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Podcast Article June 20th, 2023

Reimagining Government episode 2: transcript

🎙️ Reimagining Government

In partnership with Apolitical, this six-part podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities. By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.


Adrian Brown: [00:00:00] Do you hear that? It's the sound of a glacier cracking and falling into the ocean. It's something that is happening more and more frequently in today's climate. As these blocks of ice plunge into the water at an alarming rate, it causes a ripple effect of extreme weather across the globe, and it's showing no sign of slowing down.

Climate change is a vast, complex, and - above all - collective challenge without precedent in human history. Governments are best positioned to mobilise the cross-sector collective action necessary to grapple with this collective problem. However, despite notable breakthroughs at the national level, such as the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the European Climate Law, national policies on their own are not enough.

Cities, which generate more than 70% of global carbon [00:01:00] emissions represent the biggest challenge and opportunity to slow global warming and to build sustainable, resilient communities. They hold the key to slowing the effects of climate change by leading the charge towards a net zero resilient future.

And many are stepping up to this awesome responsibility. But are they set up for success? What do city leaders need to make measurable progress before it's too late?

Reimagining Government is a podcast where we shine a light on changemakers sharing their ideas on how to reimagine a new government equipped to face modern challenges and find real solutions.

This episode is hosted by the Global Director for Climate Action at the Centre for Public Impact, Josh Sorin.

Josh Sorin: Hi, I'm Josh Sorin, the [00:02:00] Global Director of Climate Action at the Centre for Public Impact. In this episode, I want to share how change makers and city governments are addressing climate change, the barriers they face, the risks they're taking, and how they're finding local solutions to one of the most pervasive systemic challenges of our time.

So, how can reimagining government at the city level give us a fighting chance against climate change?

The world needs to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do this, we need to roughly halve carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050. This is an ambitious goal, but if we don't slow global warming, the scientific community is unified in forecasting that humanity will face an increasingly uninhabitable earth, leaving our children and grandchildren to deal with a terrible fallout.

The truth of it, is that we need to dramatically accelerate climate action in cities in order to reach [00:03:00] that goal. And while many cities have developed robust climate action plans, most are not implementing those plans at the speed or scale necessary to meet their ambitious goals.

First, let me take you to a city that understands the urgency of the challenge, one that is considered one of the greenest cities in the world: Vancouver.

Vancouver, British Columbia, is among Canada's densest, most ethnically diverse cities, and as I mentioned before, it is also among its greenest cities. So, how can Vancouver, a city with over 2.5 million inhabitants be leading the way in climate action?

Sadhu Johnston: Climate change is an issue that, really, every one of us in our businesses and in our lives need to find ways to address, and cities are a critical part of that.

Josh Sorin: One of the critical factors behind Vancouver's [00:04:00] success is former city manager Sadhu Johnston. In 2009, Mr. Johnston launched the Greenest City Action Plan.

Sadhu Johnston: When I moved to the city of Vancouver, I served as the deputy city manager. At that time, there was a new mayor and council, and they were really looking to make Vancouver a leader globally, and so they adopted the Greenest City Action Plan. And that plan mapped out 10 areas within the city that we were gonna work on to address the challenges and the opportunities to be a green city.

Josh Sorin: Before his role in Vancouver, Mr. Johnston got a seat in the city of Chicago, working in the Mayor's Office.

Sadhu Johnston: I joined to help make Chicago a green and environmentally sustainable city, and that was a few years after there had been a major heatwave in the city, and so the mayor and the residents were really aware of the extreme heat events [00:05:00] and, uh, urban heat island that was happening as a result, partly of climate change. As part of that, the mayor asked me how climate change might be impacting our city in the future, and that really set me down a journey that's, uh, about a 20 year journey now, looking at the ways that climate change would impact our communities and what our communities could do about it.

Josh Sorin: But let's get back to the work in Vancouver. What was it that made the Greenest City Action Plan so revolutionary?

Sadhu Johnston: So the Greenest City Action Plan became a rallying cry for us. It became our roadmap for how we were going to make Vancouver a leader. For instance, in water, Vancouver, because we are in a temperate rainforest, we have a lot of water.

