By Sophie Hares
TEPIC, Mexico, Feb 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Convincing more commuters in wintry Montreal to leave the comfort of their cars and take a bus or train to work will involve hefty investment in public transport but is crucial to help the city tackle climate change, said its mayor.
Valerie Plante, the first female mayor of the Canadian city, the largest in Quebec province, said Montreal already faces worsening flood risk and extreme weather due to a warming climate - which will dictate how the city spends its resources.
"Our biggest challenge is definitely around transport," said Plante, adding that the city's transport system needs to be improved to reduce its planet-warming emissions and fight climate change.
"This is where we can take action... This is where we need to put our energy, our resources - this is the next big thing," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
Plante, whose election campaign pitched her as the "right man for the job", will be one of a group of female mayors gathering in Mexico City next week for the second Women4Climate conference organised by the C40 urban climate change alliance.
The meeting will bring together mayors and business leaders to discuss the role women can play in curbing climate change and making communities more resilient to its impacts.
Cities - which are home to over half the world's population and produce more than 80 percent of global economic output - are increasingly positioning themselves to lead on climate action.
"Cities are at the forefront of so many issues - climate change is the one that we see right away," said Plante. "It is important for cities to stand strong and get invited to the debate, into the thinking."
Plante, who beat a political veteran to be elected mayor in November on a promise to boost transport and affordable housing, said Montreal was working to add a new metro line she hopes could be built within five years.
Construction of the world's third-largest light rail system, costing $5 billion, is scheduled to get underway in April in Montreal, which is home to about 1.7 million people, with a total of some 4 million in its greater metropolitan area.
A new report by the Montreal Metropolitan Community showed 65 percent of commuters in and around the island city rely on private cars to commute.
With the risk of flooding predicted to rise, the city must work out how to protect those living in exposed areas while maintaining green spaces on the island, which could help absorb excess water, added Plante.
Equitable access to food is another issue Montreal is aiming to address, through a food policy council that will explore options such as working with major stores to distribute unsold food and setting up food banks, said the mayor.
"It's an environmental issue as well as a social responsibility issue," she said. "It's all part of how we share resources - how are we more resilient?"
Female mayors are heavily outnumbered by their male counterparts globally, but Plante said she and her peers could collectively help shape the fight against climate change and empower a new generation of women to take the lead.
"Women bring a different point of view to the table - they see different impacts and different solutions," she said. "It is always worth it to have these perspectives when it comes to building the future."
(Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on resilience as part of its work on zilient.org, an online platform building a global network of people interested in resilience, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation.