Cities, regions to form five-year vision on climate action

Details to be finalized over coming year. Newly announced U.N. ‘urban hub’ also to come up with plan on cities and climate before COP 22.

A banner marks a COP 21 event hosted by the Lima Peru Action Agenda (LPAA), which will also be spearheading a new plan to coordinate city-level climate action. (COP Paris/Flickr/cc)

PARIS — City leaders from across the globe this week announced the start of a major new plan to guide local climate action for the coming half-decade.

The five-year “vision”, plans for which were unveiled on the sidelines of the COP 21 negotiations here, will aim to “raise action” at the subnational level to “respond to climate change and ensure sustainable future living environments for their people”, according to a background document.

The plan was launched Tuesday under the Lima to Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), a collaboration between national governments and the United Nations formed at last year’s climate talks. Also this week, the LPAA announced a new “urban hub” made up of several U. N. agencies, which will seek to come up with an “action plan” on cities and climate by COP 22 in November 2016, potentially in Morocco.

[See: All of Citiscope’s coverage of COP 21 from a cities perspective]

The presence of mayors and others local authorities at COP 21 has been significant, with national representatives making clear their view that cities, states and regions have a key role to play in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. To that end, delegates from the 196 state parties at COP 21 have announced a spectrum of ambitious targets for reducing emissions and launching innovative action for climate funding in cities and regions.

City authorities have been making similar pledges. The new vision now seeks to coordinate local climate actions by 2020, centring on four objectives:

• Increasing the number of cities and regions implementing a climate action plan.

• Building resilience into the greatest number of cities and regions, with particular attention to vulnerable populations.

• Improving project preparation and climate planning, both to ensure increased financial flows to local levels but also to accelerate the deployment of innovative economic and financial tools.

• Supporting multi-partnership initiatives between different levels of governance.

[See: Guiding, standardizing city climate actions a key focus at Paris summit]

The local and subnational governments involved so far represent around 1.25 billion inhabitants — almost a fifth of the global population, according to the LPAA. The vision and its full list of participants will be finalized next year, organizers said.

Actions already underway

Already, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said this week, the climate change conference had seen “a historic collaboration of local governments”. That energy has been building significantly in recent months.

The climate-related actions taken by local authorities have gained increased momentum since a major subnational summit took place in Lyon, France, this summer. Today, local actions have been registered by nearly 2,300 cities and 150 regions in a key U. N.-overseen database of such commitments.

[See: In Lyon, cities and regions commit to cut 1.5 billion tonnes in emissions]

These commitments are crucial because urban residents are at the front line of both the effects of climate change and the creation of greenhouse-gas emissions, delegates said in Paris. This week for instance, China issued a “red alert” for Beijing because of intense air pollution that led schools to close amid public warnings to stay indoors.

According to California Governor Jerry Brown, local authorities have “a very specific wake-up call to get going”. Fighting climate change “takes political will, and that political will is not yet mobilized,” Brown said, warning, “We got a long way to go.”

Still, Brown highlighted that cities can “do things themselves” to fight climate change. He cited, for instance, offering tax breaks for green development, increasing the number of electric cars on their streets and working to reduce residents’ energy consumption. Brown said that California was already buying 40 percent of the electric cars sold in the United States, for instance.

[See: Extending local-level climate action beyond the ‘30-ring circus’ of COP 21]

Gregor Robertson, the mayor of Vancouver, Canada, said the aim there was to build a city “that’s truly green” and that Vancouver was seeing “great growth in renewable energy”. Elected in 2008, he has pushed a goal of having Vancouver become the “greenest city in the world by 2020”, he said.

To achieve this, the city is following a renewable-energy strategy, transforming construction to achieve zero-emission buildings and developing clean transportation, Robertson said. “We see a very compelling case for 100 percent renewable. This is entirely doable, entirely possible,” he said.

As a sign of the growing collaboration among cities, the mayor said that Vancouver was working with Copenhagen and Stockholm — “cities ahead of the curve” — and that they were learning from one another. U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has promoted such collaboration, and during COP 21 he emphasized that a collective approach was necessary for success.

“Governments, cities, the private sector, investors and the public at large increasingly understand the grave risks posed by climate change,” he said. “They also see the tangible benefits to be gained by early action. These include economic growth, new markets, job creation, cleaner air and improved health.”

[See: On climate action, cities need a way to learn from each other’s mistakes]

Throughout the Paris talks, which are set to end this week, both local and national authorities have outlined proposals for fighting climate change. Ernest Moniz, the U. S. energy secretary, and others called for increased use of LED lighting, while representatives from Sydney to New York spoke of increasing bicycle paths and light-rail transportation.

Both local and national authorities appear to be increasingly recognizing the role that cities and regions can play in such efforts. “Seoul is ready to share with the world that local action can achieve reducing emissions and limiting climate change,” said Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul and president of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

Park also offered delegates a slogan: Think globally, act locally.

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Alecia D. McKenzie

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