And so over the decades, we have developed systems that are pretty inefficient from a water perspective, and so we set about addressing the amount of [00:06:00] water that was consumed in the city. We also had our own landfill, and so we weren't doing that well in the amount of waste that we were producing. We needed to drastically reduce the waste. A lot of the waste that was going into the landfill was organics, and when organics enter the landfill, they break down and they produce methane, which is about 25 times as bad as CO2, so we needed to take the organics out of the, the waste stream.

It was a challenge, and some of the targets were overly ambitious. They were stretch goals, but they gave us something to work toward, and that plan had parts in it that you would do as a homeowner or in your work, there were very aggressive targets for the city and our own operations. So the Greenest City Action Plan became for us an aspirational set of targets that we would try to adjust everything we do as a community, everything we do as a city, to achieve.

Josh Sorin: This 10 goal plan [00:07:00] focused on three main objectives; zero carbon, zero waste, and healthy ecosystems. It challenged the citizens of Vancouver to change their everyday routines, forming new sustainable habits across the city.

Sadhu Johnston: In Vancouver, the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are from our mobility - how we get around - and from our buildings. So we focused a lot on changing how people get around by building bike lanes, and by changing where we build. And, over multiple decades in the city of Vancouver, we started to build more housing around transit, and we tried to create all the services that they might need within a five minute walk of their home. That meant that maybe they didn't need two cars or maybe they didn't need a car at all. And then we introduced and supported car sharing and bike sharing, so people could get around without needing a private car. And of course [00:08:00] we as a region supported more public transit.

So, so mobility was one area of focus that, uh, took decades, but we were able to achieve considerable success. The second area is in our buildings. That's the largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in our community. We started firstly with the building code and worked to ensure that new buildings as they're being built, will require less energy to, to heat, and cool.

And then we started to look for alternatives to fossil fuel. And in Vancouver we have a big sewer main that's coming out of downtown. And when you run your dishwasher, you take a shower, it produces hot water. And that hot water ends up going down into the sewers. So the sewer water is actually warm. And what we were able to do is to take the heat out of the sewage water and convert it into heat that could be used to heat entire neighborhoods.[00:09:00]

So if you live in a neighbourhood that's supported by that district energy system, the heating in your own home, which is produced from that waste heat, you end up having about a 70% lower greenhouse gas emission than if you're buying from the natural gas supplier. The first thing was to make sure that our buildings are using less energy, and then the second was to find more renewable energy to support those demands.

And between mobility and our buildings, we were able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions about 16% below our 2007 levels in the last year. Meanwhile, the city was growing quite considerably, both the jobs and the population. So we were able to demonstrate that a city can be vibrant, a city can be growing, jobs can be increasing, the population can be increasing, and we can be reducing our overall impact on the planet.

Josh Sorin: Now, over a decade later, [00:10:00] the Greenest City Action Plan has wrapped. So, what's next?

Sadhu Johnston: Ultimately, we have most of the solutions that we need to reduce carbon emissions in our communities and to make our communities more resilient. We know what they are. We have the toolkit of solutions. We need to scale those up.

It's not that there's one or two cities that have tried it all. Thousands of cities have done little bits and pieces. They're out there. The solutions are there. We need to find ways to disseminate them, to policymakers and to governments across the world.

We don't have time on this planet to miss sharing what we're doing. We don't have time as a species. We don't have time in our own cities to duplicate efforts in our learning. We have to ensure that government workers in every city around the world have immediate access to [00:11:00] the lessons that are being learned around the world.

And so, we are creating courses. And in six to eight hours, you can learn about climate inequity, you can learn about renewable energy, you can learn about decarbonizing our buildings. These solutions are out there and we need to package them and share them and ensure that we can reduce our learning curve by years by sharing those types of experiences. Vancouver was very committed to sharing successes and failures, and we're trying to take those lessons learned and share them across the globe.

Josh Sorin: The City of Vancouver demonstrates the vital role that cities play in addressing climate change and sets an example that others around the globe can learn from. And yet, much more still needs to be done to accelerate climate action. Climate change is a truly global issue that affects us all, and we need to deal with it at a much quicker pace than we are currently experiencing.

