Top 5 takeaways for cities and regions from the UN Climate Action Summit

For this year’s Climate Action Summit in New York, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on leaders to bring concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, plans that would bring nations in line to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade and to net zero emissions by 2050.

With the Summit now concluded, official outcomes have been released by the UN, and grouped by the nine tracks. The commitment by national governments was mostly led by smaller and island nations that are already disproportionately facing the threats of climate change, while the major world economies mostly disappointed with their lack of enthusiasm in scaling up action.

But cities were able to once again successfully demonstrate their key role in accelerating climate action. The Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action track – one of the nine interrelated tracks – had official outcomes focused on buildings, transport, resilient urban poor and finance. Here are the top five relevant takeaways from the Summit for local and regional governments:

1) Local and regional governments are bringing their contributions to the table, but they need multilevel collaboration and action from national governments. 

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who serves as the ICLEI Global Ambassador for Local Biodiversity, addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly, early in the day. She was one of nearly thirty ICLEI Members who spoke or represented local governments at the Summit.

Mayor Plante was flanked by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Oliver Baete, chief executive officer of insurance giant Allianz SE, who both announced major carbon neutrality goals. Mayor Plante had her own announcements, committing Montreal to reduce its carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, which delighted her fans on social media.

Mayor Plante also reminded leaders, “I’m speaking for all cities around the world that have committed to combating climate change… We need more support from states and the private sector.” 

As Mayor Ada Colau, of Barcelona, Spain, a Member of ICLEI, said, at a formal briefing at the Summit, “Cities want to be protagonists of our solutions.” Mayor Colau, who is also co-President of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), continued, “Cities have no direct access to funding, but we are there on the front lines to fight this climate emergency… We want to be allies and for states to rely on us.” Chile announced that 102 cities joined the Climate Ambition Alliance, made up of some 59 nations have signaled their intention to submit an enhanced climate action plan.

Mayor Plante also connected the climate fight to biodiversity: “The fight against climate change is, of course, absolutely necessary for our population, but also for preserving local biodiversity, flora, and fauna… When we are trying to combat climate change, we shouldn’t forget the other fights that are connected to it.” You can watch her full speech here.

Released on the eve of the Summit, Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity, a new report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions, finds that investment in low-carbon measures in cities would be worth almost US $24 trillion by 2050 – proof that thriving cities create prosperous countries – while reducing emissions from cities by 90 percent.

While cities are at the forefront of climate action, national government support and accelerating access to resources is critical,” said Nanda Jichkar, Mayor of Nagpur, member of ICLEI South Asia’s Regional Executive Committee and board member of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy.

Read about the Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity report on the ICLEI blog. ICLEI Oceania also profiled four new reports, including this report, that tell us what to do next on climate.

2) Partnerships are “the new normal” for achieving integrated, effective action.

ICLEI President and Mayor of Bonn Ashok Sridharan set the stage on the importance of partnerships at the opening of the Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action track: “Collaboration has been taken to the next level. Since the first Climate Summit, cities, regions and nations no longer collaborate randomly, but systematically. This collaboration was not represented in the first NDCs, so there is a need for the next NDCs to be improved and to accommodate multilevel planning and action.” He said that partnerships are no longer haphazard, but the new normal, and that with these tools in place, we need to ensure continuity and efficient follow up. You can watch his full speech here

Gino Van Begin, at his session with UN Habitat Executive Secretary Maimunah Mohd Sharif, agreed that the Summit would allow leaders to “focus on coherence and convergence, rather than siloed thinking.” Watch his speech here.

Mayor of Pittsburgh and ICLEI USA Board Director, Bill Peduto, speaking at “Inclusive Climate Action” event organized by New York City Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Columbia University Earth Institute with support from ICLEI USA, said, “I look at partnerships, especially public-private partnerships, through the lens of, ‘what can we create from the government side?’ When you are working at a very local level, we must remember that our most under-resourced neighborhoods have been systematically designed to fail. In them, you see concentrations of poverty that affect primarily people of color and have been left behind out of the discussion we’re having from an economic basis. For this reason, my idea for public-private partnership is a contest for who can best improve upon ideas. A project does not get turned over but remains in public control so we can look out for the most vulnerable in our community.”

As part of the Summit actions, the Action Towards Climate-friendly Transport (ACT) initiative brings together a wide coalition of national, regional, and local governments, international organizations, the private sector, and others towards transforming transport and moving the world closer to our Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goals.

“ICLEI is looking forward to collaborating with ACT partners to scale up and accelerate the transition towards low-emission and equitable urban mobility. ICLEI is a founding partner of TUMI, the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, and supports the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance’s call for zero emission freight vehicles. We must increase multimodality and the demand for zero emission vehicles to transform the way we move people and goods,” said Gino Van Begin.

New signatories continued to roll in throughout the summit.

Manuel A. Alculete Lopes de Araújo, Mayor of Quelimane, Mozambique, and a Member of the ICLEI Global Executive Committee, spoke about efforts on low-emission mobility at the ICLA track. “We are trying to avoid the Western path of development, to achieve low emission development. We are starting from a different perspective. We connect with other cities to get ideas.”

Successful partnerships also mean connecting science to practitioners and policy-makers. Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN) hosted a Science for Cities session on 1.5 Degree Cities, where Maryke van Staden, Director of ICLEI’s carbonn Center, called on scientists, researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to jointly define what needs to be done and also explore “what is possible”. 

Mayor Minna Arve of Turku, Finland, an active ICLEI Member, gave concrete examples of how cities can use scientific partnerships to advance climate goals.

