DUBAI, Dec 2 PS) : Nation-states, presidents, and prime ministers – those are the players who garner the biggest headlines and the most media attention at each year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference. Yet for the past decade, and with far less fanfare, cities, states, and regional governments (known as “subnationals”) have been implementing the Paris climate agreement’s guidance, even when their national governments have not. This has meant investing in clean-energy systems and other urban innovations to reduce emissions locally, and sharing what works through networks like C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors to accelerate progress on a larger scale.
Fortunately, this year’s UN conference in Dubai (COP28) brings a historic first that bodes well for progress on climate change more broadly. The inaugural Local Climate Action Summit will bring mayors and governors together to engage directly with national and international leaders, demonstrating how cities are driving solutions and generating ideas that are being adopted around the world.
The timing for this breakthrough couldn’t be better. The UN recently released its first official report card on the progress the world has made since COP15 in Paris. It shows that bolder and more urgent action is needed to hold global warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels – the limit required to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Cities like Freetown, which is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change (from extreme heat that rarely subsides to floods and landslides that come without warning), are determined to push world leaders to raise their ambitions – and to empower cities to do more to lead the way.
Freetown has shown how cities can set an example through innovative action. When urbanization wiped out 70% of its trees, the city created a program to enlist residents in restoring green cover, which reduces the impact of severe heat. Freetown’s young people are a big part of the campaign to plant one million trees by 2024, and their engagement does not stop there. Young people are well represented on Freetown’s Community Disaster Management Committees and have put their collective energy into the city’s Transform Freetown Agenda (of which the tree-planting is part).
Nor is Freetown alone. In the Philippines, Quezon City has created a network of sustainable urban gardens and farms that addresses food insecurity among residents and reduces the emissions associated with traditional farming. In Lima, Peru, civic leaders have developed a climate-change plan that not only aims to protect the area’s ecosystems, but also targets the small changes – park by park, orchard by orchard – that add up to large-scale improvements in the urban landscape. It has also launched a highly successful effort to monitor and improve air quality where the city’s children play, learn, and live.
In these and many other ways, cities are showing global leaders how real progress is made. But cities should not be seen only as models; they also should be treated as essential partners in the global effort to combat climate change.
This has not typically been the case. Even where national leaders have professed their belief in multilevel governance, policy frameworks are often indifferent to local and regional climate efforts, which leads them to overlook proven solutions. At COP28 and in the years ahead, local leaders should have an equal voice in the discussion and access to the resources they need to take decisive action.
A true partnership between national and subnational governments could be the key that unlocks a consistent flow of climate financing. By working together, local and national leaders can exert considerably greater influence on global institutions, including the UN, multilateral development banks, and governments with the means to accelerate climate-finance solutions.
The world’s mayors are increasingly coming together to deliver this message with a unified voice. Hence, in advance of the COP28 Local Climate Action Summit, C40 modernized its leadership model to include two, rather than just one, chair. The network is now co-chaired by the mayors of London and Freetown, an arrangement that better represents the insights and experiences of the world’s people.
COP28 provides an opportunity to build on the leadership of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who, in his previous role as C40 Chair, helped ensure that two-thirds of the organization’s budget is dedicated to advancing climate action in the Global South, where the effects of climate are the most severe.
Local leaders around the world are proving that when we join our strengths, pool our resources, and come together in a genuine spirit of partnership, local and national governments can achieve great progress and help safeguard the future.
Michael R. Bloomberg, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Climate Ambition and Solutions, is Founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg L.P. and a former mayor of New York City (2002-13). Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Co-Chair of C40 Cities, is Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2023.