Most of the challenges governments face are complex in nature,[00:12:00] and there are very few simple solutions. This is even more apparent when it comes to climate change. However, cities are in a prime position to spearhead climate action. They hold the key to tackling the climate crisis, as they account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions. But how can city leaders navigate the complex systems needed to tackle the issue? The answers may lie in taking a more systemic approach, moving away from single point solutions towards portfolio innovation.

EIT Climate-KIC is a Knowledge and Innovation Community, working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon climate-resilient society. Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, they seek out innovation that helps society mitigate and adapt to climate change and build upon it.

NetZeroCities is a project coordinated by Climate-KIC. Thomas Osdoba is a Programme Director of NetZeroCities. We spoke to him to find out how this initiative is supporting cities [00:13:00] to lead on climate action.

Thomas Osdoba: NetZeroCities is a project launched by the European Union. It's comprised of 33 different organisations across Europe working together to help cities achieve the mission goal of becoming climate neutral by 2030.

Every level of government needs to be actively involved and working together if we're going to respond sufficiently to the problem. Um, I think that the history of our climate action could be best summarised as a series of insufficient responses, uh, which is why we're in the situation we're in. If we want to focus a little bit on cities more specifically, I think there are a couple of things that are worth mentioning.

One, is cities are closer to the people, the citizens, on things that affect them day to day, than any other level of government. So as citizens, we experience our city government all the time, every day, from the streets and the sidewalks to garbage collection, to the water infrastructure, transportation, etcetera.

[00:14:00] So local governments are really most closely engaged with citizens on a day to day basis. As part of that, they have huge responsibilities for building, maintaining, and operating assets that deliver key services we need to live. And it's the building and the operations of those services that contribute the most greenhouse gas emissions.

So, if most of the emissions, and I think it varies depending on where you are in the world, 70% of emissions, maybe 60% of emissions are generated within cities. The action needs to be done in cities to reduce those emissions to respond to climate change at a scale that we're being told we need to by the United Nations, to preserve a 1.5 degree future, and, and thus, hopefully, avert the worst outcomes of a destabilised climate.

We need to really get to almost zero carbon. To do that requires a collective action that is [00:15:00] really difficult to imagine, much less deliver. It's not something that you can achieve simply by getting everybody to do five things, but rather collective action requires cities to bring people together and enable collective action at scale. It's that getting to scale that cities can do that almost no one else can do.

Cities have been looking at a variety of different actions that they've been taking and looking at how to get to something more systemic, to build not just a set of projects, but something that looks more like a portfolio of projects that are all working together.

When I think about some examples where, where we see that happening. And I'll use a specific example just to make it as tangible as possible. And that'll be the city of Vienna. You know, I think Vienna's really recognised as having been a leader in climate action among cities in the world.

And what's interesting there is some of the things that the social housing folks in Vienna have done to manage their [00:16:00] assets and their energy use, have direct transferability to other asset holders, if you will, in the city, who can look at that and go, oh, I see. If you're, if you're working at that scale with a sort of coordinated approach, you can start to do things that individuals couldn't do by themselves.

Ultimately, what that led to is the city starting with a small innovation team driving that work and they've now basically morphed that innovation team into a group of innovators across every department of the city, who are still connected to each other, but they're now embedded within different parts of the city. And so they're able to drive that work more deeply and foster greater connections between what it is that they're doing.

Josh Sorin: Achieving net zero will be a huge undertaking that will require profound changes. The work of NetZeroCities shows why cities must recognize the complexity of this challenge and the benefits of taking a systemic portfolio based approach to addressing climate change.

Thomas Osdoba: Since NetZeroCities [00:17:00] launched about a year ago and the European mission for climate neutral cities really kicked into gear, I think there have been a few things I've seen happen that are quite encouraging.

