Initially published by YPLD and republished in Atlantic Cities’ blog (September 2014)
Many studies affirm the importance of the local level when tackling climate change. Cities concentrate the most part of the population, the energy consumption and the pollution due to transports. Thus, local authorities are the best placed to find significant tools to reduce the carbon footprint of human activities.
However, they acknowledge that they cannot do it by themselves and that individual actions may not have any major impact unless they are repeated elsewhere and a critical mass is achieved. To this end, local authorities have signed “Climate Charters” so as to define common strategies, not only for fighting against climate change but also to cooperate together.
Already in 1992, at the Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created to increase awareness on the challenges posed by Climate Change to development. Its goal is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, so as to reduce human interference. In order to do so, national greenhouse gas inventories were undertaken.
This treaty is accompanied by the famous Kyoto protocol, which states mandatory emission limits per country and whose renewal is doubtful. The results of the last Climate Conferences, known as Conference of the Parties (COP) were not positive in terms of engagement of States. During these meetings, participants called for a proactive inclusion of the local level both in the decisions and the implementation of the measures, thus creating an specific group “local authorities” parallel to the COP.
In the European Union, so as to ensure the application of the EU Climate and Energy Package, the European Commission created the “Covenant of Mayors” in 2008. European local authorities of all sizes are eligible as signatories of the Covenant, whose objectives become then compulsory. Joining the Covenant, the municipality engages to define a “Sustainable Energy Plan” which is intended to reduce emissions in its territory by 20% by 2020. Other obligations are to develop adequate administrative structures, including allocation of sufﬁcient human resources, in order to undertake the necessary actions and prepare a Baseline Emission Inventory. Every second year after the signature, the municipality must submit an implementation report for assessment. If the local authority does not comply with the agreement, it can be sent off.
Apart from the initiatives created by intergovernmental bodies, cities have also organized themselves at an international scale. Organizations like ICLEI and Energy-Cities or networks like Urban Climate Research, Cities & Climate and Sustainable Cities enhance cooperation across borders.
When arising from local authorities themselves, the Charters tend to be more flexible, as shown by the example of the Global Cities Covenant on Climate or the Atlantic San Sebastian Charter. The last one was intended to defend the position of cities located in the European Atlantic Area as a model of green, cohesive and attractive places including all the pillars of sustainable development. Signed in 2008 by the members of the Conference of Atlantic Arc Cities, the San Sebastian Charter intends to tackle key issues such as seeking best examples in environmental matters, sustainable and innovative economic development; strengthening social cohesion and diversity; developing more open, effective and ambitious cooperation and supporting and enhancing the shared identity of Atlantic cities and their maritime heritage.
More recently, the World Mayors Summit on Climate opened the Global Cities Covenant on Climate (“the Mexico City Pact”) for signatures in its meeting in 2010. A secretariat was then established. By signing the Pact, Mayors and local authority representatives commit to voluntarily reduce their emissions and adopt mitigation measures; to develop local adaptation strategies; to register their emission inventories, commitments and measures; to seek the creation of appropriate international funding mechanisms, to foster the involvement of civil society, multilateral institutions and national governments and to promote partnerships, city-to-city cooperation and the message of the Pact.
The Mexico City Pact has also created a Registry, the carbonn® Cities Climate Registry (cCCR) as the global mechanism for reporting local climate information. The carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR) is a global mechanism that encourages local governments to regularly and publicly report on their greenhouse gas reduction commitments, GHG emissions inventories and climate mitigation/adaptation actions.
Local authorities have opted to implement their climate change policies within an integrated and socially responsible perspective. This responsibility applies to all axes of action of the Municipal Council, as service provider, as the city planner and as democratically elected organization. At the same time, this responsible action is not confined to the local environment, but it expands to the international level.
It should be noted that this vision is not limited to the operational implementation, but that the objective is to achieve a paradigm shift, where the accumulation of small gestures of sustainable behaviour will give rise to a substantial reduction in emissions, through the promotion of citizen participation. The awareness of citizens has a visible influence on climate strategies.