ICLEI’s top 5 takeaways from COP23

COP23, the 23rd United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, came to a close on 18 November 2017. Here are our top takeaways and assessment of what it all means for local and regional governments – and for global climate action.


1. COP23 proved that the Paris Agreement is unstoppable and irreversible – where local and regional governments are positioned to be a strong custodian.

Local and regional governments have secured a clear leadership role at this most recent COP. They are now in the spotlight, with a strong voice that is gaining influence over time.

This comes an important political moment for climate action globally. Although initial expectations were that this COP would be a routing conference, COP23 rapidly shifted into a much larger and more relevant event after all.

This was, at least in part, due to the US announcing its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement this past June. This immediately sparked a reaction by thousands of cities and regions as well as major businesses and academic institutions in the US and globally. In particular, US actors made it clear that they had every intention to uphold the agreement, firmly declaring We Are Still In on climate action.

Additionally, we know that current climate commitments from national governments are not enough to meet Paris targets. It is becoming quite clear that all hands need to be on deck in order to overcome the challenge posed by climate change – and that the role of local and regional leaders is critical as the opportunity for action narrows. Ever since local and regional governments gained official recognition in the Paris Agreement, they have been taking on a more central role in the conversation on climate change.

At COP23, local and regional leaders showed that they are playing an important and steady role in global climate action.

They broke new ground in terms of their diversity and numbers on the official grounds of the UNFCCC, the United Nations Convention Framework on Climate Change. The delegation at COP23 included 1000 delegates, with over 300 leaders, including governors from the United States, premiers from the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, presidents from Africa and mayors from Pacific and Caribbean island communities. COP23 also brought together ambitious cities from the North and South – from Vancouver, Oslo and Seoul to Quito and Tshwane. Industrial and former industrial areas of Pittsburgh, Essen and Huadu District of Guangzhou Province also came to Bonn to explain their deep transformations, while Quelimane and Nagpur represented challenges and opportunities in Africa and Asia.

It was also the first time in the history of COPs that an event by local and regional leaders was framed as a collaboration with the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action – the process through which non-Party stakeholders are engaged in global climate action. This signals the centrality and importance of subnational governments in driving global progress.


2. National goals are not strong enough and the global emissions gap is huge – This is the perfect time to engage local and regional governments in delivering national commitments and raise ambitions globally.

According to a recent analysis by UN Environment, current national commitments cover only one-third of the emissions reductions needed to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, it looks as though the available global carbon budget for the 1.5-degree scenario will be depleted by 2030. These facts all underscore that nations, all levels of government and all climate stakeholders need to raise global climate ambitions as quickly as possible.

Local and regional governments have brought forward a sense of urgency and dedication in announcing their climate commitments.

Overall, the Paris Agreement has opened a new era in the global climate action through the recognition of importance of engagement of all levels of governments.

The Summit itself was a live demonstration that multilevel governance is not just a concept being pushed by subnational actors. In fact, it holds an increasing level of legitimacy and importance for national governments. The Summit – co-hosted through a multilevel partnership between the City of Bonn and its parent region North-Rhine Westphalia – was notable in terms of the representation from all levels of government. This and the strong statements made by national representatives sent the signal that national, regional and local governments are prepared to work in partnership to advance climate action globally.

The Bonn-Fiji Commitment of Local and Regional Leaders to Deliver the Paris Agreement At All Levels, adopted by hundreds of local and regional leaders at COP23, highlights that local and regional governments around the world have committed to do their part to slash global emissions: 1,019 local and regional governments reporting to ICLEI, have collectively committed to reduce their emissions by 26.8 gigatons by 2050. Meanwhile, the aggregate impact of the 7,494 cities and local governments committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy could collectively reduce emissions by 15.64 gigatons between 2010 and 2030. Additionally, over 100 states and regions disclosing to CDP in 2017 could reduce emissions by 21.9 gigatons cumulatively by 2050.

These commitments signal a strong level of dedication – but more needs to be done to ensure that local and regional governments can implement policies and action plans designed to directly support Paris climate goals. At COP23, through the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders and the Bonn-Fiji Commitment, it became clear that national governments can deliver on their commitments and raise ambitions globally, if and when they make sustainable urban development a core part of national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and fully engage all levels of governments.


3. The Talanoa Dialogue opens the door wide open for multilevel and multistakeholder partnerships – Local and regional government s now have the opportunity and duty to extend this to every city and region in the world.

The Talanoa Dialogue – also referred to as the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue – will kick off the process in which nations revise their current climate plans ahead of the next wave of Nationally Determined Contributions to be submitted in 2020. Its aim will be to enhance ambition, especially towards a 1.5-degree Celsius goal. Local and regional governments, as well as other non-Party stakeholders, were encouraged to provide input into the process.

Particularly important is that the COP23 outcome invites nations and non-Party climate stakeholders to bring the dialogue on enhanced ambition out of the UNFCCC process and to each country. Cities and regions will, as a result, be much better positioned to influence the process and to advise or put pressure on their national governments to do more on climate and do it faster.

