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12 global cities plan to build emissions-free neighborhoods, support clean transit

Each city will create a “major emissions-free zone” and only purchase zero-emission buses starting in 2025

People on bicycles and pedestrians enjoying a car free day on Alexandre III bridge on September 27, 2015 in Paris, France.
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Representatives from a dozen global cities pledged to take big steps towards cutting transportation-related pollution, promising to “envision a future where walking, cycling, and shared transport are how the majority of citizens move around our cities.”

Specifically, signatories pledge to purchase only zero-emissions buses beginning in 2025, and also “ensure that a major area of their city is zero emission by 2030,” in effect banning internal combustion engines in a certain, yet-to-be-determined district.

“This is about making cities greener, cleaner, and better places to live,” says Caroline Watson, network manager of low emission vehicles at C40 Cities.

The 12 cities that signed the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration—London, Paris, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Mexico City, Milan, Seattle, Auckland, and Cape Town—are members of C40, a coalition of “megacities committed to addressing climate change.”

An electric passenger bus by American manufacturer Proterra. One of the goals of the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration is to show support for the electric and zero-emissions bus industry.

Local leaders made the announcement at the Together4Climate event in Paris, a gathering of mayors and city leaders set to address climate change and urban mobility.

Cities have increasingly taken aggressive action to battle climate change and cut emissions. In the United States, groups and coalitions such as We Are Still In and the Climate Mayors have promised to meet the country’s pledge to the Paris Accords, despite the Trump Administration withdrawing from the landmark international agreement.

Watson said that goal of the Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration was to encourage others cities to follow suit. The pledge also sends a “clear message,” Watson noted, to the bus industry. The signatories represent significant buying power, currently fielding a combined fleet of 59,000 buses between them.

The pledge to create future emissions-free zones will require different strategies in each city, according to Watson. While each city has created a template, she says, realizing the pledge will take a number of different laws, policies, and approaches. Watson says the cities aren’t yet ready to release the exact location of these zero-emission districts.

The pledge grew out of the large C40 mission of taking action to prevent world temperatures rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, a benchmark of the Paris Agreement. Many C40 cities already signed a Clean Bus Declaration in 2015, promising to introduce more low- and zero-emission vehicles into their fleets by 2020, and other proposals, such as focusing on clean taxi fleets, have also been suggested.

Watson says that Anne Hidalgo, the Parisian mayor and head of C40, wanted to focus on a plan and timeline on which multiple cities could agree.

“Air pollution caused by petrol and diesel vehicles is killing millions of people in cities around the world. The same emissions are also causing climate change,” said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and C40 Chair, in a statement. “In Paris we are taking bold action to prioritise the streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Working with citizens, businesses and mayors of these great cities, we will create green and healthy streets for future generations to enjoy.”

Many municipalities have already announced even more aggressive timelines for such steps. London, Stuttgart, Germany, and Barcelona have already made plans for low-emission zones, and Copenhagen has discussed making the switch to purchasing only electric buses in 2019. The Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration was designed to attract additional cities over the coming months and years.

“They’re sending a message that we can all do it, that you can be on any continent and make this happen,” says Watson. “There are other cities keen to make this commitment, they just need a little time. We hope to be able to launch more signatories soon.”