Cities blaze the trail for a livable, carbon-neutral world

Local and subnational governments have a prominent role in addressing climate change. A clarion call for their greater empowerment in a new climate agreement expected as an outcome of the Paris Conference of the Parties in 2015 was sounded at the recently concluded UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Two key mechanisms were created to explore this role in the framework of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP). The “Forum on Cities and Subnational Authorities” and the “Technical Expert Meeting on Urban Environment” were organized, presenting groundbreaking examples on how local action in diverse areas such as low-carbon transport, renewable energy, carbon trading, climate finance and climate change adaptation reduce cities’ carbon emissions and enhance their livability globally.

“The new positive atmosphere at the UN Climate Talks is apparent, particularly where cities and subnational governments are involved. Everyone is positive that it is in cities where real climate action is and would be coming from,” observed ICLEI President David Cadman.

Climate action from the ground

Many cities showcased innovative examples of climate action that brought about multitude of health, economic and environmental benefits. These include: Bogota, Colombia’s city-wide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system is not only reducing carbon emissions but also improving the health and safety of citizens; Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania turns sustainability into practice in a city where population doubles every 10 year; Cebu, Philippines’ focus on education and participatory action is raising awareness and mobilizing action from the ground up; Malmö, Sweden’s regeneration strategies in an old harbor area and shifting to renewable energy is generating more green jobs for the city; and Tokyo, Japan’s Cap-and-Trade program is addressing the buildings and facilities sector to jointly reduce carbon emissions by more than 20% in two years. Representatives of subnational governments of North Rhine Westfalen, Germany, the State of California, USA and Quebec, Canada also demonstrated the value of multilevel governance and partnerships.

“Creativity and perseverance of Mayors and city staff - these are the two things that struck me most upon hearing the examples from other cities, “ remarked Alex Minshull, Sustainability Manager of the City of Bristol, UK. Bristol is the 2015 European Green Capital. Minshull also noted that projects with multiple benefits are more likely to be successful. “Climate is a cross-cutting issue. One cannot decouple environmental impacts with impacts on various sectors such as health, economy, and human well-being”, added Minshull.

National support for local action

During the two-week international climate negotiations, a number of national governments, including USA, France, Germany, China, Poland, Mexico, Austria, Canada, Sweden, Senegal, Georgia, Uganda and Tanzania have made interventions pledging support for empowering and enabling cities to further act on pressing climate change issues. These statements focused on efforts to promote vertical integration, facilitate access to finance, and strengthen cooperation among national, subnational and local governments, and other stakeholders.

“We should develop new modalities to appropriately and effectively engage local and subnational governments in the global efforts as governmental stakeholders” added Tomasz Chrusczow on behalf of Presidency of COP19/CMP9 which was instrumental by hosting the first ever “Cities Day” in Warsaw in November 2013. Poland is also a member of “Friends of the Cities at the UNFCCC”, a coalition of national governments that supports local and subnational climate action. Among its growing number of members are France, Poland, Mexico, Indonesia, in close dialogue with an additional 15 other national governments whereas S. Africa, the host of COP17 in Durban in 2011 which is also recognized as the birthplace of Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments, announced as the newest member during the Bonn Conference.

Progress of local climate action reporting
The UN Bonn Climate Change Conference also saw the release of a synthesis report on the implications of the findings of IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5) for cities and the 2013 Annual Report of carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR)

The cCCR is the largest global database on local climate action gathering information from more than 400 local and subnational governments which serve 12% of world´s urban population. The report demonstrated the increasing scope and pace of local action worldwide. It highlighted that voluntary reporting of climate actions promotes transparency which is key to trustworthiness and credit worthiness.

According to the cCCR data, local and subnational governments have reported about US$ 145 billion worth of climate investments. 57% of these investments have been driven by local governments themselves. A funding gap of approximately US$341 million still needs to be filled to finance the 188 climate mitigation and adaptation actions on the cCCR. This figure is expected to rise as local and subnational governments gain more responsibility in the global efforts on climate change.

Additionally, as part of the Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) Global Partnership, the Subnational Integration (SNI) Working Group released a study on what national governments can do to accelerate subnational action on climate.

ICLEI’s proposal for a 10-Year Action plan

To move towards a global carbon-neutral path, ICLEI Secretary General Gino Van Begin stressed the need to “convince the non-convinced cities” to act on climate change, to stimulate vertical integration, to ease access to finance, to work on effective regulatory mechanisms and to increase the availability of climate data. Inspired by the good practice in the biodiversity process since 2010, he strongly proposed national governments to adopt a climate action plan for cities and subnational authorities with concrete steps and indicators for progress. He added that the action plan should be presented by Lima, enhanced by Paris and come into force by January 2016.

Throughout the week, ICLEI, in its capacity as the focal point of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency to the UNFCCC and facilitator of the Local Government Climate Roadmap process, supported the representatives of local and subnational governments and their networks through implementation of an intensive agenda under the brand “BONN DIALOGUES” which consisted of side events, exhibits, official interventions, technical site visits, experts and high level dialogues.

ICLEI will continue to forge ahead on local climate action, offering technical expertise as well as processes and engaging in global advocacy on behalf of towns, cities, metropolitan areas and regions around the globe. Together with C40 and the World Bank, and in collaboration with the UNFCCC secretariat, ICLEI will coordinate the follow up of the Technical Expert Meetings on Urban Environment in October 2014 in Bonn and in December 2014 in Lima. These meetings will also benefit from the outcomes of the forthcoming 23 September UN Climate Summit.

For more information, visit http://www.iclei.org/climate-roadmap/advocacy/unfccc/2014-bonn-dialogues.html

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