 percent reduction in New York's heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions in six years and the city's cleanest air in 50 years as a result of measures including eliminating the dirtiest heating oil from buildings and planting 800,000 new trees, and he said other cities have had similar results including London, Lagos and Johannesburg.
Secretary-General Ban told hundreds of government officials and mayors that "too many cities face challenges including weak infrastructure, unemployment and pollution." At the same time, he said, "climate change is increasing risks in all cities, where the poorest people are hit the hardest."
Joan Clos, the executive director of U.N.-Habitat, said that at the beginning of the 19th century only 2 percent of the world's population lived in urban areas and at the start of the 20th century, only 10 percent was urban. But the number of urban-dwellers has now passed 50 percent — and the U.N. predicts increasing growth, especially in developing countries, he said.
While urbanization has raised hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty, Clos said, close to one billion people currently live in slums which is "proof that we still have a lot to do to improve urban life."
He said well-designed urban areas — not spontaneous or badly planned ones — are essential if cities are to remain centers of education, innovation, and economic growth.