In a recent address to the National Press Club, Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore asked, “Should cities rule the world?”

Moore has served Sydney since 2004 and has helped the city achieve greater sustainability through the innovative “Sustainable Sydney 2030” plan.

“Cities are where it’s happening,” she said.

According to Moore, by 2050, about 70 per cent of the world’s people will live in cities. Australia is already highly urbanised, with two-thirds of residents living in capital cities.

Those capital cities account for 64 per cent of the country’s GDP, house two-thirds of the workforce, have supplied 1.5 million people with jobs in the past decade, educate 80 per cent of all tertiary students in the country, have attracted 85 per cent of skilled migrants since 2010, and are expected to add another 10 million people by 2056.

Sydney alone accounts for $100 billion of GDP, or eight per cent of the total.

That’s why, Moore said, the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors says, “get it right for cities, and you get it right for the nation.”

She noted that former US President Bill Clinton said, when addressing a C40 World Cities conference, “one of the things I love about mayors is they get up in the morning and want to do things.”

Highlighting the growing importance of cities worldwide, Sydney is a member of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group established in 2005. The group comprises the world’s mega-cities and works to address climate change. With 69 cities participating, Moore said, the group represents 18 per cent of global GDP, represents half of the world’s population, and has taken over 8,000 actions to combat climate change.

Within the C40 Cities group, Moore said, Sydney received acclaim.

“In recognition of our successful work with business in Sydney to improve energy efficiency, the city was recently asked to co-lead together with Tokyo a buildings energy efficiency network for 15 cities in Europe, North America, Latin America, Oceania, and East Asia,” she said.

Unfortunately, the growing importance of cities has not been reflected in the policies at other levels of government, Moore noted. She contrasted the group of cities’ action on climate change with the “head in the sand, business as usual politics of our state and federal governments in Australia.”

Because of that disconnect between levels of government, she said, cities are forced to “go it alone” on environmental issues.

One initiative that’s brought recognition is the Sustainable Sydney 2030 program. The plan, Moore said, sets a course for carbon reductions through improving energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, recycling water, and establishing tri-generation. The tri-generation program is a decentralized energy network that will ultimately produce power by converting waste to energy. Initially it will be powered by gas.

“Sydney 2030 is the cornerstone of everything we do, and has won support and worldwide acclaim,” Moore said.

The International Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has called Sydney a global leader, noting that “through its Sustainable Sydney 2030 framework, the city has articulated a vision for a global, green, and connected city.”

Moore said climate change is the greatest challenge that cities face. As cities use over two-thirds of the world’s energy and contribute about 70 per cent of carbon emissions, cities have the greatest opportunities for deep cuts in energy and emissions. Sydney was the first Australian local government to become carbon neutral in 2007. The target is to reduce emissions by 70 per cent by 2030.

“Actions of cities can have a flow-on effect to the rest of the nation,” Moore said.

Urbanisation is another component of the program.

“Urbanisation is one of the most effective and responsible ways to address the key challenges of the 21st century,” Moore said.

To that end the city has approved projects worth $25 billion since 2004, and has encouraged better design overall.

“We actively encourage design excellence in private development and in our own public projects,” Moore said. “We’re advised by a design advisory panel made up of eminent practitioners, and we have an innovative design excellence program that requires a competitive design process for all major buildings, and this is a world’s first.”

Stricter standards will impact residential projects greatly. According to Moore, the number of families in Sydney will increase by 45 per cent by 2031. The city’s plan to manage that level of growth focuses on medium- to high-density development on former industrial sites. For example, the $8 billion Green Square project, on 278 hectares, will provide homes for 54,000 residents and jobs for 22000 workers.