Local governments key actors in fight against climate change

Written by Michel Lebrun on 9 December 2014 in Opinion

Heads of state and government will be leading the COP20 discussions, but cities and regions have an important role to play in the process, writes Michel Lebrun.

Unless we significantly reduce our carbon emissions by 2100, temperatures could soar by 4.8 degrees centigrade and sea levels could rise by 82cm. This is why all eyes are on the next UN climate talks in Paris (COP 21) next year and expectations are running high. Ahead of the crunch talks, negotiators will meet in Lima in December to thrash out the details. World leaders must now draw up an ambitious blueprint strategy that focuses equally on mitigation, adaptation and implementation. Crucially, we need a shared vision based on partnership. Given the urgency one question remains - can national governments afford to ignore those who are ultimately responsible for making the goal of cutting emissions a reality? Can they afford not to formally involve and recognise local government in deciding how we, as a human race, tackle climate change?

As a UN development programme report has pointed out, local and regional authorities are responsible for 70 per cent of climate mitigation and 90 per cent of adaptation measures. In Europe, the success of programmes such as the covenant of mayors - whereby over 6000 local and regional authorities have agreed to meet and exceed the EU's 20 per cent CO2 reduction objectives by 2020 - demonstrate the level of ambition shown locally. Mitigation is of course half the story. We need to learn to live and adapt. The EU's mayors adapt initiative has shown how Europe's local and regional governments are already preparing communities to learn how to live with the consequences of climate change. This is why the Committee of the Regions (CoR) is holding two events with the climate alliance and the European economic and social committee in Lima. We hope to share these local experiences and knowledge globally.

"By ignoring the added value that local and regional authorities bring, the COP negotiating parties are losing time and money that we can ill afford"

However, sharing and collaborating is not enough. There needs to be a shift in gear to improve flow of information between all levels of government. During the Rio+20 sustainable development summit in 2012, for example, the role of local and regional authorities was recognised. At this year's UN convention for biological diversity discussions - which seeks to develop an international strategy to halt biodiversity loss - the responsibility of local governments was formally acknowledged. The time has now come to transfer this recognition to the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC). By ignoring the added value that local and regional authorities bring, the COP negotiating parties are losing time and money that we can ill afford.

In Lima, the CoR will demand that the UNFCCC decision is shaped by cities and regions that must now be considered as governmental organisations. We need a new governance process whereby local and regional governments are not simply given observer status, but able to formally discuss their position. We also need an international monitoring system that assesses how cities and regions are performing in reducing greenhouse gases so we can target investment to help those lagging behind. Currently, at an international level we do have a carbon registry but there is inconsistency in reporting and given the urgency of the situation, we need to be able to precisely calculate emission levels.

There has been considerable debate about how to financially support the green environment fund. The challenge in tackling climate change needs considerable investment. For the worlds' cities and regions, tapping into available financial resources is more important. Internationally, we need to reduce bureaucracy and significantly improve access to funding. The innovation, commitment and potential of local and regional governments is there, but we urgently need to need to improve and simplify access to the climate funds.

The shared fight against climate change needs public backing, behavioural change and a new societal paradigm. Local governments can help gain public acceptance among communities, but the first step is to involve them in the policy formulation and decision-making process. In Lima and Paris, the CoR will remind world leaders that ultimately it falls on the world's local and regional governments to deliver the agreement and gain communities' support. If we are all to shoulder the burden and if we are to agree that we can only make the shift towards a low-carbon global economy through cooperation, then it is time to formally recognise local governments as partners who must help shape the global strategy on climate change.


About the author

Michel Lebrun is president of the Committee of the Regions


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