In Lyon, cities and regions commit to cutting 1.5 billion tons in emissions

Summit sees pledges on behalf of two-thirds of global population.

A delegate at the first day of the World Summit Climate & Territories in Lyon, France, 1 July. (© Région Rhône-Alpes)

PARIS — As if to underscore the dangers of global warming, the World Summit Climate & Territories began on what was France’s hottest day so far in 2015. With temperatures hitting 40 degrees Celsius on 1 July, perspiring summit participants in Lyon called for increased mobilization in fighting climate change, especially at the local and regional levels.

The two-day event was billed as the premier gathering of non-state actors — meaning local authorities, business groups and civil society — ahead of the major climate negotiations slated to take place at the end of this year in Paris.

In a declaration released at the end of the summit, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below an increase of 2 degrees Celsius “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonization of the world economy scenario”. They warned that the “fight against climate change cannot be achieved without a truly local and subnational approach that takes into account economic, social, cultural and environmental realities.”

The several hundred representatives of local governments and NGOs also called on national governments and financial institutions to strengthen resources for this purpose.

Global powers needed to focus on creating “new mechanisms (guarantee facilities, green bonds, third party financing, internalization of carbon costs in the economy) with a view to increasing the capacity of actions”, the declaration stated.

The statement was signed by 50 organizations of local and regional authorities as well as civil society groups. Organizers said the document represented some two-thirds of the global population and was “the most widely supported [climate] declaration ever presented, by the most representative non-state actor networks.”

The event was a key gathering ahead of the “COP 21” climate summit that will take place in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec 11.

“The climate agreement in December needs local commitments to be successful,” said French President François Hollande, the keynote speaker on the first day of the event.

“Five months before COP 21 in Paris, the World Summit Climate & Territories is an important step, a sign of collective will and of mobilization of the world’s territories,” Hollande told some 800 representatives of local authorities and NGOs from more than 80 countries. He also announced that there would be a subnational and local government day at COP 21.

“Your meeting shows that climate action is everyone’s business: states, governments, charities, the private sector, territories,” he added. “But first, states must assume their responsibilities.”

The compact’s pledges

The current, strengthening emphasis on local and regional measures actually began at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009.

“It’s there that towns and regions began mobilizing to try to work together, to reach common decisions and to speak with the same voice,” Michèle Sabban, president of R20 Regions of Climate Action and former president of the Assembly of European Regions, said in an interview.

Six years later, those assembled in Lyon came with concrete actions. Collectively, local authorities committed their jurisdictions to cut some 1.5 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2020.

“The climate agreement in December needs local commitments to be successful.’”

François Hollande
President of France

The pledges of local emissions reductions were part of a new agreement known as the Compact of States and Regions. The compact was announced last year, with the first round of specific targets being released at Lyon. Organizers describe the compact as “the only global platform to record greenhouse gas … emissions reduction targets and inventory data from sub-national governments”.

Twenty subnational governments, representing more than 220 million people and USD 8.3 trillion in gross domestic product, have now committed to a series of targets to reduce carbon emissions. These include regions in South America (Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo), North America (California, New York, Ontario), Europe (Basque Country, Catalonia, Scotland) and Australia.

These governments now have a series of reduction goals in place across their operations. Some will reach 90 percent by 2050 and 100 percent a decade later, organizers said.

All such pledges will now be fed into a centralized platform overseen by the United Nations for the purpose of collecting these actions by entities outside of central governments, the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action.

Yet, echoing the calls in the summit declaration, the compact partners cautioned that they would only be able to do so much under current circumstances. New financing mechanisms will be needed to do more, they warned. It is “crucial that local and subnational governments in developing countries get privileged access” to international facilities, such as the Green Climate Fund, the 20 governments said.

“Enhancing their ability to set up financially safe projects should be a priority of the international agenda,” they continued. “Likewise, we believe it is relevant to explore whether specific funds dedicated to local and regional action could be rapidly established; revenues of such facilities could be provided directly by subnational governments themselves or through innovative financial instruments.”

City innovations

The World Summit Climate & Territories was in particular a showcase for measures already underway by cities and regions to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Geneva, Switzerland, for instance, has changed the heating structures in its municipal buildings to function according to need. Bulbs used for public street lighting have also been replaced with ones that use less energy.

“These are small measures, but for a town they really bring important benefits,” Esther Alder, the mayor of Geneva, said. She added that it was not enough to take such innovative steps — it’s also imperative to explain to the public the advantages of such steps.

Khalifa Ababacar Sall, the mayor of Dakar, Senegal, agreed. Public information and awareness-raising were essential tools in his city’s ambitious climate plan, he said.

