What happens to cities happens to the world. They produce 80 per cent of global GDP and are home to 56 per cent of the global population.
In the US, whereas Donald Trump watched the country succumb to drought and wildfire, 474 mayors are working together to try to be part of the solution, not the problem. As they know, if we're going to conquer the climate crisis, cities are at the heart of how we will do it.
That's especially true for Auckland, which has major challenges because we're coming off a low base of existing achievement: transport emissions rising, no plans in place to lower emissions from buildings or construction, few strategies in the public or private sector to really grasp the opportunities the modern world has laid in front of us.
Auckland belongs to a group called C40, which comprises cities from around the world determined to make a difference. But, as mayor Phil Goff said recently, "They will be looking at us to see if we are delivering on the programme. In a lot of ways, it would be more comfortable if we were not a member of C40."
Translation: We're not doing our bit and it's getting embarrassing.
So what are other cities doing? Here are six of them, all with lessons for Auckland.
Seoul: A river runs through it now
South Korea built a lot of highways in the 1960s and then, in the 2000s, it started tearing them down. First to go was Cheonggyecheon, where 8km of an elevated highway in the middle of Seoul were pulled out and replaced with a linear park, complete with a small river.
As with the Horotiu in Queen St in Auckland, the stream predated the road.
You can't just pull out roads if you don't also make the consequences worthwhile for everyone. That requires better public transport and easy access to the pleasures of walking and cycling in the city. Seoul did all that too.
The mayor who led the process, Lee Myung-Bak, went on to become president, marking a sea change from the old Park dynasty that had been closely associated with the massive highway construction in the 1960s. Lee was later convicted of bribery and embezzlement, but that's not to take away from his Cheonggyecheon achievement.
Transformation wasn't any easier in Seoul than it is anywhere else. Corporate bosses who valued being chauffeured to work insisted their driving privileges were the most important value to preserve.
A series of angry public meetings dragged on for years. But Lee didn't give up. The project was so successful, they did it again: 15 highways have now been demolished and replaced with small roads, cycleways, parks, streams, and other elements of human-scale urban public space. Seoul breathes more freely.
It's far from alone. In the US, cities like San Francisco, Milwaukee and Portland have demolished inner-city highways. Shanghai, which you might think was growing so fast it would never even think about taking out roads, did exactly that on its waterfront.
And in the early 2000s in Turkey, the city of Eskisehir, population 825,000, took a remarkable approach to rebuilding following an earthquake in 1999.
It cleaned up the filthy, flooding Porsuk River that runs through its heart, relaid all the streets to prioritise pedestrians, built a new light rail network and did it all by following the principles of universal access: Eskisehir is a genuinely wheelchair-friendly city.
None of this involves a tradeoff with economic efficiency or commuter priorities. Eskisehir was a declining backwater and is now a bustling university city, popular with tourists, with 215 per cent more green space per resident.
Monterrey: Density v drug wars
Some cities have bigger problems than others. Mexico's Monterrey used to be one of them. For 30 years, with a city centre wracked by the violence of the drug wars, those who could, moved their homes and businesses away to the outskirts. Car-dependent urban sprawl defined the city's growth.
But in 2010, when two students at the inner-city Tecnológico de Monterrey were killed, the university made a choice. Instead of moving into the suburbs, as many wanted, it decided to try to restore liveability to the inner city.
So DistritoTec was established: an initiative to bring residents back into a safe, desirable Monterrey.
The mechanism is density. DistritoTec creates compact, mixed-use neighbourhoods, full of people, where you don't need to drive to get to parks, community centres, schools and other facilities.
There's a "complete streets" programme, which has added bike lanes, better footpaths and pedestrian crossings, and transformed underused and abandoned spaces into public parks and plazas.
Sustainability and equity are the twin goals. The university has led the programme but the council is on board: new regulations allow increased density, public services have become easier to access, and they've adopted a "more collaborative" model for district governance.
That's urban design, solving not only the problems of the environment, but also finding ways to rid the city of violence. It hasn't been easy. But it does seem possible.
