In Paris for climate talks, city and regional leaders look to strike deals of their own

Wolfgang Jung, Managing Director of KlimaExpo.NRW, an annual exhibition that highlights climate solutions in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Jung's project was one of dozens of 'transformative' climate actions presented by cities and regions at the COP 21 climate talks this week in Paris. (ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability)

PARIS, France — This week’s climate talks here are the scene of much negotiating. But there’s also a lot of deal-making going on.

In side rooms and exhibit spaces outside the main conference area, representatives of governments, corporations, development banks, foundations and others are looking for climate-related projects to fund. And cities hope to be part of the action.

For cities and other “sub-nationals,” the biggest hub of this activity is an exhibition called the Cities & Regions Pavilion — TAP2015. Here, some 88 cities and regions from 42 countries are showcasing projects to pitch at funding partners.

The ideas are wide ranging. The greatest number focus on energy efficiency and renewables. There also are many projects focused on waste and water management, public transit, biodiversity and urban agriculture. Some of the projects are ready to scale up. Others are in a more exploratory phase. All of them seek to significantly slash greenhouse-gas emissions at the local level, or to prepare urban areas for the consequences of a warming planet.

These projects represent the first round of a 10-year initiative run by ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability, in cooperation with several other partners. The initiative is called TAP, which stands for “Transformative Actions Program.” The long-term goal is to seed a pipeline of impactful local climate actions, while leveraging the short-term interest around the COP 21 talks in Paris.

“The idea is to have cities present their projects at the pavilion and interact with international development agencies, banks and others,” says an ICLEI spokesman. “They’ll see if they can strike a deal and finance these projects.” ICLEI is facilitating events at the pavilion, which is co-hosted by the city of Paris and the city of Bristol, England, which was named European Green Capital for 2015.

The full list of projects is available here. We’ve selected four of them from four continents for a deeper look at the diversity of ideas that cities and regions are pitching.

Recife, Brazil: A 30-kilometer riverfront park

Recife, Brazil is planning a massive riverfront park that would create new walking and bicycling connections to neighborhoods on both sides of the river. (Parque Capibaribe)

The postcard image of Recife shows luxurious towers lining white-sand beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. But Brazil’s fifth-largest city also has two major rivers flowing through grittier areas, and the city wants to transform the land along one of them — Rio Capibaribe — into a massive city park.

Parque Capibaribe would line both sides of the river for 30 kilometers (19 miles), creating an enormous green lung through the center of the city. Some 200,000 newly planted trees would cool temperatures in a hot tropical city while sopping up CO2. The linear park would feature a 150-kilometer (93-mile) bicycling network and a dozen pedestrian bridges, intended to make walking and cycling simply a better way to get around than driving.

The park would benefit some 500,000 of the city’s 1.6 million people, says Cida Pedrosa, the city’s sustainable environment secretary. Speaking through an interpreter, she told Citiscope that the project will also lessen divisions between rich and poor residents by improving connections between some 35 neighborhoods along the river.

The first part of the project will cost US$12 million and that funding has already been secured, Pedrosa says. Now the city is seeking an additional US$15 million for the second part. The park would be completed by 2037, in time for the city’s 500th anniversary.

The project is integrated with another aimed at mapping informal settlements, which occupy about a third of Recife’s urban area, including many sections near the river. Stitching these communities into the fabric of the city, while reducing flood and landslide risks, is part of the vision. 

Pedrosa says it’s important for officials to engage the local population, which is something that researchers at the Federal University of Pernambuco are helping with. That’s because the city isn’t just building a park. It’s also trying to change the way people think about how to move through and think about their city. “The challenge,” she says, “is really to change public opinion.”

Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France: Retrofit revolution

A plan would offer energy retrofits for 1.4 million older homes in Lille and other cities of France’s Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. (wiktord/Shutterstock.com) 

The idea of a “third industrial revolution” is a popular one at COP 21. Promoted by the American economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin, among others, the notion is that economies can be overhauled to a carbon-free model and that workers will benefit from the change.

Local officials from Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the northernmost region in France, say they are already living this revolution.

They have embarked on an ambitious slate of 300 projects that reduce emissions from educational institutions, hospitals, housing and transportation. They intend to cut greenhouse-gas emissions four-fold in a region that once led France in the mining of coal.