The goal of the mission was to try to identify a hundred cities that would be willing to be this sort of leading edge group of cities trying to get to net zero or climate neutrality by 2030, which is very aggressive. So all cities have to get there. But could the mission identify a hundred who are willing to try to go faster and be real leaders in that space? And so when the European Commission put out a call for cities to express their interest in participating in this mission, hoping that we'd get a hundred credible, serious cities ready to tackle this, I think everyone was surprised when 377 cities said, we wanna try. And so, the responsive cities, the willingness of cities to [00:18:00] do more, to try to go faster, even in general terms, is something that I think we should all be encouraged by.

So 112 cities have been selected. Since we've selected those cities, the national governments have really responded favourably to say, okay, we really wanna help these cities be successful. This was a pretty bold step for the EU because generally the member states, the national governments, have the responsibility as it relates to city government, and so the EU seeking to directly engage and support cities is a pretty big step. And I think the national governments, instead of saying, we don't want you doing that, have said, okay, we're gonna help these cities be successful. And we're not only gonna help the 112 that were successful in getting selected to be part of the mission, but all of the cities that wanted to be part of the mission from our country, we're gonna help.

And I'll give you an example, in Spain, twenty-two cities submitted, [00:19:00] an expression of interest to be part of the mission. Seven were selected and they've all agreed to work together, all twenty-two cities, even though just seven have gotten selected. And I've heard this from multiple governments now, the French government, the Dutch government, the Italian, and Greek governments, like, we need to help all of the cities who want to try to do this, do as much as they can.

The ones who were selected are gonna get help, but as a national government, we can help them all. And the goal is if a hundred cities are working together, or 112 in this case, if we get 20 of them in the next two years to seriously start moving on some of those big structural barriers, the rest who are gonna follow, right?

We don't need all of these cities to go at the same speed. Some can go faster, some can focus on other things. But this as a mission is really investing in learning by doing and allowing the cities to learn from each other in a much more ambitious and aggressive way. Cities have shown they're willing to learn from each other, but now we're giving them the [00:20:00] platform, the resources, and the support to really tackle deeper issues in a more serious way.

Adrian Brown: Hi there, Reimagining Government listeners. It's Adrian here. Before we meet our next government changemaker, I wanted to quickly tell you about a podcast I'm loving right now and which is particularly relevant to today's episode.

Climate change can feel like a far off problem or often siloed as a scientific story. But everything is a climate story, and that's where The Carbon Copy comes in. Hosted by Veteran Climate Reporter Steven Lacey, and produced by Post Script Media and Canary Media, The Carbon Copy covers climate change by connecting it to the major cultural, economic business and tech trends that shape the world around us.

The Carbon Copy informs, enlightens, and sparks curiosity on the many ways a changing climate will impact our lives. From Russia's war on [00:21:00] Ukraine to deadly heat waves across the globe, transitioning the power grid, creating inclusive models for green industries, and decisions handed down from the US Supreme Court.

Explore how climate change and the energy transition connect to the biggest stories of today. So don't miss out. Find and follow The Carbon Copy on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or listen on your favourite podcast app, and tell them that the Reimagining Government podcast sent you.

Josh Sorin: No image of climate change is quite so jarring as a melting of ice caps in the Arctic. The ice melts like sand in an hourglass, and it's fair to say that we're running out of sand.

But this challenge cannot be fixed by one government or person alone. A key part of tackling the climate crisis lies in the nature of our relationships. People, after all, are often on the frontline of the climate [00:22:00] crisis. The quality of human relationships matters a great deal in everyday governing, but even more so in this huge challenge. How people interact with each other, whether that's within government departments, across sectors, or between government and local residents, directly influences the outcomes that can be achieved.

East Africa is blessed with a rich biodiversity. The East African coral coast is home to an estimated 3000 species of fauna, fish, seabirds, marine reptiles, and mammals. But the reefs and mangroves are becoming increasingly threatened by human activity. Soil erosion from agriculture, chemical fertilisers, and pesticides entering rivers, and overfishing and exploitation, are just some examples.

There are many other instances like this, which are repeated worldwide. How do communities continue to thrive economically and socially while protecting the local environment? And moreover, who gets to make these decisions?

