Hit the ground running at the opening day of Daring Cities 2021

ICLEI Director of Global Advocacy, Yunus Arikan, says Day One of Daring Cities 2021 (4 October 2021) will remind us how the fight against climate change is a race against time. And it’s a race in more ways than one.

“This is a race like no other, because we have a long way to go. So it’s a bit like a marathon. But it’s also a sprint, because we have to be fast. And at the same time it’s also a relay, because we’ll never finish the task of climate mitigation in one generation,” observes Arikan.

He doesn’t stop with the analogy there. “Dealing with climate change is also like a race with hurdles, because there are so many obstacles.”

Daring Cities 2021 promises to build on the momentum established earlier this year with the virtual portion of ICLEI’s World Congress 2021-2022 (hosted by the City of Malmö). And it is hoped that the participants at the coming week’s sessions will pass the proverbial baton to those attending COP26 in November in Glasgow… and beyond that, at The Malmö Summit next spring.

Apart from dealing with the ravages of COVID-19 these past two years, cities have borne the brunt of climate-related disasters ranging from rampant forest fires to what were previously known as 100-year storms, now occurring almost on an annual basis.

It’s fitting then Arikan says that “Day One’s theme is all about mobilization at the local level.” As such, the first day focuses solely on local and regional representatives.

“We are starting the conference with our own, local resources… people from cities who have demonstrated both the courage and appetite to fight climate change at the local level,” he says.

Monday’s very first session, hosted by Arikan, will feature a unique, multi-stakeholder ‘fireside chat’ tied to the theme of ‘The Time to Act is Now’, that will include Katja Dörner, Mayor of Bonn – which is also the host city of Daring Cities 2021.

In a recent interview, Mayor Dörner portrayed Bonn as a “key player in finding solutions for a better world” with a mix of organizations and professionals she describes as “dedicated fighters”… capable of dealing with everything from water management to biodiversity to climate mitigation and disaster recovery. The city has become a hub for sustainability and is home not only to the United Nations Campus but also the ICLEI World Secretariat.

Mayor Dörner will be joined by Abigail Binay, Mayor, City of Makati in the Philippines, who just this past summer was appointed a Board Member by the Global Covenant of Mayors, in recognition of her ambitious carbon reduction goals for Southeast Asia.

Rounding out the panel discussion will be Heeta Lakhani, Co-Focal Point of UNFCCC Youth NGO Constituency. Heeta is a climate educator from Mumbai, India with a Masters degree in Environmental Studies and Resource Management. She has been active at the local as well as international level since the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in 2015.

It promises to be a compelling mix of different continents, generations and disciplines delivering a variety of perspectives on getting past simply just declaring climate change an emergency and as the session description conveys: putting words into action.

The following session on Day One, tied to the theme of ‘Leading by Example’, will provide real world examples of local action being taken in response to climate change. Presenters include the likes of Ms. Vera Revina Sari, Acting Governor for Spatial Planning and Environment, Jakarta. By virtue of both her position and educations (she has a Master of Engineering in Urban Engineering and a Bachelor of Engineering in Regional and City Planning), Revina Sari is well positioned to comment on the major task of relocating Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to a “yet-to-be-built city in Kalimantan”, more than 1,000km away.

As reported in the Guardian the capital move is motivated at least in part due to Jakarta’s current environmental challenges, ranging from poor air quality to the fact that the city is actually sinking (due to widespread extraction of groundwater) and with rising sea levels, will be even more prone to potentially disastrous flooding in the future.

Arikan describes the move as “one of the biggest relocation projects in Asia” that is also giving rise to environmental concerns over the it will have on pristine forest land where Kalimantan will be located and the threat of deforestation.

Later in the day, Arikan says he is looking forward to a session that will include Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of the City of Hoboken in the U.S.

Hoboken, which is situated on the Hudson River in the state of New Jersey, was only the third city in the world – and the first in the U.S., to declare a climate emergency in 2017. Since then, Hoboken has joined the Race to Zero campaign, committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and transitioning municipal government operations to zero emissions by 2035.

As conveyed by Bhalla, the city hopes to achieve the latter goal through initiatives ranging from transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy sources for municipal facilities, by significantly expanding Hoboken’s composting operations to reduce landfill waste and upgrading city lighting to energy efficient LEDs.

In the case of the U.S. in particular, Arikan observes that it’s critical that the Biden administration’s $2 trillion proposal to improve the nation’s infrastructure and move to green energy gets passed (though it has stalled in the U.S. Congress). Otherwise “no U.S. city will be able to make any meaningful progress toward their carbon reduction targets over the next eight to ten years.”

To make that sort of injection of cash possible from higher levels of government, whether in the U.S. or in other countries around the world, Arikan says cities need to remain focussed on what he describes as the three key ingredients to success when it comes to multi-level engagement, that are all tied to people power. “We need wise leaders. We need skilled staff. And we need to have strong community engagement. Because if you have that, cities will get noticed and then regional and national governments will get on board.”

To preview the opening day sessions October 4 as well as those for the duration of the five-day event, follow this link.