ICLEI’s take on what to expect in 2018: The year for a reality check

Last year ended with a sense that the momentum on sustainable development is durable. It was a hard blow when the U.S. backed out of the Paris Agreement, but the global and U.S. domestic response was swift and forceful. All in all, 2017 reaffirmed that nations, cities and towns, regions, civil society and the private sector are behind the global sustainable development agenda, with climate action firmly embedded.

Local and regional governments also solidified their position on the global stage this past year. Midway through 2017, over 1,200 U.S. governors, mayors, joined by investors, businesses and universities, created the We Are Still In movement and visibly reaffirmed their commitment to climate action. By the end of the year, cities, towns, regions and their networks from around the world had adopted the Bonn-Fiji Commitment at the Climate Summit for Local and Regional Leaders at COP23, the 23rd UN Climate Conference in Bonn, and the One Planet Charter at the One Planet Summit in Paris, held just one month later. Both of these commitments reaffirm that local and regional governments are serious about driving action forward.

In 2018, we will start to see how effectively national political will has advanced the global sustainability and climate agenda. If 2017 was any indication, we are also poised to see rapid action at the subnational level. City and regional leaders are heading into 2018 with an eye towards rapid implementation and joint action with all levels of government and in all sectors.

Here is what the year has in store:

The Talanoa Dialogue on national climate action: This year marks the start of the Talanoa Dialogue, an outcome of COP23 aiming to establish in-country consultations on climate change throughout the year, with a clear outcome by COP24. These globally held dialogues aim to answer three basic questions: Where are we on climate change? How can we ensure global temperature rise remains well below 2 degrees Celsius? What steps will get us there? Inspired by Talanoa, an approach used in Fiji and the Pacific, these multi-stakeholder consultations are designed to be participatory and transparent, promote cooperation and ultimately raise the level of ambition in national climate action plans.

By definition, local and regional governments are a critical part of these discussions. Talanoa is an opportunity to shape national policy and implementation systems that give cities, towns and regions resources to execute climate policy. It is a step in the right direction. By COP24, it is vital that these efforts translate into an effective set of rules for implementing the Paris Agreement through multilevel governance – coordinated action across all levels of government.

This year, ICLEI will help advance Talanoa Dialogues in countries like Lao, Rwanda, Colombia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Africa, the Philippines and Vietnam through Urban-LEDS with UN-Habitat, the Ambitious City Promises project and our new multilevel governance initiative with the NDC Partnership.

The IPCC special report on 1.5 degrees: Later this year, the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – will release a special report on the feasibility of achieving the 1.5-degree Celsius target set in the Paris Agreement. We already know that current national climate commitments cover only one-third of the emissions reductions needed to achieve that target – and the IPCC report should assess the feasibility of technologies and policy options to get us there. In all likelihood, the report will underscore that this target will require quick ratcheting up of interventions – and would be impossible through incremental measures.

For our part, in 2018, ICLEI will redouble our efforts to scale up and multiply low emission development through Urban-LEDS and Ambitious City Promises and many other global, regional and national initiatives and projects. We will get more subnational governments on track towards 100 percent renewable energy through coalitions like our 100% Renewable Energy Cities and Regions Network.

Regardless of what the IPCC assessment tells us, we need to prepare for the most intense effects of climate change, not only across the most vulnerable communities, but in all regions of the world. One exciting new initiative where we will connect coastal cities and islands is through Front-line Cities and Islands, a resilience building initiative we launched at COP23 with the Global Island Partnership.

Accelerating shift toward a fossil fuel-free economy: This pathway is critical. According to Climate Analytics, the EU and OECD countries need to stop burning coal for electricity by 2030, China by 2040 and the rest of the world by 2050 if we hope to achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius target. We need to end fossil fuel subsidies and scale up increasingly cost competitive renewable energy technologies and resources.

The divestment movement is building momentum, and 2018 could be a decisive year. A number of cities are already forging ahead on the divestment movement. New York City set the tone this year by deciding to divest its US$ 190 billion retirement fund from fossil fuels and sue major oil companies for climate damages. New York now joins other cities like Stockholm, Seattle, Dunedin and Berlin that have also moved to divest. This could be the start of a wave for cities paving the way to a just transition. This also implies massive investments to switch to renewables.

