On 17-18 March 2021, the Ministry of Environment of Japan will convene the Zero Carbon City International Forum, which has been recognized as 2021’s first global dialogue to advance multilevel action under the Paris Agreement. This dialogue is convened in collaboration with the UN Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC), the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.
The event comes at a critical moment in the road to COP26. The current state of the global climate agenda is relatively opaque. Despite an urgent call by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to kick off virtual negotiations, preparations for COP26 in Glasgow are still in limbo.
And more dire news continues to roll in from the UN’s own reports. According to a recently-launched report by the UN Climate Change, the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) would reduce less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to the 45-50 percent needed by 2030. The UN Environment’s flagship report “Making Peace with Nature” focuses on the dire need to address the interconnected climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies.
However, in the face of these challenges, we are seeing increased conversations on how to implement multilevel climate action. At the heart of these conversations are national and global institutions that are engaging with and empowering local and regional governments. Through this work, they are setting a precedent for what collaborative, multilevel climate action could become.
So, the Zero Carbon City International Forum in Japan is an important opportunity to refresh and elevate the vision and achievements of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency to the UNFCCC towards COP26, especially the 7-pillar vision for a “Multilevel Action COP”
Here are four key things to keep in mind as the conversation on multilevel action kicks off:
Cities and regions can contribute through new, official mechanisms
Through the Race-To-Zero and the upcoming Race-To-Resilience processes, cities and regions can demonstrate their climate action ambition in a much easier and structured way. ICLEI and partners are developing a clear framework for cities to engage in this campaign, to be released shortly.
As one of the core building blocks of these campaigns, ICLEI’s Climate Neutrality Framework is expected to support more than 200 Japanese cities and prefectures to be part of these global initiatives.
Local governments are the key to strengthening the NDCs
Next week’s forum is the first opportunity to start a concrete discussion on translating Japan’s net-zero cities and prefectures into the country’s third NDC, expected before COP26. In 2020, countries like Chile, Rwanda, Peru, Dominican Republic, and the United Kingdom demonstrated various models of integrating local and regional governments into NDCs. The Japanese experience could add to these pioneering exercises to raise NDCs ambition through increased commitments of local governments.
Yet, Japan will not be the only country to have such discussions. If turned into action, the inspirational announcements of the Biden-Harris Administration in the US have the potential to elevate the country’s second NDCs to one of the most prominent good practices for multilevel climate action.
Similarly, the revised NDCs of South Korea submitted on the last days of 2020 already signalled that Korean net-zero cities will be one of the three core strategies of a new national plan. Lastly, during negotiations for a European Climate Law in June 2021, European cities and regions will have the opportunity to urge the National Energy and Climate Plans (NCEPs – the version of NDCs for European national governments) to acknowledge the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan under the European Covenant of Mayors.
Integrated planning strengthens climate action and advocacy
Japan is one of those countries that have been connecting biodiversity, circular development, and integrated planning into climate action, which are core elements of the LGMA Roadmap Towards COP26. Just last week, the Edinburgh Declaration of Subnational Governments, Cities and Local Authorities, supported by Japanese governments at all levels, was officially released by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Declaration is an official document for the negotiations towards the Biodiversity COP15 in Kunming, China, and can be inspirational for Glasgow Climate COP26.
Additionally, the Japanese Ministry of Environment has developed the concept of “redesign”, launching of the Platform for redesign 2020, an online platform gathering and showcasing initiatives on sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19. This concept has been incorporated into the agenda for cities in the 2022-2025 UN Environment Programme’s Medium Term Strategy at the first session of the 5th UN Environment Agenda two weeks ago.
More actors can help drive inclusive climate action
The LGMA Roadmap Towards COP26 aims to extend global climate action towards other friendly communities, such as Ministers of Education, Culture, and Urbanization. This proposal is already gaining traction with the mayor of Milan, which the host city of the PreCOP26, and the mayor of Recife, the first Brazilian city to declare a climate emergency, embracing it at the Youth4Climate event. Similarly, numerous partners are championing the LGMA proposal to convene the first Urbanization Ministerial at COP26.
Introduced by Glasgow as the 7th pillar of the LGMA Roadmap Towards COP26, Climate Justice and Social Equity is becoming an even more acute priority, considering the need to ensure that COVID-19 recovery plans facilitate the 1.5°C goals and that all stakeholders of the societies enjoy the benefits of this transformation.
With eight months to go, it is still uncertain whether COP26 will be held as an in-person, virtual or hybrid event. But one thing is clear: thanks to decades of LGMA advocacy, the transformative vision of the Paris Agreement and the realities of a new normal for the post-COVID-19 era, multilevel and collaborative climate action has become part-and-parcel of the world that current and future generations of humanity can safely live in. The remaining question points to the mechanisms and partnerships to expand this spirit to all countries in the fastest way, and the Zero Carbon City International Forum on 17-18 March 2021 looks forward to welcoming all who want to shape this agenda going forward.