With Paris City Hall Declaration, world mayors throw down gauntlet on climate

In a first-of-its-kind summit, local authorities pledged support for 100 percent renewable energy and 80 percent reduction in emissions. They also called for city-level climate coordination ahead of next year’s Habitat III conference.

From left, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, French President François Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo welcome more than 1,000 local authorities to the landmark Climate Summit for Local Leaders, 4 December. (City of Paris)

PARIS — While diplomats representing national governments negotiate at the Paris climate talks this week and next in the modern of confines of Le Bourget, an airport turned conference center, the scene Friday at Paris city hall harkened to a different era — when cities engaged in their own brand of diplomacy.

Not content to leave the future of the planet in the hands of nation states, over 1,000 city and regional officials gathered at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders to emphasize a point made by their host, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “As I told the negotiators when bringing them our contribution, cities are not waiting for them to give us the solution,” she said. “We are moving ahead and making a solution possible.”

Hidalgo was joined by co-host Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and current U. N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. “COP 21 is the first time that cities will have their voices fully recognized at a global U. N. conference on climate change — and the first time mayors are gathering in great numbers to demand bold action,” he said. “By holding [the summit] alongside the national negotiations, we will highlight local action on a global stage and help show how much progress is possible.”

COP 21 is a formal name for the Paris negotiations. The current and former mayor were assisted by three leading global networks of cities: the C40 Climate Leadership Group, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

[See all of Citiscope’s coverage on the COP 21 process from a cities perspective here]

Between condolences to the city of Paris following the recent terrorist attacks, leaders used the stage as an impressive bully pulpit from which to make the case for cities’ role in climate action. Paris’ Renaissance-style city-hall building has had a commanding presence in the heart of the French capital since 1533, and its sweeping reception hall, with grandiose interiors of marble inlay, vaulted ceilings and elaborate wall paintings, was designed as a Republican rebuke to its baroque counterpart at Versailles.

The proceedings lured several of COP 21’s most important figures, including French President François Hollande, U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

As the host head of state, Hollande has staked French geopolitical leadership on the success of COP 21. He assured mayors and local officials that they constituted a “principal actor” in the global fight against climate change in light of the World Summit Climate and Territories, hosted in July by the Rhônes-Alpes region in Lyon.

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

Hollande also acknowledged the dizzying trends in global urbanization and made appeals to “climate justice” by pointing out that “the most vulnerable cities are often in the developing world.”

The U. N. secretary-general echoed the endorsement of national governments. “You are essential to this effort. The commitments made here will be implemented in the provinces, regions, states and cities that you lead,” Ban said. “You know, from the ground up, how important it is to translate words into action. Your example can inspire national governments to act more boldly.”

Far-reaching declaration

While national-level targets can feel sequestered from everyday citizens, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, the president of UCLG, emphasized that cities are uniquely poised to connect with their residents.

“[We must] make sure that we involve our citizens and inform them about the changes that we need to make to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” he said. “The fight against climate change is not only about technical solutions, but it is about social change and political commitment.”

[See: Cities can lead on climate change ahead of 2020 pledges]

That commitment came in the form of the Paris City Hall Declaration, where mayors laid out their platform to “advance and exceed the expected goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement to be reached at COP 21 to the full extent of our authorities.”

The mayors, coming from all five continents, also pledged to “Support ambitious long-term climate goals such as a transition to 100% renewable energy in our communities, or a 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050.”

The declaration claims that cities can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by up to 3.7 gigatons by 2030. That would be equivalent to nearly a third of the difference between national commitments and the 2 degree Celsius threshold that stands as the current global goal, the declaration noted.

Hidalgo, meanwhile, made a bolder claim. “This is a historic initiative,” she said. “It can resolve half of the global climate equation.”

[See: City climate decisions could determine a third of global ‘carbon budget’]

The mayors’ declaration also indicated where the COP 21 process would lead after the Paris negotiations wrap up and, presumably, an agreement is at hand. The local authorities pointed toward toward next year’s Habitat III conference on cities, seen by many as an important opportunity to strengthen implementation of a Paris accord.

“Under the Lima Paris Action Agenda and in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, we will coordinate our climate action over the coming year to prepare the HABITAT III Conference,” the declaration states. “Together, we join with global organizations, national governments, the private sector, and civil society to deliver a common response to climate change that will protect our planet.”

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