U.S. mayors call for Paris climate accord to bolster local-level action

Mayors and officials from 12 U.S. cities will take part in summit as Local Climate Leaders Circle.
A lanyard from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under which the Paris talks will take place starting in November. A dozen U.S. cities recently announced that they would be attending the summit. (Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam International/Flickr/cc)

Mayors and city authorities from a dozen U. S. cities have announced that they will take part in the Paris climate summit at the end of the year, aiming to highlight initiatives that are already in place at the municipal level and to urge the adoption of an agreement that that further strengthens local-level action.

The announcement came as international representatives were gathering in Bonn for this week’s second-to-last in a series of negotiations before heads of state and government come to Paris to try to hammer out a final deal to guide international efforts to keep average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius. The final round of pre-summit talks will take place in October; the so-called COP 21 summit itself will take place from late November through early December.

“Supporting a global climate agreement is critically important for cities around the world,” Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City and the president of the National League of Cities, an umbrella group that is supporting the initiative, said in a statement last week. Becker’s city is already part of a national movement in the United States called the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, which acknowledges that cities produce some 70 percent of global emissions and calls for a binding international climate agreement.

“Salt Lake City has succeeded in implementing climate-smart policies that are really making a difference, and we’re ready to show the rest of the world how it’s done,” Becker has stated previously. “But as a city we can only do so much. We need stronger national and international climate policy.”

[See: Cities can lead ahead of 2020 climate pledges]

Salt Lake City and the 11 others in the new initiative are being referred to as the Local Climate Leaders Circle. The other cities involved include Atlanta, Boulder, Chula Vista, Columbus, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Oakland, Pittsburgh, West Palm Beach, Santa Monica and King County, in Washington. (Other U. S. mayors will also be in Paris under other auspices.)

“Salt Lake City has succeeded in implementing climate-smart policies that are really making a difference, and we’re ready to show the rest of the world how it’s done. But as a city we can only do so much. We need stronger national and international climate policy.”

Ralph Becker
Mayor, Salt Lake City

The initiative is being spearheaded by a group called Resilient Communities for America and is a partnership between several national and international organizations. In addition to the National League of Cities, these include ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, the World Wildlife Fund and the U. S. Green Building Council. The effort is also working in association with two of the most prominent climate efforts for local authorities, the Compact of Mayors and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.

Together, the mayors said they are calling for “an ambitious international agreement that addresses our climate crisis and supports further action at the local level.”

A key part of the group’s efforts while in Paris will be to highlight the climate-related actions they’ve already taken in their cities — cutting down on carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by, for instance, increasing energy efficiency. Such models could offer both impetus to other cities around the world for similar action as well as some innovative models that have already proven feasible.

[See: In Lyon, cities and regions commit to cutting 1.5 billion tons in emissions]

Formal role for cities?

There is an important broader context to this, as well. Interest is building from many sides in the potential role that city leaders can play in the COP 21 talks, which are otherwise dominated by the member states that will need to ink a final agreement.

Multiple high-level processes are now underway to collect and collate pledges from cities, regions and other non-state entities, and to come up with mechanisms to standardize those pledges. The Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action, overseen by the United Nations, currently lists more than 3,700 “commitments to action”, including from nearly 425 cities and 85 regions.

Salt Lake City, for instance, has aligned its pledge with the Compact of Mayors and will “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, report publicly and annually on progress and prepare for the impacts of climate change.” Bonn, meanwhile, will “Reduce CO2 emissions from the community by 20% by 2020 based on 1990 levels.”

[See: Bringing cities to the global table]

The Paris summit’s organizers have now set aside a daylong event on the sidelines of the COP 21 talks as a platform to highlight such local-level actions, where this mass of pledges is likely to be formally offered up. (See below for a full list of cities-related events at COP 21.)

Some are suggesting that these pledges should even play a formal role in the COP 21 outcome. Whatever accord member states agree to in Paris will only kick in by 2020, after all. Cities — which both make up the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and are somewhat disconnected from the national-level politics that have made climate action so contentious — could thus take immediate steps to make up this half-decade gap. Doing so could potentially play an important part in keeping the world on track to meet the 2 degree goal.

In Paris, the U. S. mayors will be pointing out in that cities around the world are already undertaking such action. Plus, cities that have signed on to the Local Climate Leaders Circle will be collectively aiming to bolster their own capacities to both keep track of and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

[See: Pope Francis, mayors pledge action on climate change and the urban SDG]

Such capacity-building measures will include updating cities’ greenhouse gas inventories, as well as securing compliance with the Compact of Mayors, according to Kevin Taylor, the World Wildlife Fund’s local engagement specialist. A significant part of this strengthening effort will also focus on leveraging these city officials’ own voices on the international stage.

“The Leaders Circle mayors will be requesting their peers to join the Compact of Mayors,” Taylor said, as well as “calling for a science-based treaty that recognizes and supports action from cities.”

See Citiscope’s continuing coverage on A Global Role for Cities.

Cities events at COP 21

1-4 Dec.: UNESCO conference on megacities and water

3 Dec.: C40 Cities Awards

3 Dec.: ICLEI-UCCRN Launch of Assessment Report for Cities and Climate Change

4 Dec.: Climate Summit for Local Leaders, at the Paris City Hall

4 Dec.: C40 Paris Forum, ‘Megacities Leading the World’

5 Dec.: Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) day of action

5 Dec.: ICLEI-UNEP-KEITI Global Lead Cities Network on Sustainable Public Procurement Annual Summit 2015

8 Dec.: LPAA Cities and Regions Day

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