ICLEI: COP17 must engage local governments

In an exclusive article for RTCC, Konrad Otto-Zimmermann, Secretary General of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), argues that truly sustainable policies to tackle climate change must be implemented by cities and local government.

Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge of our generation, and it will stay with us for generations to come. We are facing a global challenge which needs to be tackled on a globally coordinated scale.

The solutions, however, need to take into account regional and local circumstances and engage local communities in the implementation to be most effective and efficient.

In the field of ‘climate governance’, cities and local governments have achieved a tremendous success at the UN climate talks in Cancun in December 2010. A major goal of the Local Government Climate Roadmap that started in Bali in 2007, was the recognition that local governments shall have a more active role in global climate governance since they are elected representatives with political and economic power.

Before Cancun local governments were tied into the category ‘non-governmental’, not doing justice to the crucial role that local governments play in implementing policies and measures against climate change.

For the first time in UNFCCC history, the tireless work of local governments at the negotiations has resulted in a reference to local governments as ‘governmental stakeholders’ in official documents at COP16. We had expected very little from Cancun, but in the end managed to achieve a key goal we had been aiming for for decades.

Hopes for COP17

While cities and local governments have reached their first objective of being recognized as ‘governmental stakeholders’, the Local Government Climate Roadmap laid out two further climate governance goals we are still working towards.

The second objective is to be fully engaged in the process of designing a framework for climate action and in the decision-making process. The third objective is to be empowered to take action.

Our expectation for COP17 is that the global climate change regime continues to further engage local governments as key actors, and that negotiations, for example on the Green Climate Fund, will focus on empowering local governments to implement the much needed climate change solutions.

Cities and local governments are implementing climate-related decisions and policies locally every day, and they will continue to implement climate change solutions even without a much needed global framework to support them.

If a flood hits a town, the Mayor may not be able to wait until the next round of climate talks has produced a post-Kyoto agreement. The local reality can be very different from the global reality. However, in order to be able to act, cities need to have more funding, capacity and an enabling policy framework.

Local government: Part of the solution

Cities and local governments are the ones implementing climate change action, and as ‘governmental stakeholders’ they should be an integral part in the decision-making process.

They also need to be structurally encouraged and supported to put forward funding proposals that are designed on the basis of local needs, to ensure that climate action is done most effectively and with the greatest possible impacts.

At COP17 we will again be holding up the flag for locally designed policies and actions that will enable citizens and communities to manage the impacts of climate change in the most effective way, and thereby contribute to national and global climate change goals.


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