Lionel Dishon Murage: The first key actor, I usually consider the communities themselves, [00:23:00] and usually these communities are either organised as either community based organisations or even currently under the law we have what we call the Beach Management Units and the Community Forest Associations. BMU, the Beach Management Units and the Community Forest Associations. These are actually entities, legal entities that have actually been recognised under the law and these entities, under that law, the government engages directly with them developing collaborations or even partnerships to actually manage the resources together with the government.

For example, with the BMUs, they can develop what are called core management plans, and it has worked for the management of fishing resources. And the Community Forest Associations, they can develop what are called participatory forest management plans.

Josh Sorin: Lionel Dishon Murage is a natural resource management expert. He works in coastal and marine resource conservation and development within East Africa. He believes the key to conservation lies within [00:24:00] communities themselves.

Lionel Dishon Murage: Essentially, I've been working in, within the East African region now, for the last nearly 20 years, I've worked with a number of organisations and currently I'm working with an organisation called Seacology Foundation. It's actually based in the US.

To pick a few of the kinds of projects that have been working, most of them are related either to the mangrove forest conservation, coral reefs, fisheries, as well as protection of endangered and threatened species. And, all of them have a link towards community development. Essentially, identifying community needs as well as developing alternative livelihoods for communities that depend on these natural resources.

And essentially, it's all directed towards ensuring the communities have the capacity either to adapt, to conserve, or actually to identify areas where they can develop sustainable livelihood options that would either reduce pressure on the resources that they are exploiting, or provide increased income for these communities.

I mentioned one specific platform that has actually been initiated in our country [00:25:00], in which they have established what I referred to as the world climate change planning committees. And these, world climate change planning committees are working and bringing representatives at the lowest level of devolution that is at the world level. These committees are supposed to identify what are the climate change impacts, challenges they're facing, and develop actions to enable them to build resilience and adapt to those challenges.

Also, we have other platforms that exist. We have networks particularly that are bringing together Beach Management Units. And also networks that are also bringing together Community Forest Associations.

Josh Sorin: There is a concept called subsidiary. It is the idea that decision-making should be placed at the lowest appropriate level. Instead of pushing information to authority, subsidiarity is about pushing authority to information.

Lionel Dishon Murage: In Kenya, we have two systems of government. We have a national government and uh, 47 devolved units, which are called [00:26:00] the county governments. In 2016, the government enacted the Climate Change Act, and this is the primary framework for governing climate change across Kenya.

And one of the main objectives of the act is to promote climate action at the county level, as well as strengthening accountability for climate action. I would say in that sense, Kenya is at the forefront, among a select few countries in the world, that seek to directly regulate climate change and actually to provide a framework for engaging local government in climate change action and mitigation.

Josh Sorin: Reaching net zero will require significant behavioural shifts from everyone around the world. Lionel Dishon Murage is not alone in recognising the importance of engaging with communities and the need to bring them along on the journey if we're to successfully make the rapid social changes that climate action demands.

We must nurture relationships between communities and local governments to build trust, ensure success in promoting [00:27:00] more sustainable practices, and tackle the effects of climate change. Now let's travel South East to visit another example of a city who has been collaborating with their residents to tackle climate change.

The city government of Wellington, New Zealand, has been actively working with over 1200 Wellingtonians to shape ‘Te Atakura - First to Zero’, the city's climate action plan.

But as those working in government know, things don't always go according to plan. The problems posed by the climate crisis are unique and evolving. It is vital that cities have the capability to innovate and test new approaches, learn and adapt their plans accordingly.

But what does it look like for cities to embrace a learning and experimental mindset in their efforts to tackle climate change?

The city of Wellington is experimenting with new approaches as part of its efforts to engage the community climate in its change response. Let me introduce you to two people from Wellington City [00:28:00] Council who are instrumental in that work. Alison Howard and Julia Hamilton.

Julia Hamilton: Kia Ora, I'm Julia Hamilton, the Team Leader for Digital Innovation at Wellington City Council.

Josh Sorin: Julia is leading work on Wellington's Digital Twin model.

Julia Hamilton: So in its most basic form, digital twins are a virtual representation of either physical assets or systems that are created on a completely virtual scale.