Senegal has seen two decades of drought. Against this backdrop, the densely populated capital city has seen its energy problems worsen with increased migration. But Sall said Dakar was trying to involve the whole population in finding solutions to this energy crunch. He is now working with French entities and others to create renewable forms of energy — and find financing.

“We have to think globally and act locally, as the saying goes,” Sall said. “But if we are to act locally, it’s important that mayors — the first interlocutors of the population — be involved in the formulation of policies and their implementation.”

Elsewhere, subnational authorities are taking on leadership roles at odds with their national governments. Jay Weatherill, the premier of South Australia, said that although there had been a recent reversal by the Australian government on climate change, his country had long taken steps at the subnational level to reduce emissions.

“We’ve decoupled economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “And we’ve gone from having no renewable energy in 2002 to 40 percent renewable energy now … and one in four households having photovoltaic solar panels on their roof. So there’s been a consistency in which state governments have taken a leadership role.”

In China, meanwhile, some of the main environmental challenges come from the burning of fossil fuels, a practice that has given rise to record levels of pollution in some cities and rural areas. But projects to cut emissions are being carried out by local governments, said Song Jingwu, vice-president of an organization called the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.

Song said cooperation between cities in China and those in France was very important, as it allowed the cities to learn from each other. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang met with French authorities ahead of the summit, and the Chinese government and the European Union issued a joint statement on climate change in June. China was strongly represented in Lyon, as well.

For drought-stricken California, the state’s Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez said that addressing climate change was an opportunity to make the region’s communities “more resilient” and the economies “more prosperous”. Rodriquez and representatives from several other countries signed a Subnational Global Climate Leadership memorandum of understanding that is expected to contribute to negotiations at COP 21. This agreement is nicknamed the Under 2 MOU, a reference to the goal of keeping global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius.

Through the MOU, signatories have committed to either reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 or to achieve a per capita annual emission target of less than two metric tons, also by the middle of the century. Organizers said such goals enable local authorities to set emission-reduction plans adapted to the specific needs of their jurisdictions.

Rising momentum

The Lyon summit was one of a series of events taking place in France and elsewhere in the run-up to COP 21, focusing on the range of actors making climate-related pledges ahead of the Paris negotiations.

At a Business & Climate Summit that took place in Paris in May, about 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” — and that they wanted to see this happen at COP 21.

On 21 July, religious groups will participate in a Conscience Summit, also in the French capital. There, they say they will map out a strategy for getting their congregations involved in the campaign to cut emissions and protect the environment.

As the Lyon summit was getting underway, representatives of the country’s major religions met in Paris with Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal and other officials, to outline their concerns. Aude Millet-Lopez, a spokesperson for the Protestant Federation of France, said the meeting was an opportunity to present a “Declaration on the Climate Crisis” to the government.

“Although COP 21 is a key step, we’re convinced that the challenges posed by climate change cannot be met in an effective way by States alone, but above all by individual and collective mobilization, today and in the years to come,” the religious leaders stated.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has already had a series of key meetings at the Paris town hall this year, as she pursues a strategy of gathering as many stakeholders as possible to reach consensus before November.

In March, alongside her Rome counterpart, Ignazio Marino, Hidalgo invited mayors of the “capitals and big towns” of the 28 member states of the European Union to a meeting. These mayors, representing some 60 million inhabitants, stressed that the “fight against climate change is a priority for our towns and the well-being of our citizens.”

Hidalgo, the current president of the International Association of Francophone Mayors (AIMF), also hosted a meeting of African women mayors in Paris in April, stressing that “solidarity” was necessary.

Her office is now working to have 1,000 mayors from around the world present at COP 21. At the end of June, she issued a joint statement with Michael Bloomberg, the U. N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York, outlining the objectives of this meeting.

“The bold actions taken not only by local leaders but also by all the range of non-state actors to reduce greenhouse gases place them at the forefront of the fight against climate change,” Hidalgo and Bloomberg stated.

This was why, the two said, they had decided to host a summit for local authorities on the sidelines of the COP 21 talks. The event, called the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, will be held 4 December.

Several region-specific events will also be taking place in coming months. Next week

Ontario is hosting a Climate Summit of the Americas, which will bring together pan-American jurisdictions, as well as environmental groups and industry, to work towards common approaches to reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the broader adoption of carbon-pricing mechanisms.

In addition, Colombia will likely host a climate summit in September, followed the next month by an international conference on climate action in Germany. A new agreement known as the European Covenant of Mayors 2030 is slated for launch later that month in Brussels.

For now, Sabban of R20 said the Lyon summit was a means of mobilizing governments and public opinion ahead of COP 21. “The summit has enabled us to agree on good practices and to discuss the central issue of financing,” she said. “We’ve been able to speak with one voice on the road to Paris.”

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Alecia D. McKenzie

Alecia D. McKenzie is a journalist and award-winning author based in Paris.