What did the COP 22 climate talks mean for cities?

A post-Marrakech interview with ICLEI’s Yunus Arikan.

COP 22 participants in Marrakech, Morocco, gather around banners that read "We will move ahead", 18 November. (Kiara Worth/IISD/ENB/http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cop22/enb/18nov.html)

National governments, local authorities, big business and others came together this month for the first time to start plotting out how exactly they will implement the major climate accord struck last year at cliff-hanger negotiations in Paris.

By happenstance, their timing was both good and bad. The Paris Agreement came into surprise effect at the beginning of November, after enough governments took unprecedentedly quick action to ratify their pieces of the accord. Around that same time, the U. S. government sprang another surprise with global implications: the election of Donald Trump, a known climate sceptic.

Against this dual backdrop, the international community gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, for much of the first two weeks of November to start detailing how they will put the Paris Agreement into action, starting in 2020. Cities gathered, too, and the Marrakech sessions — known as COP 22 — marked a key point at which local emissions-reduction efforts are now being official discussed simultaneously with climate action at the national level.

[See: Cities seek to build on enhanced role as global climate talks turn to implementation]

So what did these talks mean for cities? Citiscope’s Gregory Scruggs spoke with Yunus Arikan, global advocacy director at ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, for an update on what happened this month and what basis the Marrakech talks offer for the coming year. This interview has been edited slightly for clarity and consistency.

Gregory Scruggs: What were the main goals of the city and subnational constituency heading into Marrakech?

Yunus Arikan: First of all, we had supported the Paris Agreement, so we were hoping that COP 22 would be the place where this agreement would be solidified. After all, there was worry over whether the agreement would survive or not. It was great that it entered into force, but we came to Marrakech to show that we are behind this global community and we are ready to advance it.

So in that sense we achieved our goal, because in the middle of COP, of course, there was an unexpected result from the U. S. elections. There was confusion on whether this would stop the movement. But I think overall we showed that there is a community of climate warriors, climate champions from all levels of government, and that local and subnationals are part of it — and that this will not stop or be reversed. We will go ahead; it may not be an easy task, but we will not be impacted upon by this kind of political ambiguity.

[See: What effect could President Trump have on U. S. cities’ climate action?]

This was supposed to be the COP of action, remember, with a specific focus on finance. So our main priority was in demonstrating how we can support the climate champions.

Q: Speaking of finance, my understanding is that one of the issues going into Marrakech was turning the USD 100 billion pledge [for the Green Climate Fund] into a reality?

A: The priority of Marrakech was not this 100 billion itself. Imagine if you don’t have a foundation or you don’t have a construction — you can’t put windows on it. Finance is the windows of this global architecture, and the priority was to secure that. Of course, money should come, but I think everybody was trying to make sure that Marrakech starts this ball rolling. And in that sense, we have heard new announcements on financing.

So the 100 billion was not the issue because, first, everybody was worried that the architecture may fail. So, everybody put their emphasis on this — to indicate that they will keep up this momentum. As far as I know there is money being made available for technology funds, for adaptation funds, and this shows that there will be more resources to come. But it is not up to scale yet, and it’s true that it was not possible to secure this in Marrakech.

Q: Regardless, as some of these funding streams come online, what is being done to ensure that they reach the local levels to support climate actions in cities?

A: We had a good advantage, because we have completed with the New Urban Agenda [at last month’s Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador], which leveraged this understanding of sustainable urban development globally. But of course, the weakness is that the [urban] community that was in Quito is not in Marrakech and vice-versa, so the Marrakech people don’t know what happened in Quito, and Quito people aren’t very aware of what’s happening in Marrakech. There is a climate community and an urban community.

Therefore we tried to bring Marrakech this idea that the global frameworks are ready and that the cities are able to deliver through this idea of sustainable urban development. If the money goes to this level of action, it is possible for nations to achieve their [climate pledges]. That was the message we wanted to convey.

[See: 2018 conference first to put cities at heart of climate science]

In that sense, this global roadmap for financing and localizing finance was the flagship of the Marrakesh summit. It was presented also as the outcome: of putting out a roadmap toward 2020. If you look at the whole climate community, they are turning their radar more and more to ambitious local and subnational governments to back up the void that may be created by some nations. I think we can expect to build this now in the next months and years ahead.