It's an amazing tool for kind of experimenting and, um, understanding the city in a controlled and risk-free manner, and helping city planners and citizens and partners of the city kind of understand how a city is now and how it can be in the future.

So what's quite distinct about how we are approaching the digital city model is rather than using it for its traditional sense around city operations, we are primarily focusing on it as a capability for storytelling, and engaging with the public to enhance democratic processes.

At this stage, our digital twin is more of a digital city model, so it's not connected into live data systems. [00:29:00] But it is a virtual replica of what our city does look like. Through the climate change lens, people often think mostly about sea level rise around those coastal communities, but looking at the city as a whole, we can start to think about how the impacts of climate change impact different areas of the city.

So while there is sea level rise, there's also things such as flooding that happen in the inland areas as well, so helping the public to understand there's multiple ways that this will impact our city in different areas.

Our city's vision is around being an inclusive, sustainable, and creative capital for people. And one of the key things for achieving that vision is empowering Wellingtonians to actually work together to shape what that future's gonna look like. To enable the residents and community groups to participate in shaping this future we need tools that are engaging and innovative and actually make them wanna participate and make the participation experience more accessible.

So our big focus for the Digital City model is, is really creating an innovative and engaging tool. We've built it in the Unreal gaming engine, which is also [00:30:00] quite a unique aspect of it because in the development, when we were first looking at digital city models and we worked with a private company who was building it in another gaming engine and the first thing that really stuck out to us was the power of storytelling, given the hyper realistic nature that you can get through the gaming engines.

Because it is a virtual environment, it provides the perfect platform for kind of testing out and experimenting in a controlled risk-free manner. So often, you know, people might suggest an idea that might be dismissed, and it feels like they're being alienated from the process.

But with a digital tool, there's no reason why you can't actually explore what that idea looks like, other than just your time to develop it. So we've been working with our transport agency and, and they were talking about for them, this capability is an amazing opportunity to explore what a design concept of a road might look like, and if you apply that in the climate setting, it's like what are all of the different options that we could put together in helping people to present that?

Josh Sorin: The digital twin model is just one example of [00:31:00] Wellington’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

Alison Howard: My name is Alison Howard. I'm the Manager of Climate Change Response for Wellington City Council. In 2019, Wellington City Council declared a climate and ecological emergency and adopted ‘Te Atakura - First to Zero’, as our action plan for how we were going to meet that emergency.

Te Atakura sets a 57% reduction target between 2020 and 2030. And it has a variety of different ways in which the council can support the city to meet that target. The first and most important role that we can have as a council is that we control the planning environment. So we control how much urban density we have in the city, and we're also the road controlling authority. So we have control over what the transport system looks like. So between those two things, we can impact the 35% of the city's emissions that are from road transport and make sure that any new residents joining the [00:32:00] city are next to those transport corridors and are able to get around in a zero carbon way.

We also look at trying to encourage the building sector to be lower carbon, but we don't have any direct influence in that space. That's more about education, modelling good behaviour with our own building programme, and providing incentives to developers who want to build to a higher standard.

Keeping an experimental mindset in local government is actually probably harder than you might even think that it is. One of the things that struck me when I first started working for the council is that when you make plans, it's like they’re set in concrete. I found what's helpful is to be really clear at the outset that the plan and the frame is to be experimental and to try things out and then to pivot if they don't work. So that was kind of built into the framing of First to Zero as an experimental mindset.

But I do think in local government, [00:33:00] it's, it's hard. You're accountable to the rate payer. People want to know what you're gonna spend their money on and what tangible outcomes they're gonna get out the other side. So saying, I'm gonna take some of your money and I'm gonna experiment with it and not everything's gonna work, but I'm just gonna do my best. There's a lot of faith that people have expressed in allowing us to have that mindset to take that approach. So we're really grateful for that, because climate action is not easy and it's not planned. We're not gonna be able to step by step plan our way out of a climate emergency.

