Mayors Commit, Sending a Pre-Cancun Message

One week before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, over 130 mayors from cities all over the world signed a voluntary pact to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change. The World Mayors Summit, which convened in Mexico City yesterday, aims to set climate change mitigation and adaptation goals for global cities that are, in the words of the pact, "measurable, reportable and verifiable." Cities that sign the pact will join an online registry where climate data, goals and progress will be logged and easily accessed by government officials as well as city residents.

After sustaining the disappointment of a lackluster Copenhagen agreement, (described here, post-Copenhagen, on, city leaders from around the world decided their constituents could no longer wait for national leaders to act. The timing of the Mayors' agreement immediately preceding Cancun could inspire (or possibly shame) global leaders into taking concrete action against climate change. At the very least, if no binding treaty comes out of Cancun, the mayors are hoping for increased financial support, and the open acknowledgment that climate change has become an overwhelming issue requiring immediate, ongoing, large-scale attention.

A Wall Street Journal article from last month describes the "peer pressure" element of environmentally friendly behaviors. Researchers found that people respond most effectively, and in greatest numbers, when their behaviors are compared to those of their peers. Signs on doors informing homeowners they should use fans instead of air conditioning on hot summer days were most effective when they used an "everyone's doing it" approach as opposed to a "use a fan to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions" approach. The mayors' online registry of city climate data could benefit from that psychology. Cities that can track their own progress in relation to others' will, with luck, have a similarly persuasive effect.

As the UN Climate meeting in Cancun approaches amidst a sea of bad news, the Mayors Summit is a sign that tides may be turning.