Copenhagen: The cycling city
The easy thing to say about Denmark's capital is that it's flat and relatively contained, so cycling is easy, and it's full of liberal people who want to save the world. All more or less true: Covid aside, half of all Danes believe climate change is the most serious problem facing the world.
In Copenhagen in 2019, 62 per cent of commutes are on a bike.
But the city wasn't always like that. It experienced the same car-culture rush in the 1950s as Auckland and so many other cities, and by 1970 journeys by bike comprised only 10 per cent of all trips. Cars filled up the city centre.
Also, they have a cold four-month winter, with snow. It's not ideal for cycling.
In the 1970s things started to change. The cause: mass protests by cyclists angry at how unsafe cycling had become. The city responded with a programme of new separated lanes and other safety features.
The pressure stayed on. By 2001 there was an official strategy to prioritise cycling in city planning, and in 2011 a new plan aimed to make Copenhagen the best cycling city in the world by 2025.
Initiatives include safety around schools, better intersections, slower traffic speeds and more bridges and lanes for cycling and walking.
In some places they have three-lane cycleways, to allow for conversational cycling while not impeding cycling commuters in a hurry.
As a result of all that attention, cycling grew steadily from 1970, and then in the past decade it jumped by nearly 50 per cent. More than half of all bike commuters now are women.
It's not just about the bicycles: Copenhagen wants to become entirely carbon neutral by 2025.
The goal is to make the whole of Denmark, population 6 million, a showcase for how to go green while not also going bankrupt. There's a long way to go: on average, Danes each produce about 13 tons of carbon emissions per year, where the global target is something under 2 tonnes.
Water is heated by burning sawdust pellets, not coal. There's a new subway ringing the city, with 17 stops. Annual inner-city residential parking fees are 100 times higher. Municipal meals for schoolkids, the elderly and city workers have less meat. Car parks and other stretches of asphalt are being converted into tree-filled parklets.
And from right back in 1962, the Stroget, a long shopping street running through the middle of the city, has been pedestrianised. Like Auckland's Queen St, it has a square at each end. But the Stroget is beautifully paved, used all the time for festivals and events, and draws visitors and locals in their thousands.
Copenhagen also has "the world's cleanest waste-to-energy power plant", turning 400,000 tonnes of waste a year into clean energy, right across the harbour from the city centre. CopenHill doubles as a recreation centre, office block, education centre and park, with an enormous artificial ski slope running down from the roof.
Sydney: Building a way out of the crisis
Sydney has emerged as a world leader in the green building revolution.
It's important. Buildings contribute 25 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions (it's 20 per cent here) and the challenge to change that relates both to new builds and retrofits.
Under 2008 national legislation, all office buildings must publicly display energy certificates. This alone has delivered more than A$1 billion of energy savings for business and hundreds of millions more in savings from more productive staff.
A new plan launched last month requires all new projects in central Sydney and the suburbs around it to have a net-zero energy output: what they use cannot be greater than what they offset. The whole city aims for net-zero emissions by 2040.
To achieve these goals, Sydney is using the Green Star ratings system, with a focus on masterplanning whole communities. Already, that's happened with eight large centres, including the Blacktown residential development and Barangaroo commercial hub around from the Rocks on the waterfront.
The principles in play include far more than net-zero energy use. They have to create more local jobs, use green construction practices, including ethical sourcing of materials, adopt integrated transport plans, reduce and eliminate waste, manage their water use well with potable and reclaimed water, use good stakeholder engagement and make the places great to be in.
One example of what's possible is the proposed new home for the software company Atlassian, designed by New York architects SHoP and Australian company BVN. With 40 storeys it will be the world's tallest timber-hybrid building, made from wood with a glass and steel façade, with natural ventilation, 100 per cent renewable energy and planted terraces throughout.
With 4000 workers, the building will invigorate the whole Central Station precinct where it will be sited, becoming an anchor tenant of a larger plan to create a new tech precinct with 25,000 workers.
Looking for a city transforming itself into a place where talent wants to be? Auckland has some catching up to do because right next door Sydney is already doing it, with green buildings leading the way.
Auckland Council has adopted its own ambitious goal: 50 per cent of buildings are to be retro-fitted to low carbon by 2030. But, says Andrew Eagles, of the Green Building Council, "apart from a few links up on their website" they're doing nothing to encourage the private sector to achieve this.
"In fact they have gone in the opposite direction," by scrapping the home retro-fit programme and the initiative to include green ratings on Land Information Memorandums (LIMs).
Green Star is available here but has not been officially adopted by either central Government or Auckland Council.
Osaka: The floods are coming
If the world warms by 3C, the Japanese city of Osaka, with more than 5 million citizens, will be drowned. We're on track for that warming now.
Osaka already has a network of seawalls but they won't be enough. The city was paralysed by typhoon-related floods in 2018, when 11 people died, an oil tanker crashed into a bridge and the airport flooded. Now it's planning what else to do.
"In the past our response was focused on reducing the causes of global warming, but given that climate change is inevitable, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we are now discussing how to respond to the natural disasters that will follow," says Toshikazu Nakaaki of the city's environment bureau.
"It's not that we expect sea levels to rise at some point in the future – they are already rising."
Osaka has a City Action Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures that aims to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050, which is in line with the national goals. And the city works collaboratively on projects with other cities like Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Quezon in the Philippines.
But adaptation is another step.
Just 10 years ago, the official view in Japan was that climate change would affect it less than many other parts of the world. But Japan's climate is changing faster than in many other places and that suggests sea-level rises will be higher too.
Since 2015, a national law has required all Japanese cities to prepare for a one-in-1000-year disaster. That means far more than building bigger walls to keep the sea.
Osaka doesn't have a big adaptation plan yet. It's trying to work out how to secure the future of food and fresh water supplies, create resilient health and emergency services, secure the support of financial services, adapt the building and planning codes and so much more.
It also has to keep people both calm and clear-eyed about the dangers. "I've been aware of the risks for some time," said one local interviewed in a local paper. "That's why I always make sure I'm living at least four storeys up".
Won't help much if the building is washed away.
Vancouver: Congestion charges ahoy
Canada's Vancouver led the world with bylaws that allowed much greater density in the suburbs, without always changing their character. Measures such as converting basements to flats and allowing building to have a larger footprint significantly boosted the city's housing stock in existing residential areas.
Vancouver also boasts of never having had a freeway through the downtown area, an unusual claim for any North American city. They can make it because citizens in the 1960s rose up to say no.
SkyTrain is the longest fully automated light rapid transit system in the world. There's an extensive network of cycleways. And there's a five-year Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) that aims to halve carbon emissions by 2030.
Nineteen specific "defined actions" are included and of them, four have been declared "game changers".
First, and most controversially, congestion charges will be introduced by 2025. Charging drivers to enter the "Metro Core" will limit the number of vehicles in the central city and allow more road space to be reallocated to sustainable transport modes, including walking, cycling and transit.
As the Vancouver City Council has noted, congestion charging already works well in London, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Milan, Singapore and elsewhere. "The realisation of robust benefits in all these locations consistently shifted initial scepticism into approval and acceptance among the greater community."
Plans for congestion charging in Auckland are in the hands of government, not council, and are inching along.
The three other "game-changing" measures are a carbon surcharge on new, higher-priced petrol and diesel vehicles; carbon pollution limits for existing buildings and help for them to improve energy efficiency and switch to renewable energy; requirements for low-carbon construction materials and practices in new buildings.
In Vancouver, CEAP's goals are to "mitigate the impacts of climate change, advance public health, make the city more resilient to future disruptions and to integrate equity".
Equity is an issue for congestion charging in particular, and three equity reviews were conducted during the process of creating the plan. A Climate and Equity Working Group was involved at every step.
Auckland, like Vancouver, has declared a climate emergency and has an action plan to deal with it. But Auckland's plan lacks specificity and is not being used as a tool to engage in public debate. It's contradicted by the transport plans and not supported by building plans. It's unclear what's going on.
This story is part of the Herald's contribution to Covering Climate Now, an international campaign by more than 400 media organisations, which this week highlights our responses to climate change ahead of a US-led world leaders summit on April 22. To read more of our coverage go to nzherald.co.nz/nz/environment