Mayor Arve said, “We are transforming our energy and mobility systems… based on studies and research-based knowledge. It is also important to change our linear economy models to circular economy models… We are working closely with ICLEI’s Green Circular Cities Coalition to co-create solutions, supporting cities, organizations and researchers at the same time.”  

Such partnerships will enable ICLEI’s research strategy and the five pathways to address climate change in a holistic, coherent manner that supports the collection of data, creation of knowledge, enhancing of understanding, and making the right choices when acting. This cooperation space will support the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with robust information and case studies, which will in turn inform national governments. Self-reported data from local and regional governments using the ICLEI-CDP unified reporting system is available for analysis and tracking trends. 

NAZCA, UNFCC’s online portal where actors from around the globe including countries, regions, cities, companies, investors and other organizations, can display their commitments to act on climate change, now shows an incredible diversity of action at many levels. Just five years ago, ICLEI’s carbonn Climate Registry was one of the two available data providers. NAZCA can function as the landing place for all Paris Agreement-related commitments and actions, helping to create transparency as national governments enhance their NDCs by 2020.

You can watch Maryke van Staden’s interventions here.

3) Nature-based solutions and biodiversity are a part of effective climate action.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is stepping up its strategic partnerships with cities with the Trees in Cities Challenge, a bold new campaign launched at the UN Climate Action Summit calling on Mayors to make tree-planting pledges and to put these into action.

ICLEI Members Tirana (Albania), Victoria (Canada), Bonn (Germany) and Helsingborg (Sweden) are the first on board with the challenge. “The city of Bonn will plant around 25,000 trees in the city forest by the end of 2020. These are mainly native species, mostly oak, hornbeam and winter lime. In addition, at least 200 new street and city trees are to be planted in the same period. Like Bonn, ICLEI network cities around the world are focusing on nature-based development and sharing their efforts through the CitiesWithNature platform,” said Mayor Sridharan.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps announced her city’s commitment of 5000 trees as part of the challenge launch.

Mayor Helps explained her support for the action at the Summit, saying, “They’re good for the environment, they’re good for mental health, they’re good for joy. They’re good for carbon sequestration. They’re good for just about everything.”

The summit also addressed the woes of the Amazon through the Amazon Cities Pact. The Amazon rainforest, the largest and most diverse in the world, plays an unparalleled role in reducing the impact of harmful CO2 emissions. The Amazon rainforest is spread across more than 2 million square miles in northern South America, predominantly in Brazil but also in parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. 

Home to more than 30 million people, the rainforest is both a global and local resource.

Speaking at a session on nature-based solutions, Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto of Manuas, Brazil an ICLEI Member, said, “To speak of Manaus is to speak of the Amazon. The Amazon’s ecosystems are fundamental to the planet’s environmental balance, and they are the local, social and economic base for the region.” 

Mayor Neto announced that 16 Brazilian cities from the Amazon region signed an “Amazon Cities Pact” that proposes a number of immediate actions to protect the Amazon region. ICLEI South America was a core partner in developing the Pact. All cities in the Amazon region and around the world, including the networks and partners that support them, are now invited to endorse this Pact. You can see Mayor Neto’s full speech here.

4) Finance is the next key to successful implementation.

“We have embarked on the right track, but four years later, we’re far behind schedule,” said European Investment Bank (EIB) President Werner Hoyer. Climate finance is one of the keys to righting the ship, and the outcomes of the summit highlighted the commitments from nations.

The Transformative Actions Program (TAP) call is now open to local infrastructure projects seeking access to finance. By actively seeking transformative climate projects, the TAP supports local and regional governments in all countries to develop concepts into low risk, high feasibility, high impact sustainable infrastructure projects for climate smart cities.

The Leadership for Urban Climate Investment (LUCI) initiative will enhance enabling environments for cities to play their part in climate action, and facilitate subnational access to national and international financing by providing a unique multi-level and multi-partner comprehensive approach, encompassing the entire investment and infrastructure value chain. 

Hoyer announced a transformative initiative, the Leadership for Urban Climate Investment (LUCI), a coalition of partners including the governments of Germany, Cameroon, France, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom and city networks. The initiative will accelerate and leverage climate finance for cities in low- and middle-income countries. “LUCI will strengthen capacity of 2,000 cities over the next six years and link 1,000 new projects to finance,” Hoyer said. “Through the cities climate finance gap fund, Luxembourg and Germany will lead the way, contributing millions of Euros each. We aim to unlock $1.1 trillion.” The EIB will align its activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement and phase out projects that depend on fossil fuels.

The City Climate Finance Gap Fund will address the critical lack of grant funding necessary to mature pipelines of projects from concept to a stage where they can be advanced towards full feasibility analysis and ultimately investment. The Gap Fund aims to raise more than EUR 100 million in grants in order to unlock at least investments worth of EUR 4 billion in high-quality low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure projects in cities. The TAP project pipeline will link to the Gap Fund for technical assistance on developing more robust project concepts. 

5) The next decade is critical – our #UrbanEra4Life.

Mayor Sridharan summed up the ICLEI network’s attitude towards the fight against climate change: “As president of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, I stand for integrated action towards sustainable urban development. I am happy to announce that over the next decade, ICLEI and the City of Bonn will step-up their efforts through a 10-year initiative that aims to drive local action. This initiative will respond to the current climate emergency, advances livelihoods in harmony with nature, and ensures the convergence of all sustainability agendas through integrated and multilevel collaboration.”

For complete coverage of the event from ICLEI USA, visit:

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