Global commitments, local opportunities: What will 2022 bring for cities?

As local governments assess their agendas for 2022 onwards, including understanding their territories’ contributions to national climate commitments, climate action remains one of the top priorities. More frequent and extreme weather events, growing trends of urbanization, rising energy demand, and an increase in global temperatures, require an urgent response. What can they do to reduce climate vulnerability in their territories?

No corner of the world will be able to avoid the harmful effects of the climate emergency. Cities and towns face specific challenges unique to their urban make-up, likely to be amplified by faster urbanization due to climate-induced migration, providing basic services for all, and employment opportunities to safeguard family livelihoods but a few examples. Responding to dangerous levels of air pollution goes hand in hand with climate action, reducing harmful emissions. Just a few weeks back, Londoners were told to avoid outdoor physical activity as the city’s air pollution reached health-harming levels, and Delhi’s annual air pollution problem is well known, among many other cities around the globe.

For many local and regional governments, 2022 will be a decisive year for re-defining their roadmaps for achieving 2030 and 2050 climate goals. Shaped by the release of the IPCC reports on ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ and ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’, and by global milestones like the World Urban Forum in June and COP27 in November, the push to create a sustainable future will shine a strong light on local climate action. Right now, subnational governments are re-assessing where they currently stand, where they need to be and how to get there – the three crucial Talanoa Dialogue questions to guide the way.

Yet, integrated climate action planning is notoriously complex and underfunded. The challenge for local governments in most countries is that this remains a voluntary area of action – despite the global climate emergency. Considering that many national governments are struggling to make adequate progress, despite having access to relevant data, funding, and the freedom to design policy, how might subnationals then succeed, where countries have fallen short?

Considering that 2022 is a decisive year that counts to move from planning to action, let’s focus on opportunities! The local level of government is closest to citizens and local businesses, focusing on their socio-economic well-being. This can be a strong driver and mobilizer for coordinated commitments and the co-design of the Climate Action Plan, triggering innovation and co-ownership. No local government can do this alone. The potential of intensifying effects for urban populations to find proactive approaches to financial, political, and epistemic hurdles, is well known.

There is also global support. The GreenClimateCities (GCC) Program is ICLEI’s global climate impact program, offering support to the ICLEI network to accelerate climate action. This also serves the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), where ICLEI is a founding partner. The biggest global alliance for climate leadership, the Global Covenant works with leading Mayors around the globe to mobilize ambitious climate and energy action, from commitment to investment in local action – and tracking progress over time. ICLEI experts are engaged in all the technical working groups to co-define the strategy and support offered.

By bringing local urban leaders together, the GCoM supports local governments in three pillars: 1) climate change mitigation, 2) climate change adaptation, and 3) securing access to sustainable and affordable energy. The Covenant and its partners have engaged over 11,500 local governments in core initiatives that offer practical support and resources to deliver meaningful, science-based climate plans.

Networks like ICLEI are instrumental core partners for the alliance, acting as primary support points for participating local governments. For example, ICLEI offers GCoM signatories technical support through trainings, consultations, and analyses to help them combat climate change in their cities, as well as globally. At the same time, local government staff can learn from and exchange with each other, engaging with other peers in the network that are experiencing similar challenges in the context of the climate emergency.

Through the GCoM and its partners, cities and towns can additionally publicly commit to climate neutrality as their contribution to achieve the global climate goals through the Cities Race to Zero, a cities-specific track of the broader UNFCCC Race to Zero initiative, which aims to halve global emissions by 2030. ICLEI encourages cities and towns to set, which are climate goals to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) above pre-industrial levels based on science and clear emissions reduction pathways.

Local governments can further complement this concerted focus on climate change mitigation through the sister campaign Cities Race to Resilience, led by ICLEI. With a focus on tackling urban climate vulnerability to safeguard people and nature, the campaign urges Mayors to commit to adaptation and resilience measures in their urban planning. ICLEI highly recommends integrated climate action – bringing the lens of adaptation, resilience, and mitigation to each action, to optimize design and impact.

“Building resilience is an essential element of global climate action, especially for communities most affected by the climate crisis. The aim of the Cities Race to Resilience is to place those voices front and center, and ensure that climate resilience goals are treated with the same if not greater urgency as our race to halve emissions by 2030.”

– Nigel Topping, UK High-Level Climate Action Champion

By providing an entry point and guidance on making these types of commitments, the GCoM and ICLEI enable local governments to take action and future-proof their cities and towns from climate-induced hazards, focusing on drastic emissions reduction – for a safe, sustainable future.

The climate clock is ticking. There is no time left to waste in implementing ambitious and impactful climate action. Yet, 2022 also offers a wide scope of exciting opportunities for local leaders to amplify their climate action and step up ambitious mitigation and adaptation plans. Join the ICLEI network, commit to the Global Covenant, and benefit from guidance and support offers tailor-made to local action. Showcase your climate neutrality leadership through the Race to Zero, and your global commitment to resilience through the Race to Resilience. The support offers will expand in 2022 and beyond.