If you look at the roadmap, it has three main goals: strengthening the capacities of local governments, changing the global architecture of finance and increasing the flow of money to the cities. These are the three legs of strategic actions for localizing finance in the climate community.

Q: Do you think that national governments are on board with this idea that if they support city level action, they will more easily reach their climate targets?

A: First of all, if you look at the big announcements that came from Marrakech — like the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action or the 2050 Pathways [Platform] — there is strong engagement of local and subnational governments. Or the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference, which again brought in business and local governments aligning with the national governments. Or the 100 percent renewable commitments — you can find a lot of local government there. So, with the likeminded community of national government, we are there.

But this process will take more time because in Marrakech, they agreed that by 2018 they will have to agree on how to raise their national ambitions. That gives us the chance that if we can better deal with those likeminded national governments that are supporting the local action, we can demonstrate before 2018 concludes that we can help them.

[See: California to help 100 Chinese cities boost low-carbon development]

Only 50 percent of these national commitments have some sort of local or subnational action. So that gives us a huge opportunity to say, “This can be increased.” Because we have a New Urban Agenda adopted, and we can also say that the existing 50 percent who have some sort of local and subnational action — let’s put on the table how you’re working with the local and subnational governments, how you’ll get them on board.

The goal of the post-Marrakech processes now is to speed up and make everybody put on the table that, yes, sustainable urban development, integrated territorial development, is an excellent opportunity — that this can help them achieve their climate pledges. I think we are getting there.

Q: What are the next markers in this process?

A: The COP process is going to be unique. In the past, hosting a COP has always meant physically and logistically hosting it. That means political power, which means that you can shift the decisions when you’re the host of the conference. But because technical hosting, logistical hosting and political hosting were always connected, certain countries never had a chance to host a big COP — especially countries like small island states.

So now there’s a new innovation, where they’ve decided to split this into two processes. Politically, it will be Fiji, which is a small island state, that for the first time will be the COP president, and logistically and technically it will be hosted in Germany — very likely in Bonn in November. So this is a huge opportunity, and we are hoping that this COP will give us the opportunity to clarify many of the questions we’ve been discussing today.

One thing that was unique about Marrakech was that for the first time we had a minister of housing at a climate conference. Now we have kicked off this idea — starting a discussion in the context of the climate debate from the perspective of ministers of housing. During this coming year we will have to build this up further, so that when we come to Bonn we can increase the visibility of ministers of housing and of the urban community being a part of the climate debate. That’s our goal for this year.

Q: You mentioned earlier about the urban and the climate communities existing somewhat apart from each other. Do you think there will be increasing convergence between those two?

A: This was part of the pre-2015 era. With the help of the [Sustainable Development Goals] and the Paris Agreement, now the vision of all leaders and these processes should be aligned. I think that’s a good step for us.

In this, one important point to consider is that we have a new U. N. secretary-general, and he will also have discussions on how to make the U. N.“fit for purpose” for the 2030 Agenda. [Outgoing U. N. Secretary-General] Ban Ki-moon left a huge legacy to bring stakeholders and the sustainable agenda to top of the U. N.’s agenda, and we hope that the new secretary-general will continue to build upon that, so at the top level in most countries there is a commitment to have these discussions converge.

[See: ‘It’s through local government that you can get big shifts,’ says U. N. point person on sustainable development]

We also believe that the New Urban Agenda has reached a certain maturity. One advantage we have is also the New Urban Agenda’s Paragraphs 172 and 173 mandate the U. N. secretary-general to conduct a two-year process, which will start in 2017 and will include a very thorough analysis and then a high-level dialogue by the General Assembly [on monitoring of the New Urban Agenda]. [See here for details of this plan.]

So for us, these next two years are an excellent opportunity to have all these actors and partners speak the same language, to say: Look, this climate is a new era. It’s a new way of working — a partnership. It’s also an urban world, and we have all the decisions already, all the partners on board. Let’s craft new machinery for ambitious climate actions, inclusive climate action in an urban world, which means more active engagement with local and regional governments.

[See: Fund seeks to strengthen climate action in cities]

This is why we are very excited for the next two years. By the end of 2018, we hopefully will have reached a very innovative way of working hand in hand with all levels of government on board, all those who want to act on climate and sustainable urban development.

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