Mayors defying federal politics is part of growing trend, says author
When U.S. President Donald Trump announced his withdrawal from the Paris agreement, he responded to criticism with the remark: "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."
With those few words, he unintentionally reignited a discussion about the importance of cities in determining national policy and provoked an immediate reaction from city and state leaders.
William Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, spoke out against President Trump, co-writing an editorial in the New York Times declaring their cities' continuing support for the Paris agreement.
If we don't address climate change, we're literally going to have to rebuild them.- David Miller, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada
"So that people know that despite what the U.S. is attempting to do, there is actual leadership on climate change and it's not going to stop," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.
Miller says mayors have a leadership role to play when it comes to the environment because climate change has a direct impact on cities, such as damaged infrastructure in the aftermath of a severe storm.
"There's an imperative to address these questions because the alternative is very, very difficult for cities," he explains.
"If we don't address climate change, we're literally going to have to rebuild them."
As cities rapidly expand, Miller says citizens look locally for services that "touch people in every way," including health and transportation, blurring the lines between federal and municipal responsibilities.
"As you see national boundaries less and less relevant because of globalization and trade agreements, you are going to see cities become more and more relevant," he says.
"They're already taking a place on the international stage."
As we see more of a trend toward city to city relationships being forged, some experts say this is nothing new, and is actually a return to an older system of diplomacy.
Cities know exactly what their interests are and pooling their resources matters a lot.- Parag Khanna , author
Parag Khanna, senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization calls this system "diplomacity."
Khanna says he wasn't surprised to hear that mayors all over the U.S. are defying federal government policy because he has been following this trend for years.
"It's well-documented how Canadian cities and American cities know very well what their trade balance is with each other," he explains.
"So we're seeing on a whole range of issues — whether it's fiscal policy, infrastructure, immigration or climate — cities know exactly what their interests are and pooling their resources matters a lot."
According to Khanna, more than 50 per cent of the world's population live in cities. He says this heavy concentration of people in urban areas has shifted the balance of power in countries that economically rely on cities for their entire economy, like Jakarta in Indonesia and Manila in the Philippines.
"So the progress in that city often depends on the role of the mayor," he explains.
As mayors are "on the frontlines" in cities, they bear the weight of their nations when it comes to ecological sustainability and socioeconomic development. Khanna adds that mayors know "better than anyone else how to run the ancient political unit known as the city."
"We've had cities for 7,000 years. I see many countries collapsing all over the world," he says.
"But the cities are always going to be there."
Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.
This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Sarah Evans and Samira Mohyeddin.