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Empty Chair in Kyoto
Open Society program sets out to help world cities become "Kyoto Compliant"

Source: The New Mobility Agenda at, Paris, France

Kyoto Treaty Needs Help in Cities

After years of hard work on many sides, the Kyoto Protocols finally entered into effect on 16th February. And with it the obligation of 140 nations to do something about their greenhouse gas emissions. For the advanced industrial economies, the targets are going to be extremely hard to meet. But at least there is now a process in place which is starting to point the way. In some parts of the economy that is. However when it comes to transport in cities, there can be no grounds for optimism. 140 countries may have signed the Treaty, but not one city even initialed it.

Transportation was the empty chair in Kyoto. How is that possible? It is well known that transport accounts for as much as 50%, and often more, of all air pollution being cranked out in our cities. However, and despite the many useful improvements made in recent years a number of leading innovating cities and projects, all the trends are harshly moving in the wrong direction. Each year and in every single city on the planet we are seeing more traffic, more lost time, more pollution, more accidents, more unnecessary deficits, and more urban amenity and quality of life washed away by aimless short-sighted policies. How can we move ahead on the challenges of Kyoto unless we figure out how to fill the missing chair?

Kyoto Cities Challenge

On the day the Kyoto Protocols entered into international law, the New Mobility Agenda, a Paris-based NGO, together with a world wide network of distinguished colleagues and organizations, announced a voluntary program and strategy to address this alarming oversight: the Kyoto Cities Challenge.

The groundwork for this cooperative effort had been carefully laid over the last months with a series of internet discussions and in-person and videoconference exchanges which in time reached out to more than a thousand international experts and leading groups in the fields that need to be part of the solution. The new program has been carefully shaped through these expert exchanges and is now ready to go.

The Challenge goals are exceptionally ambitious -- as indeed they must be under the circumstances. It not only invites each participating city to set exceptionally tough performance targets for itself to move toward "Kyoto Compliance", but also to do this in terms of a very tight timetable of less than two years. One variant receiving especially close attention is the 20/20 Challenge. The goal is to create a high profile city-wide action program to achieve some form of 20% reduction in a target period of 20 months. The question comes up of course "20% of what". And this is something that needs to be sorted out by the planning teams in each city. Thus one city might target a 20% reduction of CO2 emissions, another of some indicator of motorized traffic, a third perhaps some pubic health metric such as pulmonary infections. But in each case these need to be set carefully during the intense three month blueprint stage.

The international expert group is confident that this challenge can be met, but is well aware that this is going to require exceptionally strong local leadership, considerable technical virtuosity and a broad base of public support if it is to work The cooperating experts are confident that once a first group of pioneer cities show the way, this approach will capture the attention of many others and spread like wildfire. What is needed now is that first set of high visibility, high impact city programs. The rest will follow. And in this way we will have at last filled that empty chair in Kyoto.

For more information on the Kyoto Cities Challenge go to

Contact: Eric Britton
The Commons: Open Society Sustainability Initiative at
Le Frene, 8/10 rue Joseph Bara 75006 Paris, France
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +331 4326 1323
Skype: ericbritton IP video: SightSpeed: ericbritton

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