The ICLEI World Congress 2015 opened today at the iconic Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul, Republic of Korea, officially setting off a landmark four-day platform where mayors and representatives of 250 local governments, and a total of over 1,500 participants, shall discuss and unveil ‘Sustainable Solutions for an Urban Future.’
The event also marks the 25th anniversary of ICLEI as the world’s leading membership association for sustainability.
Seoul Mayor Won Soon Park – who would later be announced as new President of ICLEI – welcomed the delegates to the city of Seoul, one of the world’s leading sustainable megacities. “It is my pleasure to host the ICLEI World Congress, where global leaders come together about the sustainable future of cities in a changing climate,” said Mayor Park. “I hope the World Congress in Seoul will provide meaningful opportunity for you to discuss and identify solutions for the climate and environmental challenges, as well as the roles and relevance of cities.”
Outgoing ICLEI President David Cadman delivered a stirring opening address, looking back on ICLEI’s 25 years of existence and urging further action by cities and subnational governments. “[Two years] before the  Earth Summit in Rio, cities came together and said, ‘we are going to have to make a difference’, if this is going to happen,” he said. “The good news: last year, CO2 emissions have flatlined. This means that all the work being done by subnational governments has created a space where we can actually begin to turn this thing around.”
In view of the upcoming COP 21 in Paris, however, in which nations must finally have to come up with a binding international climate change agreement, Mr. Cadman issued a challenge. “Paris is where cities are going to have to come before national governments and say, ‘we’re not prepared to wait for you any longer; we’re moving ourselves,” he said. “I want to ask all of you: please recruit new members, get other cities involved, get them to influence their national governments. I would like to arrive in Paris with a doubled membership. We cannot fail in Paris.
“We have a lot to answer for for what we can do and what we must do. This is the challenge of the future of this planet.”
Delivering their welcome addresses for the World Congress were Mr. Yeon-man Jeong, Korean Vice Minister for the Environment; Mr. Gino Van Begin, ICLEI Secretary General; Mr. Rae Hak Park, Chairperson of the Seoul Metropolitan Council; Mr. Tae-young Yeom, Secretary General of the Korean National Association of Mayors and Suwon City Mayor; and Ms. Yeonhee Park, Director of the ICLEI Korea Office.
“Our vision has been to provide you with four days of inspiration, sharing, and dialogue, and to help you achieve more at home,” Mr. Van Begin said. “I hope that the ICLEI World Congress 2015 will contribute to your efforts and help you make this planet more sustainable.”
Previous host cities, as represented by Mr. Delio Malheiros, Deputy Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Brazil (2012); Mr. Don Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton, Canada (2009); and Mr. Johannes van der Merwe of Cape Town, South Africa (2006), extended their congratulations to the City of Seoul and the ICLEI World Congress team for this year’s edition.
Lord Mayor Ulrich Sumptoh of Port Vila, Vanuatu, delivered a call for action in the wake of the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam in his country.
High-level addresses were likewise delivered by HRH the Prince of Wales, via an insightful video message; Mr. Xinsheng Zhang, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Executive Chairman of Eco-Forum Global; Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP; and Mr. Tie Li, Director-General of the China Center for Urban Development.
Mr. Zhang noted that the world is at a ‘crossroads,’ the year 2015 being a ‘tipping point,’ but may likewise become a ‘turning point.’ “We’ve already seen the demographic shift to the city,” he said. “The cities and the local governments [have] actually become the core of this world.” Two important events, however, may mark a turning point for all – the UN General Assembly and the COP 21 in Paris.
For his part, Mr. Li noted China’s rapid urbanization – he expects the urbanization rate to reach 70% – making sustainable cities a ‘direct challenge’ in China.
As a final presentation before the opening plenary, Mr. Hoesung Lee, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), discussed the key findings of the Fifth IPCC Assessment Report. “Human influence has been the dominant force in climate change, and many of its aspects will continue for centuries even if emissions are stopped today,” he said. Nevertheless, while certain impacts are irreversible, limits can be placed. “Now is the time to mitigate climate change and come up with equitable pathways. The largest opportunities are in the rapidly urbanizing countries, and cities have a major role to play.”