No time to lose: the EU must bring multilevel governance home to implement COP28 outcomes

Climate negotiations in Dubai at COP28 have been unprecedented in many ways, not the least in securing agreement on the Loss and Damage Financing Mechanism on its first day and paving the way for ending the fossil fuel era. Among others, one of the most notable aspects of COP28 was the role that subnational level governments played throughout the two weeks.

The COP28 Presidency and Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted the first- ever Local Climate Action Summit, at which over 300 subnational leaders came together with their national governments to discuss how to transform climate finance, enhance global action, fast-track the energy transition, and strengthen resilience and adaptation at the local level. While a similar Summit was organised alongside COP21 in Paris, this was the first time such an event was an official part of the COP, even co-hosted by the COP28 Presidency.

At the Local Climate Action Summit, the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships (CHAMP), currently signed by 71 countries, was launched. This was a groundbreaking moment as by signing onto CHAMP, national governments formally committed to enhancing cooperation with subnational governments, especially in regard to the revision of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) where countries have outlined how they plan to to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement, which will keep global temperature increase to no more than 1.5°C by 2025.

The Local Climate Action Summit was followed by a Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change, where their joint outcome statement encouraged all parties to consider outcomes related to multilevel action in the final negotiated decisions coming out of COP28.

This incredible momentum, spearheaded by the COP28 Presidency has also made its way in the final COP28 outcome texts. While the Global Stocktake document “urges Parties and non-Party stakeholders to join efforts to accelerate delivery through inclusive, multilevel, gender-responsive and cooperative action”; the Global Goal on Adaptation outcome highlights the importance of local approaches and local knowledge in addressing the adaptation and recognises the role of cities and regions in delivering successful adaptation measures. Finally, the Loss and Damage outcome foresees direct financing to subnational governments.

These are extremely important moments of recognition of the role that cities and regions play as first responders to extreme weather events and as primary drivers of sustainability agendas -that are usually by far outpacing national ambitions.

It is now time to bring these developments back home to Europe and to start thinking about what it means to implement CHAMP in the European Union (EU). Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal have already signed the CHAMP pledge. Countries, like Germany and France, brought both national and subnational government representatives to the Urbanisation Ministerial underlining the importance they place on a multilevel governance approach. European Commission Executive Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič announced the EU’s support for the principles of the CHAMP, based on how CHAMP aligns with the European Union’s negotiation mandate which recognised for the first time the need to include cities and regions in developing and implementing climate and energy plans.

These signals must now turn into concrete actions. EU Member States must start implementing the CHAMP pledge to deliver COP28 outcomes– there is no time to lose.

On 18 December, the European Commission will publish its assessment of Member States’ National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs). This assessment will show whether countries’ targets, policies and strategies add-up for the EU to reach its overall climate targets. Unfortunately, even before this assessment is published, it is clear that there exists a large gap between ambition and implementation based on publicly available documents. These gaps could have already been closed if Member States had worked more closely with their cities and regions to plan and implement the 2030 EU climate and energy targets, set thanks to the EU Green Deal.

Currently, subnational actions like Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans created under the Covenant of Mayors, Climate City Contracts and Action Plans that are part of the Climate-neutral Cities Mission, and Local Green Deals guided by the Intelligent Cities Challenge are not included in Member States’ NECPs. Including them in NECPs would not only provide support and encouragement for subnational action, but would also help Member States to achieve their national-level targets.

In fact, not only are local plans not part of NECPs, but civil society reports on the draft NECPs and city networks’ assessments show that multilevel climate and energy dialogues – foreseen by the EU Governance Regulation Article 11– do not happen in a structured or systemic way. If we want EU Member States and take a systematic approach to achieving the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C objective, then all need to sign on to the CHAMP pledge.

Next year, the European Commission is expected to revise the EU Governance Regulation. This revision is an outstanding opportunity to ensure an EU-wide, structured, and systemic multilevel governance approach that puts the CHAMP pledge in motion.

Europe has shown its leadership at COP28 to put the world on track to transition away from fossil fuels, to set global renewable and energy efficiency targets, and to support multilevel governance through CHAMP.

Now, it is time to deliver at home.

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