The world’s largest cities have been razing tree canopy and hardening natural landscapes for decades, often to the detriment of the urban poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and, increasingly, climate migrants.

Thirty-one cities, including four from the United States, made commitments last week to reverse course under a new global compact called the “Urban Nature Declaration.” It aims to reduce the heat island effect, stem urban flooding and improve living conditions by replacing lifeless, impervious landscapes with shaded or watery havens for climate-stressed communities.

Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; New Orleans; and Seattle were among those signing the declaration released by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a consortium of nearly 100 global cities committed to climate change action. C40 was launched in 2005 and, along with the U.S. Climate Mayors conference, has led urban climate policy initiatives, particularly during the Trump administration.

The declaration calls on C40 cities to meet urban green space goals through one of two pathways. One is ensuring that 30% to 40% of total built-up surface area is green space or permeable surface by 2030. Secondly, cities can meet a “fit-for-purpose green or blue space” standard by ensuring that 70% of residents can walk or bike to a park or water feature within 15 minutes.

Such spaces “must be equitably prioritized to maximize accessibility and connectivity to nature for the most vulnerable,” according to the declaration.

“These pathways will allow us to establish ambitious nature targets to achieve climate resilience and create an agenda for people and nature to support one another,” C40 leaders said in a statement. “Action is vital now as globally currently, over 800 million people are vulnerable to sea-level rise, over 650 million people are vulnerable to water security, and 1.6 billion city residents will face extreme heat by 2050.”

Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city with nearly 4 million residents, is among the largest to sign on. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who’s the current chairman of C40 and President Biden’s choice for ambassador to India, said in a statement that the declaration “is a reminder of the obligation we have to restore the natural world around us and an example of how mayors are leading with climate solutions that strengthen communities hit hardest by the climate emergency.”

Emailed questions about how Los Angeles would meet one or both of the C40 pathways by 2030 were not answered, but the city under its 2013 climate resilience plan committed “to prepare and protect those most vulnerable to increasing extreme heat.” Part of that commitment involves planting and maintaining trees as well as working with the private and nonprofit sectors to educate Angelenos about the public health and economic benefits of urban trees.

While smaller than its peers, New Orleans is one of the world’s most climate-threatened cities from coastal storms, flooding and heat. It, too, has made citywide commitments to improve and expand urban greenspace. Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the declaration "is a further example of how we are playing to our strengths, using our natural climate to our advantage instead of trying to fight it.”

Mark Watts, C40’s executive director, said, “Supporting and protecting cities’ natural ecosystems is one of our most important tools for building resiliency against the climate crisis and creating the healthy, inclusive urban communities we deserve.”

Besides Los Angeles, other cities of 5 million or more signing the declaration were London; Tokyo; Mumbai, India; Rio de Janeiro; and Sydney. It also drew support from Toronto; Paris; Rome; Berlin; Barcelona, Spain; Stockholm; and Tel Aviv, Israel.

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2021. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.