Climate action in cities: the key to closing the emissions gap and creating resilient communities

Local action is the linchpin of a climate-safe, resilient future in our cities and towns. This week, visionary local leaders from around the world are coming together at the Seoul Mayors Forum for Climate Change 2016 to pave a unified path towards stronger global climate action.


Climate change is, as always, a hot topic around the world. The present moment is no exception.

Nearly one year has passed since nations reached consensus on the historic Paris Agreement at COP21, and they will soon reconvene at the climate COP in Marrakech. Accelerating climate action will be front and center at this COP – a theme that fits the ambitious cities and towns around the world that are tackling climate change  through low-emission development and resilience building.

Yet the Paris Agreement is not the only vehicle where climate change must be addressed. It is undoubtedly linked to the active debate on sustainable urbanization coming out of preparations for Habitat III in Quito, which will help define the course for urbanization in the coming decades. The reality for cities is that they must curb current greenhouse gas emissions while managing the implications of rapid urbanization, including the valuable infrastructure and booming populations that are increasingly vulnerable to a changing climate.

Despite progress towards establishing these global frameworks and the clear urgency of action, the world is behind where it ought to be.

There is a 14-gigaton gap between national commitments and the emissions reductions needed to keep the world well below the 2-degree Celsius target established in the Paris Agreement. In fact, the world is on track towards a global temperature rise of around 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

Now is the time for cities and towns to call for greater climate mitigation ambition and to expand and connect their many contributions, making it clear that cities are critical in filling the current emissions gap. The city level is also the level where adaptation and resilience is required to protect people, infrastructure and environment from damaging impacts.

It is at this opportune moment that the City of Seoul is convening close to 40 cities, including 19 mayors and deputy mayors, at the Seoul Mayors Forum for Climate Change 2016. With leadership from Mayor Park Won Soon, local leaders at the Seoul Mayors Forum will zero in on and develop a unified message around climate action towards nations and international forums. The event will also serve as a tool to place pressure on national governments to move quickly on ratifying the Paris Agreement.

Seoul itself is committed to ambitious and transparent climate action and is a powerful purveyor of any message that calls for stronger climate ambition. In 2015, the city committed to the Compact of Mayors and has since complied with all requirements that enable this coalition to offer hard evidence that cities are true climate leaders. When joining the Compact, Seoul developed the Seoul Action Plan to motivate other cities and towns to report and act on their commitments, setting Seoul on a path to reduce its emissions by 25 percent by 2020 and by 40 percent by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

These targets are driven in part by successful implementation of the One Less Nuclear Power Plant project, which will ultimately avoid 10 million tons of greenhouse gases, or 1 ton per citizen.

Powered by cities like Seoul, the Compact of Mayors has set its sights on expanding the evidence that cities have a significant collective impact on the fight against climate change. The Compact recently joined forces with the European Covenant of Mayors to create the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, a 7,100-city coalition that will be a key avenue for cities to prove that their actions directly support national commitments.

The Seoul Mayors Forum will highlight the many ways in which cities can scale up their ambitions, such as through sustainable procurement. Seoul launched the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement in partnership with ICLEI to create a worldwide network of leading cities using this direct and practical tool to tackle climate change.

The event also looks ahead towards upcoming opportunities for deepening the focus on cities and climate change. Dr Hoesung Lee, Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will deliver a keynote address that paves the way towards the dedicated conference and special report on cities and climate change. This follows a successful #CitiesIPCC campaign among ICLEI and our partners earlier this year.

At the forum, Seoul is joined by a number of like-minded and motivated local leaders from Aspen in the United States, Catbalogan in the Philippines, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Thimphu in Bhutan, among many others. Together they will celebrate the accomplishments of cities and towns and shape the road ahead with a clear statement on what they as local governments commit to and expect from nations in accelerating global climate action.

The opening plenary and 1st mayoral session on 1 September will be shown live at