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The importance of being Mayor: what can cities do for the Paris agreement?

We knew it.

As COP21 gets closer and INDCs are submitted, experts all around the world have begun to predict whether or not the national climate commitments that countries are currently submitting will keep us below 2 degrees of global warming by the end of the century.

Although 2°C is still a dangerous target and 1.5°C is technically still within reach, it seems that the political will we need is still missing from the UN negotiations.

According to analysis from Climate Nexus, the national climate commitments we currently have won’t get us where we need to go. In fact, we’re not even close. In order to be within a 50 per cent chance of limiting global emissions within the 2 degrees we would need to cut global greenhouse emissions by an extra 22 Giga-tonnes by 2030.

Progress to the 2°C pathway - from Climate Nexus - http://www.theroadthroughparis.org

Progress to the 2°C pathway – from Climate Nexus – http://www.theroadthroughparis.org

This doesn’t look like a very positive scenario. However, as Winston Churchill once said:

“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

So being optimist, I believe the great opportunity here lies with cities.

While Climate Nexus suggests a further UN mechanism to ensure that countries will be forced to improve their emissions reductions commitments over time, I see a great potential in cities’ role all around the world filling the emissions gap that has been left behind by national governments.

Globally, over 50% of the population lives in big urban areas. These densely populated areas are now responsible for a significant pice of the global emissions pie. Due to the size and scale of most countries, implementing national measures can be difficult. However, the density of cities gives them a great opportunity to lead the way through sustainability initiatives and energy efficiency. Also, emission reduction policies aimed at a city level have also proved much easier to do, with far less political hills to climb. Often these policies are even seen as favourable, and involve a number of co-benefits like improvements in health and quality of life.

For example, the city of Copenhagen has committed to carbon neutrality by 2025. Here, city planners have combined energy efficiency measures with the now 249 miles of cycle routes and a network of heating and cooling pipes in buildings that has reduced carbon emissions by nearly 70 per cent, and electricity consumption by 80 per cent.

As Frank Jenson, Mayor of Copenhagen has argued, “we want to show that it is possible to combine growth and an increasing quality of life while reducing carbon emissions and meeting environmental challenges”.

This is similar to calls in neighbouring Oslo, where its Mayor Fabian Stang plans to “move Oslo from a low carbon towards a zero emission city.”

Mayors of European Capitals and Large Cities  meeting in Paris - March 26, 2015

Mayors of European Capitals and Large Cities meeting in Paris – March 26, 2015

Measures such as these cannot replace national mechanisms and policies, but can act as catalysts for moving national commitments forward.

Across Europe, over 6,000 cities have already made climate efforts by joining the Covenant of Mayors. Collectively, they have established a common goal of achieving 20 per cent emission reductions targets by 2020, in line with the famous EU 20-20-20 package.

Since the release of the new EU 2030 Climate and Energy Policy Framework, which increased ambition levels up to 40-27-27, cities have decided to go bigger too.

On March 26th, Mayors from European capitals and large cities met in Paris for a climate change conference co-chaired by the Mayors of Paris and Rome, Anne Hidalgo and Ignazio Marino. At this meeting, they signed a Declaration where cities have committed to reach a 40% decrease in CO2 emissions by 2030.

Below are targets of ten major European cities leading the way forward, with a few of them already in the process to update their current strategy:

cities targets

Cities commitments expressed as greenhouse gas emissions reductions – Chart by Federico Brocchieri, from cities’ data as of March 2015

But this isn’t the only initiative taking shape on a city scale. After being appointed as Climate Change Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, New York’s Michael Bloomberg launched the Compact of Mayors initiative. Here, city Mayors around the world will come together to reduce carbon emissions as well as prepare their cities for the biggest climate impacts to come. We will have to wait and see just how much of the international gigatonne gap they will be able to fill when they present their action plans this December at COP21.

With major Parties struggling all around the world to deliver ambitious targets, cities may result as the perfect, unexpected, allies of climate action.

Federico Brocchieri

About Federico Brocchieri

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