On his first visit to France two months after becoming U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry met with President Emmanuel Macron and members of his government. After the Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs, Kerry met one-on-one with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo at the Hôtel-de-Ville, outlining the key role cities and local governments play in the ecological transition.
2021 is a “mega-year” for global action on climate change. The series of major multilateral forums, including the Global Leaders Summit on Climate in April, the G7 Leaders’ Summit in June, the General Assembly of the United Nations in September, and the G20 Leaders’ Summit in October will build momentum for the 26th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in November (COP26). This coming milestone was described as the “last best hope” to align action to the Paris Agreement targets and mitigate climate change.
National governments currently drive these negotiations. Cities and local governments remain mostly excluded when key agreements are brokered. At the 2019 COP25 in Madrid they had only limited access and influence in the UN-managed “Blue Zone” where international negotiations take place. Only 14 percent of countries feature considerations on climate mitigation in urban areas in their binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions (the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs). After a disappointing COP25 and insufficient national climate targets, success in 2021 will require bolder actions and a larger coalition of actors. Cities and local governments matter, and they can help.
Cities hold the key if countries are to deliver on the ecological transition
The Paris Agreement recognizes the “importance of the engagements of all levels of governments.” As key drivers and spaces of climate change, cities ought to be a prime actor at the table:
- National ambitions largely depend on local action and ambition. Urban areas produce almost 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. According to recent data, over 800 cities and 100 regions already set net-zero emissions targets, including Helsinki and the cities belonging to the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. The Global Covenant of Mayors, the C40 Cities network, and CPD launched a “Race to Zero” campaign to get 1,000 cities to take action before COP26, while advocating for NDCs consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C.
- Local governments help anchor the ecological transition into its larger framework of sustainable development. The ecological transition is only one component of a larger framework of development challenges, captured by the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To ensure that the ecological transition coming out of the COVID-19 crisis works for all without deepening existing inequalities, city leaders have shaped an “Agenda for a green and just recovery.” Green investments need to target communities that are disproportionally impacted by pollution first. Underrepresented populations should be able to access the jobs created by the clean energy economy. Finally, greener transportation must increase equal access to public spaces.
- The ecological transition requires bridging the urban financing gap. Municipal revenue losses from the pandemic crisis have weakened cities’ investment capacity in climate plans. Accordingly, in the Paris Declaration of December 2020, local governments advocated for bolder financing support, including a $100 billion a year plan for climate mitigation. International development finance slowly unlocks access at the local level, including the City Climate Finance Gap Fund of the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.
Cities need to elevate these messages where it matters before Glasgow
Local governments have accelerated their advocacy in multilateral forums to advance their interests in Glasgow. Leading to COP26, they connect through networks and global coalitions such as C40 Cities to maximize their collective impact in influencing national climate agendas and, potentially, secure a formal role in the multilateral decision-making process:
- Cities from the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency and the ICLEI network advocate for a “multilevel action COP” that integrates inputs from local governments. They already receive some visibility in the U.N. climate negotiation space through the “Local Government and Cities Day.” Beyond representation, a key win at COP26 in Glasgow would be to secure a formal pavilion alongside states within the “Blue Zone” to generate attention on the urban dimension of the negotiations.
- Cities and local governments engage as a constituency at the UN’s main review platform for the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development, the High-level Political Forum (HLPF). Through the advocacy of Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments and the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) network, cities can showcase their actions and progress towards the Global Goals on climate and biodiversity.They can also encourage better coordination between the local and national levels.
- Cities are directing their advocacy towards the G20. The G20’s Engagement Group for cities, the Urban 20 (U20), emerges as an effective vehicle to promote the allocation of COVID-19 recovery funds towards local climate action. Italy’s Presidency of the 2021 G20 offers U20 cities a unique opportunity to influence the G20 Sherpas meetings towards a closer coordination of national and local efforts, including on setting and implementing the NDCs introduced at COP26.
As key actors aiming to deliver the ecological transition, cities are demanding better recognition of their role and a seat at the decision-making table. In doing so, local governments are advancing a political agenda for a closer partnership between the different levels of governance committed to climate action. Crucially, further empowering cities and local governments in the ecological transition will increase the chances of national governments to meet the climate emergency.