Lotus Lantern Festival on Cheonggye Stream (c)SMG 2013

Cities will lead the fight against climate change at the ICLEI World Congress 2015

Over the last 15-20 years, national governments have been struggling to reach a consensus on the action that is required to limit catastrophic global warming. Yet outside of the high-level conferences, there is hope and progress. All over the world, cities and local governments have been developing and implementing revolutionary practices to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as to transform their societies to become more resource-efficient and smart.

This is no small matter. At the beginning of the twentieth century, around 15 percent of the global population lived in cities. Today, more than half do. The number of cities continues to grow, and so do the cities themselves: Shanghai, Karachi, and Beijing now have more than 20 million inhabitants each.

The changes we make in cities therefore have a huge impact on the wellbeing of the planet. To stimulate the progress that local governments are making, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability will welcome global leaders on urban sustainability to Seoul in April 2015 for ICLEI’s triannual World Congress. Entitled “Sustainable Solutions for an Urban Future”, the ICLEI World Congress 2015 will bring the mayors and officials of ICLEI’s member cities together with high-level representatives from international organizations, financing institutions, business, research and civil society.

The host city of the ICLEI World Congress 2015 is a shining example of urban sustainability. Seoul – the capital of South Korea – is home to nearly 10 million people. With a population density twice that of New York and eight times that of Rome, it has become an example of how economic growth creates vibrant, frenetic urban centers. However, Seoul’s “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” initiative has also shown how cities can make a tangible difference in climate change efforts.

The “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” initiative was implemented in order to respond to the potential crisis caused by the continually rising demand for electricity. Seoul Metropolitan Government partnered with the private sector to produce more energy from new and renewable sources, while encouraging civic associations, companies, religious groups, schools and civil society in general to save energy in daily life. The goal was to reduce energy demand by an amount equivalent to the production of one nuclear power plant. In June 2014, Seoul announced that it had succeeded in reducing its demand by 2 million tons of oil equivalent – six months ahead of schedule.

Initiatives like this will be presented and discussed at the ICLEI World Congress 2015, which will also welcome Bristol, UK (European Green Capital 2015) and Copenhagen (European Green Capital 2014).

The ICLEI World Congress 2015 will build on the growing recognition for local environmental initiatives at the international level. The Mexico City Pact (2010), the Durban Adaptation Charter (2011) and the Compact of Mayors (2014) have all helped to promote the outstanding work being conducted by local governments. In Seoul, this work will continue: governments will share with each other their ideas for a sustainable urban future, inspiring further progress on the climate change challenge.