What started as a bottom-up proposal by local and regional governments is turning into an official practice of the UNFCCC. ICLEI, in its capacity as focal point of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) constituency, first launched the idea of localized and extended dialogues in national capitals, back in 2009. COP23 brought a proliferation of initiatives that aim to link different levels of governments in climate action. ICLEI was announced as the first associate member of the NDC Partnership, a number of cities and provinces have engaged in the PoweringPastCoal initiative and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy now bridges the European Commission with the global local government networks. Meanwhile, ICLEI and GLISPA are bringing together cities and islands on the front-line of climate change, BMZ has launched the transformative Urban Mobility Initaitive to support urban mobility, R20 launched the first subnational climate fund for Africa, C40 and WRI are focusing on national urban policies through a new urban leadership council. This is just a sampling of all these new types of partnerships.

The Summit, the Bonn-Fiji Commitment, with its Initiatives and the spirit of Talanoa Dialogue, prove that COP23 already has left a significant legacy by putting the vision of the Paris Agreement into rapid multilevel action, bringing hope and optimism that unstoppable and irreversible transformation has already set sail.


4. Advancing the Paris Agreement Work Program has enabled progress in building a strong global climate architecture.

The Paris Agreement Work Program was arguably the main item on the agenda at COP23. The evolution on the title of this document from rulebook to implementation guide to work program already reflects that outcomes of global processes will only provide basic guidance, while the real defining decisions will be taken at home in countries. Once completed, this document will be a detailed set of agreed instructions on how to report progress, align emissions accounting methods and generally implement the Paris Agreement in each country – among other things. If reaching consensus on the Paris Agreement was an impressive feat of diplomatic endurance, finding common ground on the details inevitably raises a host of questions and disagreements among nations.

The hope was for COP23 to deliver a first acceptable draft with indications of the sticky points.

An advance draft was released towards the end of COP: a document with over 250 pages collecting the various positions on the table. The final COP23 outcome document recognized the need for more time to smooth things over and called for further sessions in 2018 to further work on the text, in order to have text to agree on by COP24 in Katowice, Poland in November.

2018 will offer opportunities for local and regional governments to further influence the process, aiming for a stronger multilevel governance dimension to be embedded in the final rulebook.


5. The road ahead – we have 3 critical years ahead of us to safeguard Paris Agreement and the global climate.

All levels of government and all climate stakeholders can all be heartened by the growing solidarity across the climate movement, even though the reality of climate change confronts us. Fiji, the nation presiding over this most recent COP, spread an inspiring message of unity. They brought nations and stakeholders together to form a grand coalition of climate actors propelling global action forward.

The coming years will be a critical time for this grand coalition to push forward global climate action. Several key events at the end of this year and into 2020 will mark crucial moments in climate action and advocacy.


Macron Summit: In July during the G20 Summit, French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to hold a summit in Paris on 12 December 2017, two years after the Paris Agreement was adopted. The One Planet Summit is expected to host a number of announcements and initiatives addressed at the Heads of State level and by other climate actors.


Starting January, the Talanoa Dialogue will give to local and regional governments an unprecedented opportunity to discuss climate plans with their national counterparts throughout 2018.

In February, the urban community will meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the 9th edition of the World Urban Forum.

In March, the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Conference, to take place in Edmonton, Canada, will assess the state of academic and practice-based knowledge related to cities and climate change, and establish a global research agenda based to identify key gaps by the academic, practitioner and urban policy-making communities.

At the June 2018 ICLEI World Congress 2018, thousands of local and regional government representatives will convene in Montréal, Canada to show their commitment and action designed to advance urban sustainability – a critical point for global climate action in a rapidly urbanizing world.

In July, nations will review progress on SDG 11, the Urban Sustainable Development Goal. This review will serve as an indication of how sustainable urban development is advancing globally, and where further action needs to be taken.

The IPCC Special Report on 1.5 Degrees Celsius will be released in September, likely serving as a wake-up call for nations and all climate stakeholders to accelerate climate action and raise their levels of ambition.

The Global Climate Action Summit, taking place in California, in October, will bring together all non-Party climate stakeholders to make sure that businesses, local and regional governments and civil society organizations all play their part in the global coalition for climate action.

2018 concludes with COP24, where nations are expected to adopt the final work program for global climate action.


The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will convene the 2019 UN Climate Summit in New York at the UN Headquarters. Just like the previous Summit in 2014 that built momentum towards Paris Agreement, this Summit in 2019 will play an important role in making sure actions and ambitions accelerate ahead of 2020. The Summit may also leverage stakeholder engagement in the UN reform process  COP25,the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference is expected to be held in Latin America in November-December but the country and city is yet to be defined.


All nations and all climate stakeholders need to surprise themselves and the rest of the world in the coming years and send a strong message through these global platforms. We need to reach the 1.5-degree target. The acceleration of climate actions  and ambitions and the degree of success to peak emissions by 2020 will define the pathway towards reaching the climate neutrality goal by mid-century. COP26 is expected to be held in a country that is seated in Western Europe, North America or Australia.