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Cities seek to build on enhanced role as global climate talks turn to implementation

Cities won landmark recognition at last year’s Paris negotiations. What are they hoping to get out of the first formal follow-up to those talks?

Organizers and participants opened the latest round of global climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, on 7 November. The implementation-focused conference will run for two weeks. (UNFCCC)

The world’s new agreement on climate change entered into force Friday, less than 11 months after it was signed following a landmark negotiating session in Paris. That’s an almost unprecedentedly quick turnaround, analysts say, underscoring the political momentum the issue has established in capitals — and cities — around the globe.

Early adoption of the Paris Agreement comes on the eve of the first high-level follow-up conference. Starting Monday in Marrakech, Morocco, and running through 18 November, the so-called COP 22 summit aims to turn the conversation decisively toward implementation of the new accord.

The speed with which the Paris Agreement has entered into force is “unprecedented in recent experience of international agreements”, said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The voluntary agreement, which seeks to limit greenhouse-gas emissions to prevent an average global temperature rise over 1.5 degrees Celsius this century, crossed a key threshold last month when more than 55 countries, representing 55 percent of global emissions, ratified its provisions.

[See all of Citiscope’s coverage of last year’s COP 21 climate talks]

Over the next two weeks, observers are looking to the Marrakech meetings to turn that urgency into action. And implementation doesn’t just mean action that national governments can take, many are planning to emphasize at the talks. Cities, which made a strong case in Paris that they are uniquely equipped to address climate change, anticipate the talks will further solidify and detail their role in responding to climate change, as formally recognized in the Paris Agreement.

“The early entry into force of the Paris Agreement is a wonderful breakthrough for all non-state actors committed to act against climate change,” said Emmanuelle Pinault, head of city diplomacy for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. “It shows that nations were serious with their commitment last year and have at least understood the urgency to act.”

Local levels of governments are part of the constellation of actors in the Global Climate Action Agenda, a kind of parallel to the Paris Agreement’s national government commitments for what are known as non-state actors — cities and regions, businesses and NGOs, and more.

Yet while city proponents received landmark acknowledgement of their role at last year’s Paris talks, they now want to use COP 22 as an opportunity to build upon that recognition — to ensure that their actions are formally included in the mechanisms of the Paris Agreement going forward.

[See: With Habitat III finished, what are cities’ next steps toward implementation?]

“One goal [in Marrakech] is to make sure cities are fully integrated into the implementation of the Paris Agreement,” Pinault said.

Increasing cooperation

Over 1,000 mayors and local leaders converged on the French capital during last year’s climate talks — that round was known as COP 21 — to argue that cities already are taking critical action to combat global warming, building on months’ of climate pledges from local authorities. A follow-up gathering now will take place on 14 November, billed as the “Climate Summit for Local and Regional Leaders.”

U. N. officials expect the Marrakech talks to accelerate work on the rulebook to achieve the Paris Agreement’s ambitious climate targets, as well as on the money required to do so. Nations are expected to use the next two weeks to further define a pathway by which developed countries can materialize the flow of USD 100 billion per year by 2020 that has been agreed upon to support climate action in developing countries.

[See: COP 21 must encourage climate funding to reach the local level]

Such financial commitments are crucial to meeting the U. N.’s major social priorities — both the climate-change targets and the international body’s larger development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals, also finalized late last year. U. N. estimates suggest that achieving these goals will require USD 5-7 trillion a year, a large slice of which must fund the transition to a low-carbon global economy.

City advocates insist that whatever agreement nation-states reach, political actors at the local level are poised to go beyond such targets and to do so more quickly. For example, cities can scale up action immediately, rather than waiting until 2020, the first year when national governments are expected to deliver on their COP 21 commitments. Further, mobilizing cities to do so could help countries get an important jump-start on fulfilling those pledges.

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

As a result, cities anticipate working closely with their national counterparts to guide the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Advocates for urban-level action argue that cities are home to the majority of the world’s population and the bulk of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

“For organizations like C40, which have been advocating for years for ambitious climate action at every level of government, this is another victory,” Pinault told Citiscope. “It renews our purpose and provides many opportunities for mayors to work with nations in integrated decarbonization plans in the years to come — especially in the crucial pre-2020 period.”

Indeed, the next four years are crucial to setting the stage for anticipated major changes to national policy. In Paris, nearly every country in the world presented a voluntary commitment to reduce climate change. But those commitments, when added up, would not meet the 1.5 degree C threshold set in the agreement at the most ambitious target.

[See: Where does the New Urban Agenda point on localizing climate action?]

As a result, countries will prepare another, more stringent round of commitments — known as “nationally determined contributions”, or NDCs — by 2018. This gradual increase in carbon reductions is seen as key to laying the foundation for the transition to a low-carbon economy. C40’s Pinault said that her organization is especially keen to see the Marrakech talks lead to the inclusion of cities’ contribution in the global stocktake and the next round of NDCs, to be prepared in 2018.

Two-thirds of impact

Already the U. N. system is moving to more fully orient its climate research and monitoring around cities. This year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which oversees global climate science, said it will undertake new focus on urban issues in all of its work. In 2018, the IPCC and other groups will host a global conference on cities and climate change, while the IPCC in the coming decade will devote one of its flagship special reports to the issue.

[See: We’re entering a ‘new era’ for cities and science]

Down the road, cities also hope to play a key role in what’s called the 2050 Pathways, or the long-term vision of where countries see themselves at the midpoint of the century, halfway to the year 2100 — the outer limit for the 1.5 degree cap, designed to avoid the most catastrophic effects of global climate change.

Michael Bloomberg, C40 founder and U. N. special envoy for cities and climate change, authored a 2014 report on cities’ contributions to the year 2050, arguing that local leaders could deliver up to two-thirds of the impact of national action. On 17 November, C40 will launch a platform aimed at enhancing collaboration between national and local officials on the way to 2050.

Above all, cities feel as though they are operating more in partnership and less on the margins of what is officially an agreement between nation states. Cities have a bigger seat at the table in Marrakech than they did in Paris, said Pinaut, “because the role of cities is acknowledged by the Paris Agreement, and the Global Climate Action Agenda is institutionalized.”

She concluded, “We like to be part of the implementation and not only observers or a consultative force like before, as this is what mayors and cities are good at: taking action.”

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