Four issues to watch at the unstoppable COP25

Written by Yunus Arikan, Head of ICLEI Global Advocacy and Policy, and Matteo Bizzotto, Junior Communications Officer

After a turbulent last-minute change of host country, COP25 is underway in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 13 December 2019 under the Presidency of Chile.

This is not the first time the organization of this UNFCCC event has faced exceptional circumstances. In 2000, COP6 in The Hague suspended and concluded only eight months later in Bonn, just five months before COP7 in Marrakech. In 2017, the government of Fiji held the Presidency of COP23, which was held in Bonn in collaboration with Germany. Both years showed the determination and solidarity between countries, and COP25 will not be any different.

This is the fourth meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement. This year’s COP – the 25th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties – will focus on raising climate ambition ahead of 2020, the year in which countries will update their national climate action plans and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The conference aims to fully operationalize the Paris Agreement, as well as showcase and amplify the climate actions undertaken by cities, regions, business, investors and civil society.

Following the growing wave of climate emergency declarations and climate neutrality commitments, sub-national governments take on renewed relevance in the context of COP25. Local governments and city networks in Chile, Latin America and around the world are uniting their efforts to strengthen the capacity for NDC implementation. Moreover, the recent Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity report shows how focusing on and transforming cities can benefit national governments, secure economic prosperity and avert climate catastrophes.

Within this context, here are the four main topics that local governments should be paying attention to over the next ten days:

1. Latin America’s priorities

Though the delegates have traveled to Madrid, this is still Chile’s COP, and the presidency will represent the priorities of Latin America and the Global South. 

Many examples throughout Latin America will be represented at this year’s COP, showing the continent’s commitments to climate action. 

Recife became the first Brazilian city to declare a Global Climate Emergency. Several cities in Argentina and Colombia are a part of the ICLEI EcoLogistics project to develop viable alternatives to low-quality, diesel-powered freight vehicles, particularly for last-mile logistics, since freight vehicles produce more emissions and congestion than those that carry passengers alone. 

Salvador da Bahía, Brazil was the first city to co-host the Regional Climate Week, an annual regional collaborative platform where both government and non-Party stakeholders gathered to raise awareness and support their societies to achieve global climate neutrality by mid-century. And following the 2019 massive Amazon fires, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Suriname signed a pact to protect the river basin in the world’s largest tropical forest, setting up a disaster response network and satellite monitoring, as well as working on reforestation.

Where to follow Latin America’s priorities in the COP:

2. Climate finance

Climate finance remains a core focus for the COP. In particular, this year’s objective is to fully operationalize the Paris Agreements through Article 6 – the international cooperation for implementing NDCs – making climate action more accessible and beneficial through direct international cooperation, market and non-market-based approaches.

Article 6, in fact, represents a framework with goals for the cooperative mechanisms, but lacks details on how to transfer, count, monitor and verify emissions between countries. These details become even more crucial when using non-market-based approaches (Article 6.8), since the range of cooperation opportunities broadens and even covers technology transfer and capacity-building measures. 

Cities have a huge mitigation potential, especially in regard to infrastructure, but their overall capacities and finance possibilities are constrained. While Article 6 eases local access to international climate finance for high cost-benefit urban infrastructure projects, cities and city networks have already been trying to tackle their constraints and move from words to implementation. For example, the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA), a multi-level and multi-stakeholder coalition committed to deploying finance for city level climate action, was relaunched with a strengthened structure. The European Investment Bank’s and Global Covenant of Mayors’s Global Climate City Challenge represented a pioneering step to offer technical assistance to prepare and fast-track financing of urban climate action projects. The UNFCCC annual Forum on the theme “Climate Finance and Sustainable Cities” signalled a political acknowledgment about climate finance’s significance. 

At the UN Climate Summit, the Leadership for Urban Climate Investments (LUCI) was launched, combining several climate finance initiatives by local, national and international public and private partners to increase the amount and accessibility of climate-related financial resources. Within LUCI, initiatives like the ICLEI-led Transformative Actions Program (TAP) supports local and regional governments to develop robust and bankable projects through a project pipeline and a preparation facility. As of December 2019, the TAP pipeline has 45 projects with an identified investment need of 2.5 billion euro.

Where to watch the finance debate:

3. Social equity

Social equity has been a rapidly emerging topic in recent years. From Gender Day on 10 December to circular development sessions and inclusive climate action, social equity is expected to shape various discussions. 

Member cities of the Urban Transitions Alliance, a city network and knowledge-exchange hub of innovative urban transition policies and projects, will provide their input on equity and inclusion at the COP. Focusing on cities that depended on heavy industrial sector can give precious insights on social equity issues, since their industrial decline, closure or relocation led to surging unemployment and rapid population loss. These long lasting effects primarily impacted specific population groups and neighborhoods, magnifying social divisions. 

Some of these cities are actively working to transition towards a green and just future by harnessing their industrial identity and cultural heritage to tackle local challenges related to climate risk, environmental degradation and inclusivity. The work of the Alliance and its cities has the potential to shape a blueprint of lessons and good practices for cities worldwide on how social equity and climate action can reinforce each other.

Where to watch the equity debate:

4. The Circular Economy

In 2015, materials production was responsible for approximately 11.5 GtCO2e GHG emissions – about 30 percent of the current emissions gap. Using circular approaches to material goods represents a huge opportunity to mitigate GHG emissions – currently, it is estimated that only 9 percent of the materials flowing through the economy come back into the economy. Using a circular approach to production and consumption will decrease the demand for new production and reduce the single use of materials.

Two COP delegations from Japan can demonstrate the effectiveness of circularity in reducing GHG emissions. Nagano Prefecture (Japan) is focusing on resource efficiency and on promoting the regional production of food, energy, and timber in a Comprehensive Five-Year Plan (2018-2022). Included in this plan is a program to increase the utilization of sludge for electricity generation and use in cement factories. 

Recent host of the World Circular Economy Forum, Yokohama aims to reduce food waste by 20 percent by 2021 compared to 2015 levels and has engaged over 800 restaurants and hotels in a common action plan. The city is also collaborating with municipalities situated in nearby rural areas to increase city-region linkages.

Another COP delegate, Turku (Finland) is working with local actors to support new business models that prioritize resource reuse, such as the Smart Chemistry Park. Through its partnership with ICLEI, the city and regional actors are also developing a regional roadmap to achieve zero waste and zero emissions by 2040.  

Where to watch the circular economy debate:

Towards 2020 – and beyond

The overarching objective of this COP is to raise ambition and prepare for COP26, since the current NDCs were prepared before the Paris Agreement was even agreed. In other words, countries entered the “Paris era” with “Kyoto era” commitments that lacked a vision to climate neutrality.

Therefore, COP25 must amplify the momentum of the UN Climate Action Summit, the growing wave of climate emergency declarations and the experience of the Talanoa Dialogues, concluding with clear guidance heading towards the revision of the NDCs that will be presented at COP26 in Glasgow, UK. There, the 26th Conference of the Parties will have the opportunity to establish a roadmap for the next decade of bold action by connecting stakeholders and ministries related to urbanization, infrastructure, art, culture, education and youth. 
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