Unified climate action in a post-Paris world

September 15, 2016   |   Bonn

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By Gino Van Begin - Secretary General of ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability



On the 12 of December 2015, the Paris Agreement was formally approved at COP21 in Paris. It was remarkable to see delegates from 197 nations cheering after two intense weeks of negotiations and years of hard-fought unity.


On that day, nations agreed to keep the current increase in global temperatures well under 2 degrees Celsius, aiming for a 1.5-degree target. Their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which formalize national climate commitments, also refer to engagement with local and subnational governments as partners in implementation, after many years of local government advocacy on the subject. The national plans are to be reviewed every 5 years and made cyclically more ambitious.


Local and subnational governments were very active at the Paris climate COP—as they had been for many years prior—voicing their interests through the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency led by ICLEI, a stakeholder group officially recognized by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat. Through their presence, local and subnational governments also showed the way forward with concrete examples of climate action they intend to take – or have already.


By the time nations assembled in Paris, over 600 local and subnational governments reporting to the ICLEI-managed carbonn Climate Registry, an official reporting platform of the Compact of Mayors, pledged a total reduction of 1 gigatonne of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) by 2020. This is roughly the equivalent of the total greenhouse gas emissions reductions achieved by the European Union between 1990 and 2012.


As a global network of cities, towns and regions and leader of the LGMA Constituency, ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability knows full well that our work is far from over. Local and subnational governments must continue to prove their commitments while pushing for stronger action by nations and coordination among all levels of government.


We must move quickly if we are to achieve Paris ambitions. There is still a 14-GtCO2e gap between current national commitments and the emissions reductions needed to keep the world well below the 2-degree threshold. In the meantime, scientific evidence continues to underscore the troubling effects of even a 1.5-degree rise in global temperatures, and we are on the way towards a 3-degree rise by the end of the century.


It is likely that by the end of this year, 15 to 20 percent of the carbon budget will already be emitted, making it difficult to stay under the 1.5-degree threshold if this trend continues for much longer. If projections prove true, the amount of global emissions in 2016 will be comparable to 2015, when the world collectively generated 39.7 GtCO2e emissions.


These figures paint a clear picture of the global context as we prepare for the next climate conference in Marrakech. Here, nations and stakeholders will focus on translating the landmark Paris Agreement into rapid action at a global scale. Bridging the emissions gap is within reach in many respects. We have the technological means to materially make the low-carbon transition a reality, and developing nations have the opportunity to follow a sustainable path as their level of energy consumption edges closer towards that of developed nations. Developed nations have the resources necessary to go carbon neutral and 100 percent renewable by 2050. Some of them have already pledged to do so, with leadership from their cities. Denmark has committed to this goal, while the capital Copenhagen aims to be carbon neutral by 2025.


National political will and a strong, unified push from cities, towns and regions will make a substantial difference.


The new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, formed through a recent merger between the Compact of Mayors and the European Covenant of Mayors, is one key avenue through which local governments can quantify their contributions to the NDCs. The new Global Covenant is a 7,100-strong coalition that will enable local governments to report their concrete commitments and act as an increasingly unified force with a measurable impact, both nationally and globally.


This substantiated contribution can and should encourage nations to engage with and support local and subnational governments. By supporting wide-scale local action, nations can, in turn, raise their own ambitions.


Through legislation, fiscal incentives, progressive taxation, funding schemes and capacity building programs, national governments can play their part in providing the necessary framework conditions for local action. But it is also important that local and subnational governments continue to have a strong voice and tell nations what they need.


From here on out, we must see unwavering determination to overcome the climate change challenge. We need nations to rapidly ratify the Paris Agreement to ensure it enters into force as quickly as possible while building implementation processes that bring together all levels of government and other key stakeholders.


A huge task is before us: to keep climate change at bay and to deliver a worldwide transition from one development and energy paradigm to another in less than one generation.


We are pushing nations to act swiftly and boldly to honour their commitments and open doors that bring all levels of government together.


Local climate action will continue regardless of how nations proceed. However, to truly globalize climate action and other efforts towards sustainability, our efforts must be concerted, connected and ambitious.




ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability is the leading global network of over 1,500 cities, towns and regions committed​ to building​ a sustainable future.


By helping the ICLEI Network to become sustainable,​ low-carbon, ecomobile, resilient, biodiverse, resource-efficient, healthy and happy, with a green economy and smart infrastructure, we impact over 25% of the global urban population.


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