Josh Sorin: Alison and Julia's teams embraced each project initiative as a learning process. They couldn't know for sure how they would be received in the local community. Nor what impact they would have environmentally. But step by step by innovating, learning and improving. They're supporting Wellington's journey to become a low carbon climate resilient city.

Alison Howard: I think the first thing you have to build is the social licence. There's increasing levels [00:34:00] of anxiety around climate change and what the impacts of that are going to be, and a fair amount of disempowerment. Where people think that they don’t know what an impactful action is. And our surveying shows that people think they're doing climate action when they're not. When you ask them, are you taking climate action, the top answer people give is, I recycle.

And that's not the strongest climate action they could take by a country mile. So, connecting people's anxiety to what actions would be impactful for them to take, and then making sure that as a government agency, you are creating the conditions and the options within the systems that individuals live in, to be able to change their behaviour and live their lives in a different way.

This is a massively complex challenge. No one's gonna deliver it alone, but I love local government for that because local government is where central government policy hits the road. Like it's where all of the local [00:35:00] conversations are. It's where people come to complain if their neighbour has parked a trailer out the front of their house for too long. Like it's the ultimate village green. So I think it's a super powerful place to be in to create climate action. So I like to describe Te Atakura as a strategy that is everything and the kitchen sink. So if you just throw everything at it, every labour that you have, every influence you have, all the money that you have. Throw all of it at the challenge. Enrol everybody in it, partner, collaborate, facilitate, see where you land at the other end.

Josh Sorin: Let's take a look at another coastal city with big green ambitions: New York City.

[00:36:00] New York City is fast becoming the United States’ greenest community, though might not be the first one that comes to mind. Honking horns and the chugging of engines paint the streets of New York City. The sound of traffic is as synonymous with New York City as melting ice caps are to global warming. But here's a sound you wouldn't expect to hear.

Bottlenose dolphins have recently been spotted swimming in the waters surrounding New York City, something that locals have never seen before. It is theorised that they're looking for one of their favourite foods, Atlantic Menhaden, a North American Fish of the Herring family. It's also a sign that the waters in New York City aren't as polluted as they once were. In fact, a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection recently told the Washington Post that the waters surrounding the city are cleaner now than at any time since the Civil War. [00:37:00] So when did New York City become so green?

Rohit Aggarwala is New York City's Chief Climate Officer, as well as the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. He set in motion a plan that will make all large buildings in New York City more energy efficient, clean up the heating oil used in New York City's buildings, and develop a greener construction code for New York. This plan was called PlaNYC, a greener greater New York, and has been hailed as one of the best urban sustainability plans in the world.

Rohit T. Aggarwala: PlaNYC was Mayor Bloomberg's effort to bring, for the first time, certainly in more than a generation, a long term vision, a long term strategy to New York City. And as we did it, we realised we learned sustainability kind of from scratch. It was almost going back to first principles. We didn't start out to create a sustainability plan, but we realised that if we were really gonna think about the true holistic, long term interests of the city, we were doing sustainability.

As [00:38:00] I say it, it really started out as a way to figure out how we meet the long term challenges. But as we understood the long term challenges, we began to appreciate just how threatening climate change was to New York City. And that's where sustainability and climate action kind of merged into an integrated plan that included energy efficiency. And it covered our housing supply. It covered our transportation infrastructure. It covered our energy systems. It covered, it was the beginnings of thinking around climate change adaptation, which very few cities in 2006 really had done.

Josh Sorin: He also led the effort to make New York City's 13,000 yellow taxis convert to hybrids, making the hustle and bustle of roads in New York City more sustainable and a little bit kinder to the ear. Rohit T. Aggarwala: So it was a wonderful effort. It involved, you know, probably 20 city agencies, a couple hundred people worked on it over the course of a year. And when the report, the plan itself was released in [00:39:00] April of 2007, it launched a tremendous wave of action that actually continues to this day.

I mean, we started the practice, which was then enshrined in law of New York City being one of very few cities to actually have a legally mandated annual greenhouse gas emissions inventory. So we update that every year. We have a four year cycle where the sustainability plan has to be updated by the mayor.

