Accelerating the Race to Zero carbon: Multiple paths leading to the same destination

From left to right: Shinjiro Koizumi, Minister of Environment of Japan; Minna Arve, Mayor of Turku, Finland; Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of Bonn, Germany, and ICLEI President.

One of the toughest parts of fulfilling the Paris Agreement goals is understanding the path to success. What does it take to muster the political will and support to make an ambitious commitment? How can all levels of government move capital that will result in investments that decrease carbon emissions?

Surfacing and showcasing those leaders and organizations who are on the path, who have gotten in the race, is part of the work of organizations like ICLEI.

This World Environment Day is the official launch of Race to Zero, the global campaign of the Climate Action Champions of the UN Climate Change Convention to mobilize leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery, which creates jobs, unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth and reduces the risk of future shocks.

The Race to Zero builds on the Climate Ambition Alliance, which was announced in Madrid last year, by COP25 High-Level Champion Gonzalo Muñoz along with COP25 President Minister Carolina Schmidt. This group is a renewed alliance of countries, non-state, sub-national and local actors who are determined to follow the Paris Agreement and the recommendations of science as regards climate change.

And cities are coming to the table. Speaking at COP25, as part of the Climate Ambition Alliance, and representing the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities Constituency (LGMA), Mayor Minna Arve, of Turku, Finland – which has committed to being carbon neutral by 2029, especially through the development of Turku’s circular economy – said, “One of the most important things cities can offer is accountability. As we are close to our citizens, companies and stakeholders, they can see and take hold of the ones responsible for decision-making and implementation. We invite all Parties to reach out to their local and regional governments. Together we can collectively raise climate ambition and bring hope to Glasgow at COP26 for a new era.”

ICLEI is collaborating with the Chilean and UK Climate Action Champions, and their partners towards COP26 to enhance the effectiveness of the Climate Ambition Alliance by developing additional guidance to maximize emissions reduction impacts of climate neutrality targets of local and regional governments worldwide, provided that such collaboration efforts are supported by additional financial resources to mobilize the necessary human and technical services.

At COP25 in December 2019, ICLEI Pioneers of Climate Ambition list captured over 400 cities, towns and regions that have adopted a climate emergency declaration, committed to climate neutrality, transitioning towards 100%Renewables or divesting from fossil fuels. More than 200 of those have started to take their own journeys on this Race to Zero, working to mobilize up – to the national government level – and responding to civil society demands from the streets. These are two such stories – the story of how 91 cities and prefectures in Japan have declared carbon zero by 2050 – and the city of Bonn, Germany, which will be climate neutral by 2035.

Japan deepens local government commitment, to drive national ambition

Japan has long led in a practice of deep multi-level and collaborative climate action. In 1996, on the way to hosting COP3 in 1997 in Kyoto, which concluded with the historic Kyoto Protocol, Japanese government issued a legislation that required cities and prefectures to account and monitor their GHG emissions. The City of Kyoto has since acted as the custodian of the Kyoto Protocol with the motto “Do you Kyoto?”.

In 2011, Japan was mobilized as the first national supplement to carbonn Cities Climate Registry that kicked-off in 2010 with the Mexico City Pact. By 2013, 133 Japanese cities and prefectures, covering eighty percent of Japanese GHG emissions, reported 100s of GHG emissions inventories and mitigation commitments at Icarbonn Climate Registry.

We’ve seen a heightened level of exchange between local, regional and national government representatives more recently. In 2016, under the Japanese Presidency of the G7, the first Environment Ministerial roundtable with Mayors was hosted in Toyama. In 2018, five sessions of Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogues were held in Japan. In 2019, under the Japanese presidency of the G20, Nagano Prefecture presented Nagano Declaration on Collaborative Action for Sustainable Development at the G20 Environment Ministers meeting. The Governor of Tokyo also handed over the U20 Communique to the Prime Minister of Japan as G20 President.

The story truly began to peak in late 2019, when 28 Japanese cities and prefectures announced their net zero commitment at an ICLEI side event at the Japan Pavilion at COP25, with the participation of Japan’s Minister of Environment, Shinjiro Koizumi. These cities also became a part of the UNFCCC Climate Ambition Alliance. Immediately after COP25, Minister Koizumi wrote a special letter to Japanese cities and prefectures inviting them to committee to net zero carbon.

