Strength in numbers

March 8, 2010

Local governments seize Copenhagen opportunity to have greater impact on international climate change discussions

By Nathan Johnson

One week into a difficult fortnight of international negotiations in Copenhagen last December, the LG Action project COP 15 media update reflected the interest of local governments in playing an increasingly vital role in attempts to achieve real breakthroughs in tackling climate change. However, no matter how concerted and innovative their efforts to meet environmental challenges, local governments will be powerless to affect real change if national governments do not improve enabling frameworks. Joint action is the key!

ALL EARS: Local political decision-makers attend the Local Government Climate Lounge during COP 15. Photo courtesy of LG Action

More than half the world's population now lives in urban areas, and cities currently account for approximately three-quarters of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. Locally-derived environmental solutions are not only desirable, they are absolutely necessary. Responding to the need for action, 1,200 mayors and local leaders gathered in Copenhagen to urge national governments to work more closely with local governments in pursuing progressive climate protection targets. On December 7, the first day of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15), ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability presented an intensive city programme at its Local Government Climate LOUNGE - a rallying point for sharing city and network activities from around the globe.

From the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region, a contingent of 15 mayors, deputy mayors and senior local government network representatives participated in the LG Action project workshop held at the Climate LOUNGE. They used the opportunity to share approaches to sustainable energy solutions in their respective cities, also citing associated challenges and needs. Among others key issues they highlighted were the need for enabling framework conditions at EU and national levels, which include up-to-date information, enhanced staff capacity, easier access to finances and practical technical assistance.

One presenter at the LG Action event, speaking on behalf of the Union of Towns and Municipalities from the Czech Republic, argued that the international-level mitigation process was too slow. With local governments directly answerable to their constituencies on a daily basis, this makes the level for mitigation and adaptation-oriented strategies practical and effective. A few examples of such efforts include: energy efficient street lighting, thermal insulation of buildings, new public transportation vehicles, creation or expansion of bicycle paths, recycling strategies and improved waste management schemes. Further, state and EU agencies are needed to help harmonise methods of mitigation and adaptation, also in order to facilitate accurate and useful evaluation.

BUILDING MOMENTUM: The LG Action project team at the Copenhagen Climate Exchange. Photo courtesy of LG Action

Some second-week Climate LOUNGE highlights include the following: On 14 December 2009, ICLEI President David Cadman and Copenhagen Mayor for the Environment Klaus Bondam presented the Copenhagen Climate Catalogue to Lykke Friis, the Danish Minister for Climate Change and Energy. The catalogue is a statement from local governments containing more than 3,200 pledges to local action, and will again be presented at the next Conference of Parties in Mexico.

Lord Nicholas Stern, author of The Stern Review, headed a lineup of high-profile speakers at the LOUNGE, "one of the busiest corners of the packed COP 15 building," according to the New York Times. More speakers addressed standing-room-only crowds on Dec. 16 during the ICLEI side event held in cooperation with the hugely successful Copenhagen Climate Summit for Mayors.

Despite the limitations of the Copenhagen Accord, the main outcome of the international negotiations during COP 15, local governments attended COP 15 in record numbers. This is a genuine cause for optimism as the world waits and prepares for the next round of global discussions in November-December 2010.