Healthy Cities Need a Low Carbon Diet

Apr 27, 2016 6:05 PM ET
Campaign: The TBL Quarterly

What does C40 do?
C40 is a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change. With more than 10 years experience working with mayors to drive actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate risks, while increasing the health, well-being and economic opportunities of urban citizens, C40 has demonstrated the impact cities can have on a global scale. Since 2009, C40 cities have taken 10,000 climate actions.

C40 offers a forum where cities can collaborate, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action on climate change. Today, C40's network of 83 cities represents more than 640 million people and one quarter of the global economy.

You recently announced a partnership with Novo Nordisk - why is C40 collaborating with a pharmaceutical company?
It might not seem obvious at first glance that a healthcare company specialised in diabetes and a city organisation focused on climate change should join hands. However, we see that climate change and health issues share some of the same root causes which means that there can be strong health co-benefits from climate action and vice-versa.

By collaborating with Novo Nordisk and their Cities Changing Diabetes programme1, that seeks to address the root causes of type 2 diabetes in major cities around the world, C40 hopes to generate new insights on these co-benefits.

Could you give an example of such co-benefits?
The way that urban citizens live, travel and eat all impact their health and these are also factors that impact a person’s carbon footprint. For example, we know that regular exercise, such as cycling, helps to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes. We also know that policies to encourage more cycling through bike share schemes and safe cycling infrastructure help cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles.

A 2014 survey of people who cycle to work in Copenhagen found just 7% do so for environmental reasons. The vast majority cycle because it is faster, easier and cheaper. Sometimes it’s worth remembering those motivators when trying to promote greener lifestyles. Low carbon cities are cities with healthy citizens.

Mayors have told us that one of their biggest challenges is convincing their citizens of the value of climate-friendly policies. If we are able to show evidence that action on climate change will also contribute to curbing the diabetes epidemic, we can help solve two of the most urgent challenges of the 21st century. Mayors will certainly welcome that news.

Why can mayors be important change agents?
Benjamin Barber, author of the book If mayors ruled the world, argues that cities, and the mayors that run them, are incubators of the cultural, social, and political innovations which shape our planet.

Mayors face similar challenges and have to innovate to solve them, which make cities arenas of social change. Mayors are often action-oriented and eager to share solutions that work. For example, what we see in the C40 network is that 30% of the cities’ climate action is delivered through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

The urgency of the climate crisis also makes mayors vital agents for change. The Paris Agreement will not come into force until 2020. Yet C40’s research has found that based on current trends, in less than five years time, we will have built enough roads, power stations and buildings to lock us in to 2 degrees of warming. Up to a third of this ‘carbon budget’ – the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions we can risk putting into the atmosphere – will be determined by mayors in office now.

What other partnerships is C40 involved in?
We recently partnered with MasterCard to set up a mobility management network, which will connect city administrators and experts to find ways to encourage people to use public transportation. MasterCard and C40 are working with cities to enable commuters to pay for bus and subway fares more easily, instead of needing to buy tickets as a separate step or having to carry cash or exact change.

What are some of the next things that you look forward to in your work?
The aspiration to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, included in the Paris Agreement, was extremely welcome. But even if every country met their pledges, it would only deliver emission cuts that would hold warming to 2.7 degrees.

Therefore the next five years are crucial, and it is cities where the real difference will be made. We are going to spend that time urging mayors to be bold - to look to other cities, see what has worked, avoid what hasn’t worked and aim to deliver the same benefits more quickly, at a lower cost and to greater benefit to their citizens. Our partnership with Novo Nordisk will have a huge impact on making the co-benefits argument and seeing real action in all our cities.

Watch this video with Mark Watts where he talks about the correlation between health and climate change 

If you want to know more about C40, check out

This article was featured in the latest issue of Novo Nordisk’s sustainability magazine TBL Quarterly, ‘The Urban Issue’. Read the full issue here:

1. Cities Changing Diabetes is a partnership programme to identify and address the root causes of type 2 diabetes in cities founded by Novo Nordisk, University College London (UCL) and Steno Diabetes Center. For more information, see