But this local momentum can’t substitute entirely for national ambition. So in February 2020, when Japan submitted its 2nd NDC without changing the ambition level announced at the first NDC, there was a certain degree of disappointment by all stakeholders.

In the past two months however, there have been some new, exciting developments. In April 2020, at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, Minister Koizumi announced that Japan will submit its third NDC by COP26, which will be new and more ambitious than the 2nd NDC. Most of the measures to which he referred were linked to the sectors under the authorities of local and prefectural governments.

And finally, on 7 May 2020 the Ministry of Environment of Japan announced 91 Japanese cities and regions committing to net zero, adding 63 new cities and regions to Japan’s already impressive list. These cities will be announced as part of the Race to Zero on World Environment Day, 5 June 2020.

Throughout this process, and the roadmap afterwards, the Japanese Ministry of Environment has recognized ICLEI Japan as their leading partner to support the process. If it proves to be successful in raising the climate ambition of NDC, this unique Japanese model of multilevel and collaborative climate action may inspire many countries around the world regardless of their development level, size or geography.

Bonn, Germany: a journey of holistic and ambitious climate action from voluntary commitment to climate neutrality

The City of Bonn is one of the pioneering cities that started from the early 1990s to adopt voluntary GHG emissions reductions targets, thanks to its administration and leadership, collaboration with city networks, and engaging in national and European policies. This awareness and readiness enabled Bonn to become one of the first signatories of the European Covenant of Mayors.

In 2010, Bonn complemented its climate mitigation by increasing investments on climate resilience and adaptation. The City also brought this vision to a global stage by co-hosting ICLEI’s annual Resilient Cities Congress as the global forum on urban resilience and adaptation, in tandem with the annual UNFCCC Bonn Climate Conference.

In 2010 and 2011, Bonn established further strategies und structures for climate protection, including the creation of the Bonn Energy Agency offering consultation for homeowners, and adoption of the masterplan on energy transition and climate protection, which included the formation climate protection focal point within the administration and a climate council with representatives from science, economy, and civil society.

Bonn was also part of the development of ICLEI’s carbonn Climate Registry, which was recognized as one of the first data providers of the UNFCCC NAZCA Global Climate Action Portal since 2014.

Leading up to and after the 2015 Paris Agreement, Bonn enhanced its engagement in the UNFCCC process, by participating in the Marrakech Partnership, Action for Climate Empowerment and the Talanoa Dialogues. Starting in 2016, Bonn intensified engagement in climate adaptation by actively participating in several research projects with the goal to further include adoption issues in urban planning processes.

In 2018, under the leadership of Ashok Sridharan as ICLEI President, the ICLEI network adopted its Montreal Strategic Vision, with a vision towards climate neutrality, and the next year, Bonn developed its own sustainability strategy to align with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In mid-2019, Bonn City Council adopted a declaration of climate emergency based on an application by the initiatives Fridays For Future, Parents For Future und Klimawache Bonn. Later that year, the Council voted that Bonn become climate neutral by 2035, three years before Germany’s deadline of coal phase-out and Bonn was listed in the Climate Ambition Alliance announced by COP25 Presidency in Madrid.

In May 2020, building on the work of the City Administration, the Bonn City Council reserved an additional budget of €5 million for measures to comply with climate emergency and make their commitments a reality.

Looking into the future, Bonn will once again bring urgent climate work to a global stage when the City and ICLEI, in collaboration with the State of North Rhein Westphalia, the Federal Ministry of Environment, and Federal Ministry of Development Cooperation will convene Daring Cities 2020 – The Global Virtual Forum of Urban Leaders Tackling on Climate Emergency, as a means to connect post-pandemic recovery efforts with the global efforts to raise climate ambition towards COP26 and beyond.

After COVID-19, where are we racing to?

The response to COVID-19 is currently focused on the necessary, immediate need to fight against the virus, as well as providing emergency short-term financial support to households and businesses. But very soon – even already today – the response will shift to rebuilding the economy, including long-term stimulus packages from governments. The scale of these fresh capital injections, likely ten to twenty trillion US dollars, will determine what the economy – and our planet – will look like over the next decade.

It is vital that action on climate is an essential component of a successful economic recovery, rather than in opposition to it, and cities and regions will have to be a part of that equation.