We already know this transition is possible, and that cities can divest and reinvent local economies. From Pittsburgh to Essen, cities in our Urban Transitions Alliance with an industrial legacy represent stories of deep transformations away from fossil fuel-intensive economies. These cities show us what the global transformation might look like and that it can be done, even in highly industrialized areas.

Continued push to finance local sustainability and climate projects: 2017 ended with a number of announcements at the One Planet Summit in Paris designed to scale up financing. At the subnational level, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM) announced a partnership with the World Bank to mobilize US$ 4.5 billion as loans to support 150 of its committed cities and launched Global Urbis – a partnership with the European Union, European Investment Bank (EIB), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) – to accelerate financing to cities in developing countries with US$ 1.5 billion. It is critical that we see more efforts like this, and that the financial commitments made are unlocked at the local level.

In 2018, Mayor Mauricio Rodas of Quito, with the support of the Global Covenant of Mayors, will lead a group of mayors in the region to implement the Call for Vertical Integration of Local Authorities. Together, these mayors will work with city networks and financial institution partners to release demonstrative Vertically Integrated NDC Investment Plans this year.

ICLEI will be there, as a founding member of the Global Covenant and as an active partner of the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance (CCFLA), making sure that financing mechanisms reach cities, towns and regions, and serve local project pipelines, like the one we set up in our Transformative Actions Program.

Review of the urban goal in the Sustainable Development Agenda: In July 2018, nations will convene at a High Level Political Forum to review progress on a subset of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG11 on cities and human settlements, as well as related goals on energy, production and consumption and biodiversity.

Going forward, to achieve the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is critical that nations take a holistic approach to sustainable development, interlocking national sustainable development and urban policy, and setting up frameworks that support local development.

Through the preparatory work leading up to the High Level Political Forum, ICLEI and our partners in the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments will highlight that local and regional governments have a key role in monitoring and achieving SDG targets.

On the ground, ICLEI will be also working with local and regional governments to take action in areas that cut across the 2030 Agenda like biodiversity around urban areas and sustainable public procurement.

Major global events: Global events keep the conversation alive every year. They place the sustainable development agenda in focus and give a chance for all actors to throw their weight behind it. Here are some of the key events to look out for this year:

The World Urban Forum in February will be the first session to focus on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda. It is a chance to give input into first report on its implementation.

The Cities IPCC Conference in Edmonton this March aims to inspire the next frontier of research focused on the science of cities and climate change. Cities will connect with the scientific community to identify key research gaps and help define global, regional and local monitoring systems and data architectures, informed by multilevel reporting systems like the carbonn Climate Registry.

Resilient Cities 2018 in Bonn this April is the key global platform to check progress on the resilience targets of SDG 11.

The ICLEI World Congress 2018 in Montréal this June will be the largest gathering ICLEI holds as the leading global cities network focused on sustainable development. At the ICLEI World Congress 2018, local and regional governments will play their role as a convening force between nations, civil society, the private sector and research institutions doing their part to advance global goals.

The High Level Political Forum In New York this July will feature an in depth review on SDG 11 on cities and related goals.

The September Global Climate Action Summit in California, local leaders will show what they have done to advance commitments made in the Bonn-Fiji Commitment and One Planet Charter.   

At COP14 on biodiversity in Egypt, local governments, through the ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center, will highlight efforts to align national and local biodiversity action plans.

At climate COP24 in Poland in December, nations will agree on a set of rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, informed by the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue.

This year has to potential to usher in a new cycle of renewed and cooperative effort towards some of the most ambitious and widest goals the world has set. For our part, the ICLEI network can also hope to usher in a new chapter – one in which we capitalize on the recognition local and regional governments have received in past years to do more and to do it faster and together.

Acknowledgements: Jen Bogle, Claudio Magliulo, Maryke van Staden and Yunus Arikan contributed to the development of this article.