Merger creates world’s largest network of cities fighting climate change

Michael R. Bloomberg will co-chair the board of the new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

Mergers and acquisitions are standard fare in the private sector as business interests align and shareholders seek increased returns. In the public and nonprofit sectors, however, agreeing to combine forces and turn two into one is a rare feat — all the more so when thousands of cities are involved.

But that is what took place Wednesday at a ceremony in Brussels, where the leaders of two key initiatives to put cities on the front lines of the battle against global climate change announced they are joining forces.

During last year’s global push for commitments to reduce carbon emissions ahead of the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, cities emerged as one of the leading actors. During the course of the mobilization, over 7,100 cities from 119 countries made pledges through two platforms, the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors.

[See: With nation states ‘helpless’ on climate change, dozens more cities join Compact of Mayors]

Six months after the Paris conference came to a rousing finish outside the French capital, those two initiatives have now merged into a new entity — the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

The combined entities intend to build on the momentum generated by cities, who are seen as quicker to take climate action than their national counterparts. For example, the Paris Agreement itself has not entered into force — that won’t happen until 55 countries, representing at least 55 percent of global carbon emissions, ratify its provisions.

To cross that threshold, at least one of the “big four” emitters — China, the European Union, Russia or the United States — must ratify the Paris Agreement. That process could take at least two more years.

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

In the meantime, advocates say, cities are ready and able undertake quick emissions-reduction action.

“Cities are absolutely taking the target of global emissions peaking by 2020 and keeping the target of under 2 degrees Celsius, preferably under 1.5 degrees C, very seriously,” Mark Watts, executive director of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, told Citiscope. “They’re not waiting for all the nations to ratify the Paris Agreement, but just getting on and putting their own plans in place.”

Focus on Global South

C40 and other city networks managed the Compact of Mayors, while the Covenant of Mayors was largely a European Union effort. The compact was made up of 514 cities, among them many of the world’s largest, while the covenant has more than 6,800 signatories and last year expanded into Africa.

The merger was reportedly of mutual interest, as the two efforts are seen as complementary. The compact, for example, was more prescriptive, as it set out a common methodology for establishing an inventory of greenhouse-gas emissions that would allow for meaningful comparison and contrast across cities. The covenant, meanwhile, had a broader range of sustainability goals — not strictly greenhouse-gas targets.

[See: City climate decisions could determine a third of global ‘carbon budget’]

“This merger is an important step in demonstrating that local governments are taking action to fight climate change and cope with its effects,” said Gino Van Begin, secretary general of ICLEI, Local Governments for Sustainability, which has advised covenant cities in the E. U. since 2010 and partnered on the compact effort. “By joining this new, larger coalition, cities and towns will demonstrate the significant collective impact of their work and set an example for transparent reporting.”

The Global Covenant will now honor existing commitments for two years before calling for new pledges, all of which are designed to exceed national targets declared ahead of the Paris climate talks. U. N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Michael Bloomberg and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič will chair the board, which will consist of mayors from around the world.

[See: Cities, regions commit to deep emissions cuts ahead of SDGs summit]

In the coming years, the combined initiative is expected to expand rapidly in the Global South, with an emphasis on Africa and Asia. Currently, for example, no Chinese cities are members and only four Indian secondary cities are members. Still, that push will face challenges in countries such as India, where mayors are not necessarily the strongest political actors, with local power largely held by states.

Climate initiatives at the state and provincial levels do exist, such as the Alliance of States and Regions and the “Under 2 MOU.” However, it is unlikely that the Global Covenant will merge with them.

Differentiated requirements

European cities and towns, meanwhile, were early adopters of the covenant’s provisions in large part because the E. U. had mandated emissions-reduction targets at the local level ahead of 2020.

“In Europe, the covenant has managed to mobilize thousands of ambitious cities in outperforming their national governments’ targets,” said Mayor Bo Frank of Växjö, Sweden. “Its evolution into a global coalition with international accountability further paves the way towards a new age marked by locally-rooted and inclusive climate policies.”

[See: On climate action, cities need a way to learn from each other’s mistakes]

However, with regulations from Brussels setting the bar, European cities were less inclined to duplicate their reporting efforts and also join the compact, explained Carl Pope, Bloomberg’s senior adviser on cities and climate change.

Consequently, the new Global Covenant will probably have differentiated requirements so that Växjö, population 63,000, will not be held to the same standard as Seoul, population 10,000,000. Nonetheless, the mayor of the latter, Park Won-soon, also the current president of ICLEI, has issued a public call for cities to follow the South Korean city’s lead.

“Supported by global city networks such as ICLEI, efforts implemented by Seoul to tackle climate change can be replicated to many other local governments,” Park said, “and I believe the newly formed global coalition for local governments will help national governments achieve their greenhouse gas reduction goals and successfully implement the Paris Agreement.”

[See: Habitat III must make climate change a top priority]

One possible meeting point for cities to share best practices on climate change adaptation and mitigation is coming up later this year at the Habitat III conference, the U. N.’s gathering on urbanization that takes place only every two decades. Climate change will be one of the issues receiving top billing in the conference’s expected outcome strategy, the non-binding New Urban Agenda, which will rely on voluntary efforts such as the Global Covenant to help cities implement its provisions.

“Together, we are heeding the call to act from fellow local leaders and we will continue to move forward, especially with the critical Habitat III talks taking place in Quito in October 2016,” said Quito Mayor Mauricio Rodas. “In that sense, the Habitat III conference is the perfect place for the Global Covenant of Mayors to come to life.”

Citiscope is a member of the Habitat III Journalism Project; read more here.

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Gregory Scruggs is a senior correspondent for Citiscope. Full bio

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