Local governments: a united global force for climate action

Local governments show consistently strong leadership in mitigating and coping with the effects of climate change. They are taking action to improve their cities and towns, while rallying for greater climate ambition around the world.

The voice of local governments is growing stronger and clearer as they become an increasingly unified force, backed by concrete commitments and steps that prove they directly support progress towards national climate goals.

Even before nations reached consensus on the Paris Agreement, cities and towns were taking considerable steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience. Before the end of 2015, cities and towns committed to the Compact of Mayors were set to deliver half of the global urban potential greenhouse gas emissions reductions available by 2020.

This sends a powerful signal that cities and towns are helping close the 14-gigaton gap between national commitments and emissions reductions needed to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius, and trending towards the 1.5-degree aspiration established in the Paris Agreement.

Yet even as a unified force, local governments should not stand alone. Strong cooperation among all levels of government and an active local government voice in international fora are essential.

No nation can achieve its goals without the decisive contribution of cities and towns – the implementers of climate policies and plans. As recognized in the Paris Agreement, local governments must have central role in implementing global frameworks, from the Paris Agreement to the New Urban Agenda, which will help chart a course for sustainable urbanization following Habitat III, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito.

Global coalitions like the new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, formed through a merger between the Compact of Mayors and the European Covenant of Mayors, must become a central avenue through which cities and towns use hard evidence to connect their actions to national climate action plans, known as the nationally determined contributions (NDCs). As a coalition of 7,100 cities and towns committed to transparency and progress, the new Global Covenant is a powerful force for showing that engaged and empowered local governments can have a growing impact in tackling climate change.

Just imagine a world in which local governments are fully engaged in scaling up climate action around the world. How quickly could we close the emissions gap? Could we prevent tens of millions of people from being displaced each year by natural disasters?

This is why local leaders from nearly 40 cities and towns came together at the Seoul Mayors Forum on Climate Change on 1 and 2 September to reiterate their commitments and call for greater global climate ambition through the Seoul Communiqué. Their unified message delivered by Park Won Soon, Mayor of Seoul and President of ICLEI, called on nations to  implement national climate commitments alongside all levels of government and to ratify the Paris Agreement so that it enters into force as soon as possible.

From Quito to Dar es Salaam and from Helsinki to Aspen, local governments shared their ideas and strategies at the Seoul Mayors Forum and invited cities and town around the world to join them. They are committing to 100 percent renewable energy and joining the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement to expand their toolbox for tackling climate change locally.

The momentum behind diverse and innovative local climate solutions is clearly building. We can rely on local governments to do everything in their power to continue along this path, but the way there requires a concerted global effort.

National governments, local governments and the international community must come together to bring these actions to scale. We must globalize sustainable, resilient, low-carbon cities and towns, with strong policy frameworks, financial resources and multilevel governance.

By working together, we can quickly close the emissions gap and build a climate-safe and resilient future.