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Expert Voices: Mike Childs, Head of Science, Policy and Research, Friends of the Earth

Extreme weather events, increasing food prices and rapid population growth are just some of the challenges cities will face in the 21st century, made more turbulent by the impacts of a changing climate.

Friends of the Earth has worked with a number of experts to identify three big ideas on how cities can navigate the next century — and thrive.

  • Up first: autonomy . Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone says that national governments have been “pathetic” at addressing the big global challenges like climate change. With increased autonomy, cities, both individually and working together, are well placed to achieve so much more, he said. Mark Watts from Arup thinks the C40 could play an effective role in global negotiations on climate change, in addition to demonstrating good practice – something Pascal Lamy, Amarta Sen and others have alsorecently recommendedProfessor Harriet Bulkeley warns that there is good autonomy where power is shared and networked but also bad autonomy where it is held by a few, worsening inequalities. Friends of the Earth thinks cities need much greater autonomy, and need to take much greater responsibility for addressing climate change.
  • Big idea two: sharing . Cities will not function without the sharing of assets and resources among citizens. If everyone owns and uses a car, the congestion and air pollution would be a nightmare; conversely, the bike share schemes underway in many C40 Cities around the world are providing a low carbon alternative that increase both mobility and health. Quality shared green spaces are critical to the well-being of citizens and communities, but are under threat, says academic Dr Nicola Dempsey. Sharing is not only important for resource efficiency but also brings social benefits, according to Professor Julian Agyeman. It’s great to see Seoul in South Korea is reportedly deciding to become a sharing city. The impact that space-sharing initiatives have had on crime in Medellin, Columbia, is also impressive.

Friends Of The Earth Bikeshare

  • The third big idea is deeper democracy . More autonomous cities need to be run for the people by the people. Professor Eurig Scandrett arguesthat cities need to involve citizens earlier in the process of decision-making and welcome people who invent their own means of participation through petitioning, peaceful protests and creative stunts. He also believes that decision-making powers need to be devolved, and that it’s crucial to equip citizens with the capability to participate meaningfully. Too often, education systems equip people for the work-place but not for critical engagement in the decisions that shape their lives.

The C40 plays a key role in addressing the challenges of the 21st century. Pursuing these three big ideas — greater autonomy, a sharing agenda and deeper democracy – will help C40 Cities individually and collectively reach their full potential to thrive in the 21st century.

We’d love to know what you think of our three big ideas.

Friends of the Earth is a member of Friends of the Earth International, a global network that represents more than 2 million activists in 74 different countries, many of whom live in C40 cities across the globe.