Local climate action: what it looks like and how to advance it through collaboration

Local and subnational governments have an important role to play in supporting implementation of the Paris Agreement, and are already taking action.

Their contributions to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions are critical, particularly given that national climate commitments are not yet on track to achieve the Paris Agreement targets. In fact, recent analyses by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat show that in 2030, global emissions will be 22 gigatons of CO2 equivalent (GTCO2e) higher than the level needed progress towards the 1.5-degree target and 15 GTCO2e higher than the level needed for the 2-degree scenario.

Furthermore, climate change is already happening, which means local and subnational governments must quickly take steps to build a climate-resilient world. The fact is that the mean global temperature has already risen to at least one degree above pre-industrial levels, and the latest scientific findings forecast more frequent and intense heat waves, storms and accelerated rate of sea level rise, with disproportionately high impacts on urban areas.

So what are local and subnational leaders committing to and what strategies are they employing? What role does collaboration with national actors and the private sector have in advancing local climate action that supports progress toward global goals?

ICLEI convened local leaders, national representatives and the private sector in a panel at the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference at COP22, the 2016 United Nations Climate Conference in Marrakech, to address these very questions.

  • Cities from all over the world are making strong commitments to climate action, which ICLEI has shown in its recently released carbonn Climate Registry 2015-2016 Digest. Gino Van Begin, put these commitments into context: "Commitments from the more than 700 cities in the carbonn Climate Registry are equivalent to removing all vehicles from EU streets for one year."
  • Maryke van Staden, Director of the Bonn Center for Climate Action and Reporting of the ICLEI World Secretariat reminded the Low-Emissions Solutions Conference participants that local and subnational governments are planning for the long term. "Local governments are setting 2050 climate targets," she explained. "Most national governments are not yet looking this far ahead."
  • In its energy planning, the City of Warsaw, Poland is aiming to reduce its reliance on coal. Leszek Drogosz, Director of the Infrastructure Department stated: "Warsaw gets 90 percent of its energy for heating from coal. By 2020, we aim to reduce it to less than 50 percent."
  • "Dakar needs 50 MW to keep up with energy demand," explained Antoine Faye, Chief Resilience Officer in Dakar, Senegal. The city is taking energy efficiency seriously as a means to build their resilience.
  • Pang Hongwei, Energy Research Institute, of the National Development and Reform Commission of China informed the audience that by 2030, 80 percent of emissions in China will come from cities. NDRC has launched the Peaking Pioneer Cities program in China to encourage cities to peak their emissions.
  • Bill William Sisson, Director of Sustainability at United Technologies reminded us that the private sector needs to be part of the movement to make buildings and cities more sustainable. On top of that, he explained that 'there is a tremendous business opportunity in addressing climate issues and challenges.”

This type of multistakeholder discussion helps us dig a bit deeper behind the message that local and subnational climate action is both vital and active. We know that they are making substantial short-term commitments and looking as far ahead as 2050 in their planning. Yet in addition to focusing on the scale of action, it is important to bring their specific implementation pathways into focus. This will help inform the development of an international implementation framework that is strong, supportive and cooperative pave the way for stronger multi-sectoral partnerships