Mayors defying federal politics is part of growing trend, says author

City leaders spoke out against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.
From climate change to trade, mayors and cities are playing big roles in forming national and global policy. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

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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
President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada and former mayor of Toronto David Miller says it's "extremely important" that the mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris joined forces to support the Paris agreement despite Trump's exit. 
Former mayor of Toronto David Miller says citizens look to the city for services that affect their daily lives, like transportation and health. (WWF-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."

He calls this diplomacy among cities an "ancient phenomenon" that has its origins in the Mesopotamian region. Cities traded with each other and built relations and ties that "evolved into the modern and global system that we have today." 
Author Parag Khanna says the trend toward city to city relationships is a return to an older system of diplomacy — what he calls 'diplomacity.' (Kreg Holt/

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.