Cities must lead fight against global climate crisis

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Mayors and their cities must take the lead on fighting the global climate crisis. This was one of the key messages of this year’s COP27, the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference. The international summit drew more than 90 heads of state and 35,000 delegates from 190 countries in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh, including numerous representatives of cities and other local government units.

The C40 Cities network was represented at the COP27 by a delegation of 11 mayors, including the Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, with the goal to send a message that the best way to protect people from rising prices, polluted air and extreme weather – and to secure good jobs in fairer societies – is to invest in cleaner, greener cities.

“This should be the last COP without city governments having an official place at the table,” Trzaskowski told Energy Monitor at the conference, stressing that the cities are responsible for ultimately implementing climate change measures. “On many counts, cities are more progressive than their national governments”.

Former Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland, now a City Councilor, represented her city at the COP, as well as being part of the EU Council of Regions’ delegation to the conference. The CoR also advocated in Sharm El Sheikh for the role of local authorities to be formally recognised in the summit’s conclusions.

“Cities, regions and local authorities are responsible for almost 70% of mitigation measures, and 90% of adaptation,” said Gilliland. “So we do play a key role on the ground, and we want that to be more formally recognised. We want to be at the table of climate dialogue when it comes to designing those actions – not just when we are implementing them.”

“We are seeking to persuade the powers that be that in that outcome document, we will have a formal recognition within the structures. We are also calling for regional and locally determined contributions that would complement our national NDCs. We think that if you split a country down into more manageable chunks and evaluate what is happening on the ground, you can really identify those areas that are excelling and those areas that perhaps need a little bit more support,” said Gilliland.

Key information released for mayors at the COP27 was the Summary for Urban Policymakers (SUP) series, a three-volume report based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). 

The report series was supported by a partnership of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM) alliance for city climate leadership, the Resilience First business network, the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) in collaboration with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), and led by Resilience Rising, a global consortium of NGOs and initiatives.

The reports disseminated the latest scientific findings of interest to local governments, helping to build understanding around the need and opportunity to deeply transform cities and urban areas to meet global climate goals and protect the world’s increasingly urban population.

“The world’s cities provide us with a global scale, but time limited opportunity to achieve climate resilient development,” said Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC working group II. “ Harnessing this opportunity means transitioning urban and related infrastructural systems in an equitable, just and sustainable way to address climate change and improve planetary health.”

“The SUP series, through conversations with city and business decision-makers, shows us how scientific evidence can inform ambitious and inclusive change in the world’s cities. It also highlights the narrowing window of opportunity local governments have to integrate urban adaptation and mitigation strategies to achieve sustainable development for all” said Roberts.

According to the AR6 assessments, it will be impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius without a broad coalition, which must include cities and local actors. The SUP series aims to help mayors and local leaders upscale their ambition and accelerate and deepen climate action.

Richard Damania, chief economist of the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Practice Group, presented a World Bank report on the role of cities in fighting climate change, titled “Thriving – Making Cities Green, Resilient and Inclusive in a Changing Climate”. 

Damania stressed that up to 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050. “These people will be crucial in fighting climate change, and also will be the most impacted by climate change,” said Damania.

The World Bank report stresses that the higher- and middle-income cities, a category which includes nearly all of Europe’s cities, account for as much as 86% of global urban CO2 emissions. “Because cities will likely bear an outsized share of climate impacts, city leaders are probably the most motivated political actors to take on climate change,” says the report. “City leaders also have knowledge of local context and the ability to mobilise their communities. As such, they can influence and implement climate policies put in place by higher levels of government; design and implement city-specific policies and initiatives; and, crucially, help coordinate collective climate action in their cities.”