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Science & Technology

Ahead Of Climate Summit, 2 Views From Cities In Canada And India


Come with concrete plans, not beautiful speeches. That's the mandate from the U.N. secretary general to the world leaders gathering for the Climate Action Summit in New York tomorrow. The idea - nations should be ready to announce the bold steps they're taking to avert disastrous levels of global warming. In advance of that summit, all through the weekend, climate scientists, industry leaders and political figures are meeting in small groups to talk about strategies to cut emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

We're going to hear from two participants now. Lisa Helps is the mayor of Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. Mayor Helps, welcome to the program.

LISA HELPS: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: And we're also joined by Minal Pathak. She is with the Global Centre for Environment and Energy at Ahmedabad University in India. Welcome to you.

MINAL PATHAK: Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: And Mayor Helps, let me start with you. Your city, Victoria, B.C., is surrounded by water. What are the effects of climate change that you've been seeing back home?

HELPS: We are seeing more flooding than in past years, longer and more difficult winter storms, also hotter, drier weather in the summers. And then the city of Victoria itself obviously is an urban area. But we were - not this past summer, thankfully, but the previous two summers - very negatively impacted by forest fires burning in Washington state, as well as in the Interior in British Columbia.

BLOCK: And let me turn to you, Minal Pathak. In your city in Ahmedabad in western India, what are the effects you're already witnessing there or maybe in other places in India that you've been traveling to?

PATHAK: I think for Ahmedabad, we are witnessing extreme weather events, especially heat waves. So we are already a dry and hot part of India. And on an average summer day, the temperature would be 43 degrees Celsius, and we are experiencing extreme, intense heat waves, so temperatures reaching 46 and 47.

BLOCK: Forty-six or 47 degrees Celsius - that would translate to, I believe, 116, 117 Fahrenheit.

PATHAK: That's correct. And I think one of the challenges we have is a large population living in informal settlements, and they do not have access to cooling. And therefore, these effects are more pronounced on these populations.

BLOCK: Mayor Helps, what strategies are you trying to put into place to deal with, say, the sea level rise that you are already seeing and what you know might be coming?

HELPS: Well, I think this is why it's so thrilling to be at this conference and to have - or this summit, rather - and to have a focus on cities because no matter where in the world we are, cities have similar challenges. And so, certainly, as we look at the potential for new buildings along the coast, we have put in some setbacks and are looking at different kinds of setbacks changing the zoning bylaw.

We're going to, you know, have to do some of this work in our downtown. So literally, our downtown is right on the harbor. There's a causeway there that was built in the 1970s. You can dip your foot in the ocean while you're walking along it. That causeway is up for renewal. It's a piece of infrastructure that needs to be renewed. And I think while the public would still like to have a nice space to walk, I think what we're going to need to do is look at a more soft-shores approach, renaturalization (ph) of the shoreline so the ocean can come in.

We also took a bold move a couple of years ago of implementing a stormwater utility. And what that means is, just like the electricity that you use or the water that you use, we actually make people pay for the stormwater that they put into the system. And those seem like small things, but taken together, they will have a very strong impact in terms of our ability to adapt.

BLOCK: And Minal Pathak, we're hearing Mayor Phelps (ph) talk about a main concern obviously being water where she's from in Victoria. For you, as you say, the main concern is heat. Tell me more about some of the strategies that you're seeing that are really working to take that on.

PATHAK: So Ahmedabad city took - I mean, it's the leader in establishing the first heat action plan, I think, in South Asia. And so we have early warning systems. And this was the first plan also developed with consolidation among stakeholders, including those living in informal settlements.

The other one is the ambitious tree plantation initiative that the city has taken up. It started this year, and we're hopeful that the combination of green cover, increase in blue infrastructure, which is the water bodies, and the heat action plan will improve the resilience of the city against the heat impacts.

And I think one of the challenges we have is that I mentioned that a lot of population still lives in informal settlements. But also, there are informal jobs, like street vendors, and they stand out in the heat all day. And we really don't have a very coherent plan to address how these populations will react and be able to adapt to heat.

BLOCK: We have, of course, seen no shortage of climate summits over the years - panels and studies and commissions and goals that have been set and generally broken. I wonder if you think this time is any different. Is there something that gives you real hope? Minal Pathak, why don't you start?

PATHAK: I was at the climate strike on Friday, and that day, I really felt hopeful because if somebody told me two years ago that this is what will happen, I wouldn't have believed them. I think the climate summits - they include a lot more communities than they used to because earlier, I remember, it was just scientists talking to scientists, and there was no real engagement among different communities. So I think it's different.

BLOCK: And Mayor Helps, what gives you hope?

HELPS: Yeah, I completely agree. What gives me hope is the Fridays for Future climate strike movement. I was on my way here to New York during the New York strike, so I wasn't able to participate. But looking at some of the footage from around the world - and one of the best signs I saw an older woman holding up was, the children are the only adult in the room. I am absolutely hopeful. And as adults, we have no choice. These are our children. And so I think what we're going to see coming out of the summit on Monday are some very strong commitments.

What will be really, really important from my point of view is that the people that are climate striking - the young people - that they understand what those commitments are and that they hold governments accountable because it's fine to go to a summit and commit to more bolder, nationally determined contributions to reduce carbon pollution, but the challenge is really what happens after. And so there are lots of young people here in New York, lots of young people around the world. They should watch us very carefully, and they should ask us to stick to our goals.

BLOCK: We heard there from Lisa Helps - she is the mayor of Victoria, British Columbia - and also, Minal Pathak, who is with the Global Centre for Environment and Energy at Ahmedabad university in India. They are both in New York for this week's Climate Action Summit at the United Nations.

Thanks so much to you both for taking the time to talk with us.

HELPS: Thank you.

PATHAK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.