Notable among these projects is one known as le plan 100,000 logements, or “the 100,000 house plan.” It’s an ambitious program for retrofitting homes for energy efficiency — contrary to the plan’s name, the goal is to overhaul 1.4 million houses by 2050.

Most homes in the region were built before energy-efficiency regulations were introduced. Many were constructed for coal heating, and have poor insulation. Since 2010, a modest program to offer homeowners energy audits and some tax breaks has produced several thousand retrofits. But now local officials want to scale up the program in a big way. They’re working on a model that would set up a third-party investor that can pay for retrofits from the energy savings. The region is seeking new partners and backers for this investment tool.

Jean-François Caron, the mayor of the region’s “pilot” town, Loos-en-Gohelle, says citizens are already starting to see the benefits. His town of 7,000 has prioritized training young people, creating some 350 direct and indirect jobs in the ecological and renewable-energy sectors over the past decade. During a presentation in Paris this week, Caron acknowledged the challenge: “It’s taken 20 years to reach this stage — convincing policymakers, business and other stakeholders.”

Now, the region’s climate plans are taking on an international dimension. Nord-Pas-de-Calais is teaming up with programs in the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Nord-Pas-de-Calais Project Manager Claude Lenglet says the French region will be looked to as a “kind of laboratory” for implementing the third industrial revolution.

“We wanted it from the beginning to go to concrete programs, we didn’t want one more strategic program that would end up on the shelf,” Lenglet says. “After 2013, we said ‘no more working groups, no more think-tanks’.”

Delta State, Nigeria: Cutting carbon in an oil-rich area

About 20,000 households in Nigeria’s Delta State would get bio-sand water filters under a local climate action plan. (Andrew Ojeblenu/Delta State)

Nigeria’s Delta State sits at an interesting juncture of the climate-change debate. On one hand, the state is Nigeria’s third-largest producer of oil. On the other hand, the state’s river-delta topography means many low-lying coastal communities are especially vulnerable to climate-change impacts such as storm flooding and sea-level rise.

So even as Delta State continues pumping oil for global consumption, it’s also created a plan to cut carbon and shift to renewable energy at home. Various action-items related to that plan are what state leaders are hoping to get funded in Paris.

For example, 100,000 rural households would be outfitted with energy-efficient cookstoves. These would use less wood, reducing deforestation, while producing less indoor smoke. Another 10,000 households would gain access to biogas digesters that turn kitchen waste into cooking gas. About 150 health care centers across the state would receive solar-powered water pumps, water heaters and refrigerators.

These projects and several others are expected to reach more than 800,000 people. The estimated cost is about US$46 million.

Delta State initially resisted reducing fossil-fuel consumption “because this will inevitably reduce government revenue,” says Andrew Ojeblenu, a scientific officer with the Delta State Ministry of Environment.  “However, as the global challenge of climate change becomes more glaring, the state government started a development process that emphasizes moving away from over-dependence on oil.”

Catbalogan, Philippines: Finding higher ground

To avoid typhoon storm surges, Catbalogan, a small city in the Philippines, is building a new center on higher ground. (Jon Mannion/flickr/cc)

About 20 typhoons a year roar through the Philippines, and the small coastal city of Catbalogan is always impacted by at least a few of them. A year ago this week, Typhoon Hagupit hit Catbalogan, wiping away 2,500 homes in landslides, storm surge and flooding.

Enough is enough, local officials are now saying. They’re ready to begin relocating much of the city to higher ground.

That’s essentially the plan behind Catbalogan’s “Sky City Mega Project.” Government and corporate offices, a health center, sports complex and disaster-command and evacuation centers would be located in a nearby area 120 meters (390 feet) above sea level. Residents of low-lying parts of Catbalogan would gradually move here as housing is built. The city could become a magnet for “climate refugees” as stronger storms and higher tides inevitably displace thousands more from their homes.

“It’s an idle land and this is safe from disasters,” Mayor Stephany Uy-Tan told the Philippines News Agency. In a statement emailed to Citiscope, Uy-Tan said Sky City “is a model for other cities on how to make their city climate-change proof.”

The city government recently signed an agreement with a Korean energy company to build a wind-power generator in the new town. The wind tower will sit atop the new city hall. Construction is to begin the middle of next year, according to news reports.

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Alecia D. McKenzie is a journalist and award-winning author based in Paris. Full bio
Christopher Swope is managing editor of Citiscope. Full bio

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