It's designed so that it takes place around 16 months after a new mayor takes office, which we thought was about the amount of time it would take a new mayor to kind of get his team in place or her team in place and do a good job of it. And now that I've joined with another new mayor, and have the responsibility of getting, uh, this, the fifth successor to PlaNYC out next April, I'm grateful to have that time, because I think it is the right amount of time.

Josh Sorin: Rohit sees the value in collaboration. During his work with the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, [00:40:00] he helped form C40 Cities, a global network of mayors taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis.

Rohit T. Aggarwala: Well, I think the C40 as an organisation, probably, I'd say it's biggest single achievement has been the fact that every major city on earth has a climate action plan, and there is some level of seriousness to its implementation. You know, you basically can walk into any one of the now 100 C40 cities, go to a website, look at the climate action plan, look at the carbon inventory, look at the status update and see what's going on.

And that's true in the global North. It's even true in the global south where of course the resources are, are, are much less and where the challenges of resilience are much greater. But C40 has been able to create that kind of global expectation, that part and parcel of running a big city is doing climate.

I think there's probably no city on earth that's actually done everything it needs to do. There's no city that [00:41:00] can say, yep, we've, we've succeeded. We, we haven't reached carbon neutrality in any major city. We haven't gotten to true resilience in any major city. So this is definitely going to be a journey.

I think one of the things that many cities are going to have to wrestle with is the question of whether their institutions are up to the task. You know, I think in the first stage I'd argue and, and PlaNYC in 2006, 2007, was definitely in this, it was the first era of climate action where it was all about high level commitments, and policy changes, and the things that, that were relatively high level, even though at the time they were quite meaningful.

You know, we're, we are right now in the scrum, I would argue, of cities recognising that resilience is a massive, multi, multi-billion dollar challenge. Whether your challenges are drought, or heat, or coastal inundation or storm water, or all of them, which is what we have here in New York, like many cities have all four.

This is gonna be very expensive and very disruptive and we are trying to make our existing institutions change in order to do that kind of big work. And I would imagine that the one of the next stages is gonna be asking whether there are new institutions that are needed. You know when, when you have new global challenges, when you have new technologies, you usually have new institutions that get created to work on them. And I think we may see over the next 10 years or so, new institutions that have to focus on resilience or focus on coastal management or, or whatever it is that, that are not today part of a city's organisation chart and have to be called into existence.

Adrian Brown: Climate action is something that we need to be taking much more seriously in our cities and on a [00:43:00] global scale. Of all the issues we currently face as a society, this is amongst the most time-sensitive. However, on a positive note, the changemakers in today's episode prove that there are people in government already working to accelerate climate action in some of the world's largest cities.

From today's guests, we can learn that climate action is a collaborative effort, something that citizens and public servants need to engage with. They also demonstrate the importance of building trust and relationships and communities to make sustainable change happen, and highlight how experimentation and innovation can be vital to finding solutions.

The effects of climate change are now more apparent than ever before. If governments don't act now, it won't long until these changes become irreversible. Only with collaboration, experimentation, and learning within cities worldwide, will we see solutions that slow the clock on the climate crisis. But until [00:44:00] then, the clock is ticking.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Reimagining Government. The conversation on the theme of this episode, reimagining climate action in cities continues over on

If you're a public servant or government official, we want to hear from you. What's the most inspiring government climate initiative you've seen? Head over to the Apolitical Q&A link in the show notes to this episode, and share your experiences with other public servants from all over the world. Next time on the podcast, Director of the Centre of a Public Impact in Europe, Katie Rose, will be guiding us through what health and social care would look like under a reimagined government.

Make sure you don't miss an episode by subscribing to Reimagining Government on your favourite podcast platform. Remember [00:45:00] also to rate and review the podcast to tell us how we're doing. Until next time, I've been Adrian Brown. Goodbye.

🎙️ Reimagining Government

In partnership with Apolitical, this six-part podcast explores radical new approaches to addressing global issues such as the climate crisis, equitable healthcare provision, and rebuilding trust with marginalised communities. By speaking with public servants and politicians at the heart of government, we’ll shine a light on how to reimagine government so it works for everyone.


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