Dear EarthTalk: Since when did Michael Bloomberg become a great environmentalist?
—Jackie Miller, New York, NY
Michael Bloomberg was primarily known as a financier and media tycoon long before he became one of the most beloved mayors in New York City history. But what most people still don’t know about Bloomberg is that he is fast becoming one of the world’s great environmentalists through his work to hasten the transition to renewable energy and mitigate the effects of climate change.
Indeed, working to stave off cataclysmic global warming is nothing new to Michael Bloomberg. In 2005, he represented New York City as a founding member of the C20 Cities Climate Leadership Group (later expanded and renamed “C40”) where the world’s largest cities forged a working agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, still-Mayor Bloomberg took over as chair of C40 and is credited with spearheading the establishment of measurable benchmarks for success and expanding knowledge-sharing between cities and partner organizations while staging two landmark mayoral climate summits in Brazil and South Africa. During his three-year stint as chair, C40 grew to include 63 major cities.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has been quietly directing hundreds of millions of dollars toward climate-related environmental causes through his Bloomberg Philanthropies. In 2011, he made waves with the fossil fuel industry by donating $50 million (and later another $30 million) to help the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign close half of all U.S. coal power plants (and replace them with clean energy) within six years.
In late 2013 Bloomberg teamed up with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and another billionaire environmentalist, Tom Steyer, on Risky Business, an initiative to assess and publicize the economic risks to the U.S. associated with climate change. Their inaugural report identified the “large and unacceptable” economic risks from unmitigated climate change to American businesses and long-term investors, while a follow-up analysis two years later details how cities and states can respond.
In January 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Bloomberg as Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. That same month, the Bloomberg Philanthropies went big on oceans, committing $50 million over five years to the Vibrant Oceans Initiative to help reform fisheries and increase marine wildlife populations.
Most recently, Bloomberg led the charge to align voluntary emissions reductions efforts by U.S. cities, states and businesses to meet Paris climate accord goals even without buy-in from the Trump White House. He points out that the closing of dozens of coal plants across the country is already helping to get the U.S. within two-thirds of its Paris targets, and that the last third is within reach if the private sector and cities and states resolve to do it.
Bloomberg then pledged $15 million to help the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change make up for climate mitigation funding it would be losing with the U.S. pulling out of the climate deal. And a good chunk of his subsequent $200 million commitment to back inventive municipal policies to give mayors a stronger hand in national politics is slated to fund climate solutions.
It’s no wonder that environmentalists are among those calling for a Bloomberg presidential bid in 2020.
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