The UN climate change conference in Glasgow is just the place you’d expect to see Gregor Robertson, the former mayor of Vancouver who is still deeply involved in fostering climate change solutions for cities worldwide.
On Tuesday, Robertson, who serves as ambassador for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), accepted the Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity on behalf of the group at COP26 in Scotland. This is the second year the prize has been awarded; the first went to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg for her efforts to fight climate change.
The prize comes with €1 million which GCoM will distribute to help six cities in Senegal and Cameroon become more climate resilient. Cities do the heavy lifting when it comes to climate change mitigation, Robertson said. “They provide frontline services 24/7.”
Even prosperous Canadian cities don’t have the tax base they need to invest in climate-resilient infrastructure. The situation is even more dire in Africa. The prize money will help five cities in Senegal improve their drinking water supply in the face of climate impacts like drought. One city in Cameroon will use its portion of the prize money for LED lighting, Robertson said. Due to difficulties with vaccinations and quarantine restrictions required for COP26 participants from so-called Red Zone countries, none of the African recipients were able to attend.
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The Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity recognizes groups or organizations that contribute to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. Its goal is to assist vulnerable population groups “in harmony with environmental protection and economic prosperity.”
Isabel Mota, president of the Gulbenkian Foundation board of directors, noted in a statement, “This year, the award goes to a fundamental voice for local communities and urban residents worldwide: the Global Covenant of Mayors.
Robertson became GCoM’s ambassador shortly after leaving his position as mayor of Vancouver. He remains passionate about the role of cities in climate change mitigation.
Cities are also the hardest hit by the growing effects of climate change, he said. For example, “Lytton (B.C.) which burned to the ground in two hours.” It is now left to local First Nations and municipal governments to rebuild.
Robertson said cities in less developed countries must be given the help they need to enable their residents to remain in their homes. “The worst case scenario is a huge number of people become displaced as cities are no longer habitable.”