C40 Cities: How to tackle climate change, the issue of our time

A Q&A with Vancouver’s climate policy manager Malcolm Shield, who was recently in Auckland for a climate talk for C40 Cities, as part of Auckland Conversations.

So, what is C40 Cities?

It’s an organisation of 90 of the world’s leading cities taking action on climate change. It brings together cities with similar climate action barriers so they can learn solutions collectively – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

Do you feel like enough people are aware of climate change?

It’s the issue of our time and of our generation. It’s not to undermine many of the other challenges we face but given how fundamental our planet is to supporting us, we have to get under this. I believe it needs a greater voice; a more consistent voice, it does need to be worked on. Everybody has a role in this for sure.  It needs to be framed in way that is meaningful to the public at large. You need to be specific about how it relates to different groups – the elderly, soccer mums, etc. It needs to be framed in a way that is meaningful to the public at large – having people understand their role in the climate and what needs to be done. 

Is there one thing people can do on an individual level to help?

Discuss it more. It’s still not the conversation of choice. When I think about how much people discuss employment, politics, immigration, their economic environment, it’s all discussed so much more than the climate in which we live in. For so many people, it’s very abstract. To start getting over that, we need a broader discourse so it’s on the same scale as people talking about the economic health of a country, for example. Climate change doesn’t have to be painted as frightening, it can be painted as the idea of opportunity to redefine where we are going. It’s not about abstinence or sacrifice: there is a whole new economic sector to be chased down. 

Is Vancouver similar to Auckland?

In many respects, it’s very similar. We’re both major port cities so sea level rise is a major challenge.  Broadly speaking, the roads are very similar. As a city we are looking towards ‘complete streets’ so they’re streets that are not primarily for vehicles, they are streets that are there to service all users – pedestrians, biking, delivery, freight, so there is definitely a long term shift.  As much as climate change seems a long-term threat, the infrastructure choices we make today set the course for the direction the city takes in the future. The public need to get behind it – what does the public want? We need to get the public engaged so they can shape the future that they are going to be living in. 

What could Auckland work on?

For all cities: find ways to make the issue resonate with the public. For example, people don’t necessarily care what powers their vehicle, what they want is a vehicle that gets them from A to B, does it comfortably, in style... What people care about is health, air quality, social connection, feeling a connection with their cities. It’s about building that resonance with individuals. 

What else can Aucklanders do?

I think businesses and people need to realise where their energy comes from. In a Canadian context, energy literacy is low. When you flick that light switch on, you always expect it to come on. Once people do start to understand those broader aspects, that’s when you see the behaviour changes. I don’t think people are inherently destructive or out to actively destroy the environment, but people are not aware of the implications of the choices they make, so it’s about broader understandings for individuals and businesses – do you buy a slightly smaller car, do you do double glazing… 

How well do you think local government works with central government?

How well all of that integrates, to be successful in tackling climate change − it is imperative all levels of government work together. A society will never be successful if there’s not that level of harmonisation between funding, regulatory work, long term vision and agreement on how to achieve that long term vision, otherwise it becomes too fractured and splintered. It’s such a large problem to solve, if we’re not efficient, we won’t solve it.

You helped with Vancouver’s electric vehicle strategy, can you tell me about that?

Rather than having extensive public charging stations, we’re going to have rapid chargers - they charge your vehicle up to 80 percent in 20 minutes, so then you have a little hub that services the local community. They can also be put in workplaces and residential buildings.


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