Climate Change

Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 21, 2005



The Commons Open Society Sustainability Initiative (Ecoplan) points out that while 157 countries have signed the Kyoto Accord, no cities have done so. Since 70 percent of all people live in cities, and traffic accounts for over half of air pollution, cities have a unique role to play in meeting the Kyoto targets.

The Kyoto World Cities 20/20 Challenge is simple and ambitious: cities commit to reducing overall CO2 emissions by 20 percent over 20 months. (CO2 was picked because it is a good indicator of air quality as a whole, and reductions in CO2 will tend to be accompanied by reductions in other forms of air pollution.)

This goal may seem ludicrous, but the International Advisory Council, which includes a global cross-section of world-renowned engineers, professors of economics, geography, and political science, physicists, architects, planners, transport policy analysts, and activists (including Jane Jacobs), has determined that a coordinated policy can achieve these results without major capital expenditures.

Developing a Plan

The organization has identified a number of factors that should go into any effort to implement the 20/20 Challenge:

Local Action

The idea is to engage a local base of volunteers to develop a city-specific plan that takes local factors into account, engages local stakeholders (including those inclined to oppose it), and implements a made-at-home solution that can be measured.


The enormous costs associated with car-based transportation are both observable and measurable. To be successful implementing the 20/20 Challenge, the city must understand the costs - both long-term and immediate - of maintaining the status quo.

Public Health

Car dependence is a public health catastrophe in slow motion. Discussing the issue in mere technical or even environmental terms does not get to the bottom and will probably not engage many people's interest. A more complete look at the costs must result in a more complete presentation of the far-reaching effects.

Car-Like Mobility

People won't give up transportation convenience. The initiative should provide what Ecoplan calls "car-like mobility" - i.e. the ability to get around a city quickly and conveniently on one's own terms. In fact, a sustainable transport system can be better than its car-based counterpart, as every city cyclist already knows.


The initiative should consist of actions the city can perform right away that will make a big, immediate difference.


In addition to being timely, the initiative should be affordable. Instead of mega-projects, it should entail more effective use of existing facilities.

Hamilton is fortunate in that the province is giving us $15 million in gas tax money.

City Council doesn't want to invest it in new buses, citing ongoing maintenance and inflationary pressures on fuel costs. Fair enough. Transit investments are hugely expensive and take a long time to recoup their costs.

At the outset, the money can be spent more effectively elsewhere on one-time changes that will reap quick rewards and create ongoing savings that can be re-invested rather than ongoing costs that must be carried.

Initial Proposal

Paying the Cost

Most of these initiatives will cost nothing. The few expenses can be paid out of the gas tax with no lingering obligations.

These steps will serve simultaneously to impose market forces on driving and make it easier to choose alternatives. This will help downtown businesses, improve air quality, and encourage more people to use alternative transportation without new investments.

More transit riders make the system more efficient so the city has to contribute less to the total cost. The savings can be reinvested in more pedestrian-friendly public infrastructure.

By bootstrapping from inexpensive changes instead of betting the bank on a mega-project, Hamilton can start to tilt the scales toward sustainability. In the meantime, everybody benefits from a more comfortable city and air pollution starts to improve.


Naturally, this initiative will make some individuals and groups uncomfortable. The best strategy is to engage these groups early, take their concerns into account, and demonstrate that the 20/20 Challenge actually benefits everyone, including many of those groups most likely to oppose it.


Some Business organizations may be expected to oppose a general move toward sustainability out of fear that it will be bad for the economy. Several important factors should help to convince Hamilton businesses to support this initiative:

  1. It makes significant use of market forces, rather than "Draconian" government power, to effect change.
  2. It will deliver money back to BIAs and neighbourhood associations to invest in local redevelopment.
  3. It will benefit the downtown economy by encouraging more development and attracting more people.
  4. Alleviating congestion will save money in shipping and transportation costs.
  5. Market-based pricing for parking ensures that drivers will find a spot.


Hamilton Developers, more than most other groups, will have to move out of their current "comfort zone" to embrace the 20/20 Challenge and sustainable development in general. They will have to learn new ways of designing building projects to replace the low-density sprawl that predominates today.

However, attitudes are changing. Developers who have "taken the leap" into building compact, mixed developments are enjoying their high popularity among buyers. Developers can enjoy many benefits:

Municipal Government

City Council may be attracted to these initiatives for a number of reasons:

Next Steps

Raise the Hammer is prepared to help develop and support the 20/20 Challenge in Hamilton, but we need the participation and help of as many individuals and groups as possible to a) develop a comprehensive proposal that can be adopted quickly, b) raise public awareness and generate wider discussion, and c) encourage City Council to adopt it.

If you are interested, please email To share ideas on-line, create a user account on the RTH website and post comments using the form at the bottom of this document.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools