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This is what leadership in an emergency looks like.

What does leadership in a climate emergency mean? Midway through Daring Cities 2021, this was the question occupying our panelists as they exchanged how they were taking on the climate crisis.


Leadership is responding now and planning for tomorrow.

Looking back on this year and 2020, to the catastrophic floods that churned up entire towns, to the wildfires that consumed many countries, and to COVID-19, which ravaged them all, leadership has to mean ensuring resilience in the face of disaster.

City networks are working closely with international organizations to get plans off the ground. But they need to move quickly to ensure “resilient infrastructure and future-oriented policies that promote social and economic development within planetary boundaries”, urges Dr. Jürgen Zattler, Director General of the German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ). He proposes a three-pronged approach to ensuring this: establishing enabling structures, integrating approaches and securing the financial means to deliver.

For emerging economies and less developed countries, this is a tall order. Schemes like InsuResilience, a climate risk insurance fund, seek to ensure that no-one gets left behind in adaptation and mitigation plans, explains Dr. Frank Weiler, Team Lead of Urban and Social Development in Latin America and the Caribbean at the KfW Development Bank .

Joseph Muturi, Chair of Slum Dwellers International Management Board (SDI), warns that high-level discourse surrounding climate finance can be exclusionary and elitist, running the risk of preventing those most in need of finance mechanisms from accessing them. He says they’re working on demystifying the conversation on climate.Lack of local data and technical capacity were two further hurdles, which emerged during a mind map activity in the workshops. “That technological support is paramount.” stressed Quamrul Chowdhury. a lead negotiator on sustainable development and climate for less developed countries (LDCs) and G-77 at UN/UNCSD/UNFCCC. “Without this, cities in the Global South will be constrained. We need mechanisms that increase technical capacity to foster green growth, a green economy”.

Daring Cities – Daring local leadership for ambitious climate action, 6 Oct.

One way these challenges are being addressed is by moving beyond traditional boundaries to increase the capacity of fellow cities, like in Belgrade and Japan. The Japanese government is working together with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to help the Serbian city develop its green action plan, says Nigel Jollands, EBRD’s Associate Director. “We look at the physical risks from climate effects and try to include them in the infrastructure investment.”

Leadership is thinking outside the box

Thinking laterally about its city’s unique design allowed Taoyuan City to include climate impacts into its infrastructure investment. Cheng Wen-tsan, the city’s mayor, says Taoyuan’s role as a major international logistics hub inspired the city to turn its attention to urban freight.

Together with ICLEI, the city has developed 8 foundational principles to make urban freight more sustainable, as part of the EcoLogistics project. “We’re proud to be chairing the EcoLogistics Community”, says Wen-tsan.

Thinking outside the box also means being innovative. This is the mantra the European Commission (EC) is following, says Matthew Baldwin, its Deputy Director General for Mobility and Transport. He’s just launched a commitment to make 100 cities climate neutral by 2030 and turn them into Living Labs to test integrated and complementary urban mobility measures. “…all of us know just how difficult it will be for a city to become climate neutral. We’ve got to develop a new style of holistic planning in our cities.”

The State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany, is acting on this holistic planning call – combining its climate neutrality goal of 2045 with job creation through a green energy hydrogen roadmap. “We aim to make NRW a hydrogen model state”, says Stephan Holthoff-Pförtner, Minister for Federal, European and International Affairs in NRW, Germany.

Cities also offer fertile grounds for incorporating circularity into planning systems, according to Jocelyn Blériot of The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Circular frameworks would not only minimize carbon emissions, but also save valuable natural resources.

Leadership is inspiring action at all levels

Aware of the monumental role that citizens will play, on an individual scale, in attaining the 1.5°C goal, leaders are also stepping up citizen engagement on climate action. With household consumption and behaviors contributing over 60 percent of carbon emissions in Japan, Ryuzo Sugimoto, Director of International Cooperation and Sustainable Infrastructure, at the Japanese Ministry of Environment, is encouraging citizens to play a leading role in carbon reduction from home.

Engaging citizens is important, “…it’s about public participation,” comments Talieh Wögerbauer, National Focal Point for Action and Climate Empowerment (ACE) and Ambassador ACE at the UNFCCC (Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action). But engaging with all levels of government is also a key ingredient. “We have this tool in our hands [Article 12 of Paris Agreement] to enable multi-level collaboration”.

Leadership is leading together

Building capacities for climate measures requires cross-level communication and collaboration. That’s why leadership means leading together, utilizing networks and integrating climate action across multiple governance levels, with cities as a focus.

Local-level interventions are how cities are merging their climate roadmaps with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to slash emissions. The creation of the Clyde Climate Forest was one of the ways Glasgow City Council is delivering this, with a commitment to plant 18 million trees by 2030, explained Susan Aikten, its leader.
Mannheim, which like Glasgow has an industrial legacy, is intervening with a just transition away from fossil fuels. “The local green deal for Mannheim puts decarbonization of the energy sector at its core as part of a just transition”, said Peter Kruz, Mannheim’s Mayor. The city is exploring the use of river powered heat pumps, biomass heating, solar energy and wind generators to achieve this goal.

Amanda McKee, Head of Knowledge Management & Head of CAEP at NDC Partnership, explained how the NDC partnership is helping countries undertake risk and vulnerability assessments and increase the capacity of local officials to develop bankable projects on climate action. “Countries are now submitting NDCs that are not only more ambitious, but that can be implemented quicker and better. Of the NDCs submitted with our support, 89 percent have increased their mitigation ambition”.

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