The climate negotiations concluded in Paris during December 2015 were historic. National leaders committed to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions and crucially adopted the aspiration to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Yet, even if every country in the world met their pledges made in Paris it would only deliver emission cuts that would hold warming to 2.7 degrees. This would have catastrophic consequences for every nation, including Australia, from rising sea levels, increased numbers of climate refugees and extreme weather events from droughts, heat waves and floods.

The Paris agreement will come into force in 2020, yet C40 research has calculated that with current trends of infrastructure construction, the number of roads, buildings and power stations built in the next five years will push the world far beyond safe limits of carbon consumption and global warming.

This means the next five years are critical and there is a growing consensus that cities hold the key. Cities consume more than two-thirds of global energy, and are on track to become home to more than two-thirds of the global population. It is cities like Melbourne where the future of our whole planet will be determined.

Fortunately mayors and cities around the world are coming together to form an unstoppable coalition for action. The cities that get on a low carbon development pathway soonest will be the most successful cities over the next decade, achieving faster economic growth and more sustainable improvements in living standards. Which is why ambitions are high, cities are learning from each other, sharing ideas and the momentum is now with cities to lead the way to a climate safe future.

Melbourne’s leadership on climate action:

As an early member of the C40 network, Melbourne has been a tireless champion of the climate change agenda in Australia and across the region. Certified as carbon neutral in 2013 and with an ambitious goal to reach zero net emissions by 2020, Melbourne’s commitment matches the most ambitious cities in Europe and North America.

The city’s innovative Sustainable Buildings Program of retrofitting 1,200 commercial buildings to improve their energy efficiency won a prestigious C40 Award in 2013. The program reached approximately 70% of the city’s commercial building stock responsible for nearly 50% of Melbourne’s CO2 emissions and has provided a model for cities worldwide.

Melbourne’s leadership is particularly valuable within C40 as a model for other cities to replicate. The success of the network is built upon mayors and civic leaders coming together to share ideas and to urge each other to be bold in their climate actions.

The goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees can only be achieved by reducing energy demand in cities, particularly those rapidly growing cities in China, India and Brazil. Research by the New Climate Economy in 2014 confirmed that more compact, connected and liveable cities enjoy greater productivity and produce fewer emissions. Which is why it is so vital that mayors and civic leaders from around the world learn the lessons from Melbourne, about how to achieve sustainable growth matched by liveability for their citizens.

Now is the time to be bold

Just as Melbourne has shown leadership in the past, so it continues to innovate and drive forward ambitious climate actions. Whilst compact, well-connected cities are the key to a low carbon future, density in itself is not a magic bullet. City planners and citizens themselves must constantly engage in urban renewal, to ensure we are creating communities that are low-carbon, climate adaptive and resilient to the climate shocks that are inevitable. The Queen Victoria Market Precinct Renewal scheme is an example of this community-focussed approach to sustainable redevelopment. C40 is proud to have been supporting plans for the scheme through our city advisor program.

To deliver climate action on the scale required to prevent catastrophic warming, political leaders need to engage citizens to find the right solutions. Mayor Paes of Rio de Janeiro, chair of C40, has introduced the concept of ‘Polisdigitocracy’, which considers how city governments leverage digital technologies and new social platforms to improve democratic engagement. Melbourne has been amongst the global leaders in this form of direct engagement with citizens through initiatives like the Melbourne Data Portal and the People’s Panel to help inform Melbourne’s 10-year financial plan. It will be one of the great challenges of the years ahead to ensure that increased direct democratic participation strengthens the efforts of cities to deliver bold action on climate change.

The C40 Network also offers Melbourne a unique opportunity to look to other cities see what has worked, avoid what hasn’t worked and aim to deliver the same benefits more quickly, at a lower cost and to greater benefit to citizens. For example, the Rotterdam Sustainability Programme aims to increase awareness of the effects of climate change and of what citizens can do to mitigate against the risks of extreme weather. In China, the city of Nanjing has introduced a world-leading network of electric vehicle charging points and subsidies for electric vehicle users. These are just two of the hundreds of projects, approaches and policies being implemented across the C40 network each year, from which Melbourne can look for inspiration.

Melbourne and its citizens are rightly proud of its status as one of the world’s most liveable cities. They should also be proud of the leadership it has shown on reducing emissions. The next five years will be crucial, for Melbourne, Australia and the entire planet. We will be looking to leaders such as Lord Mayor Robert Doyle, to continue pushing bold climate action. Only through such leadership and the ideas and innovation that defines the C40 Network can we hope to deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement, and deliver a climate-safe world for future generations.

Hear Mark Watts speak at the Future Melbourne event - Climate change and citizen actions: mitigation and adaptation - on Wednesday 17 March 6 to 7.30pm, Deakin Edge, Federation Sqaure