COP24: Multilateral success in the face of adversity

The international climate negotiations have never been perfectly smooth: political challenges at the national and global level, the shifting priorities of host countries and attendees and the logistical hurdle of creating an all-inclusive framework for tackling climate change have posedserious challenges.

COP24 was expected to be among the most difficult conferences in the history of climate negotiations. The conference took place after Brazil’s election of a climate-skeptic leader in an environmentally critical and developing economy. The host country was facing new elections and an economy traditionally rooted in coal. There was political upheaval in the city and country where the Paris Agreement was born. Many observers predicted the worst for COP24, especially after the struggles of the Bangkok session and a lack of unanimous acceptance of the IPCC’s Special report on 1.5 degrees.

Despite these challenging circumstances,this year’s COP was a powerful example of how multilateral systems can overcome unforeseen shocks and produce tangible results. In the face of this adversity, COP24 still concluded with the adoption of the Paris Agreement Work Programme, also known as the “Katowice Rulebook,” which explicitly details the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Although some technical details were pushed to next year’s COP in Chile, the essential components for delivering multilateral climate action are now in place.

COP24 was also the site of many declarations designed to spark action in critical areas. The Polish Presidency issued, declarations on the adoption of electrified mobility, the protection of forests and the need for a “just transition” for workers in societies making the transition from high carbon to low carbon economies.


Katowice Climate Shift was the culmination of LGMA activity at COP24

Mobilization of local and regional governments

From a local perspective, COP24 was especially remarkable because of its mobilization of local governments and multilevel policy. The COP decision explicitly invites nations  to engage in the inclusive Talanoa Dialogue to help develop their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In parallel, the Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogues have built an organizational framework for connecting local and regional governments to this process. This formal recognition of the Talanoa process presents a golden opportunity for developing multilevel climate action as a mechanism for delivering the NDCs and raising ambition in 2020. At COP24, this opportunity was already visible through the inclusion of the “NDC Partnership Pavillion,” the recognition of an official day for the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and the participation of local and regional leaders at the Ministerial Talanoa Dialogues.

Throughout the conference, ICLE promoted the multilevel climate action through a highly focused agenda. ICLEI staff and representatives engaged with actors of every level to promote the opportunities and benefits of multilevel climate action, and helped form new alliances. We joined, for example, the COP Presidency’s declaration in support of e-mobility as well as the Call for Action from the European Green Capital Network. In total, representatives from ICLEI participated in nearly 100 events throughout the two weeks, with our work culminating at Katowice Climate Shift, hosted by the Presidency, which celebrated the 60 sessions of the Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogues held in 2018.

ICLEI also supported the release of the Policy summary for urban policymakers, a synthesis report of IPCC research and its implications for the future of urban development. ICLEI was also able to share its own flagship publications — Leveraging subnational action to raise climate ambition and Multilevel climate action with actors at the conference.

Between the mobilization of the LGMA, the declarations of the COP Presidency, and the numerous achievements of the Katowice Work Programme, we walk away from COP24 with renewed hope for multilateral climate action, and plenty of tools to make it happen.

A high-angle photo of the many attendees of the event.

Participants at Katowice Climate Shift gather for a family photo. Photo courtesy of the city of Katowice.


What happens next

With these results in mind, the the LGMA Constituency has three main messages for nations and all climate stakeholders worldwide

1. The goals and science are clear. Now is the time to act.

In 2018, the IPCC told us the hard facts on global warming, and nations pushed ahead a robust framework for action. At this point, there’s nothing left to wait for. Now is theIt is time for nations to incorporate data-driven interventions and reporting efforts into their climate action plans.

Grassroots engagements like #TakeYourSeat and the powerful statements from 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, are bottom-up signals that climate action cannot be left only to national governments; citizen engagement is the key to secure a climate-safe world.

2. We must mainstream multilevel climate action.  

The unprecedented experience gained from the Talanoa Dialogues, plus the COP decision recognizing Talanoa, provide the necessary background for local and regional governments to approach to their own national government engage in the current and future NDCs. This must be done to operationalize the inclusion of all levels of government in future climate action.

3. Political momentum must drive the sustainability agenda.

Climate action is highly political. It gains political attention at the highest levels. Now, we are seeing other aspects of the global sustainable development agenda gain stronger political backing: for example, the biodiversity COP15 in Beijing in 2020 is expected to deliver the similar impacts that Paris has given to climate action in 2015.

By the end of 2020, it is imperative that we drastically increase the number of NDCs that are developed in synergy with integrated urban and territorial development for cities living in harmony with nature. This is the recipe to ensure the success for 2030 Agenda and ensuring full transformation to a climate-neutral and high-resilient human development before mid-century.

Events like the 2019 UN Climate Summit in September, back-to-back to the High Level Political Forum with heads of state is our opportunity to make sure critical linkages across all agendas are solidified.  


Before COP24, the Mayors of Bonn and Katowice co-authored a blog calling for greater ambition. Read it here.