The global approach to climate change is progressing in fits and starts. National governments struggle to combat global warming. Scientific experts from the UN climate panel IPCC argue that an acceleration is necessary, because otherwise the agreed climate targets will be lost. They also indicate that cities are a crucial part of the solution.
Involving cities and surrounding regions more and better to make international climate agreements concrete is fundamental for this acceleration. Now cities and their regions are too much offside, while that is where most people live worldwide, the emissions mainly come from there and they are also breeding grounds for climate innovation.
About the author
Sharon Dijksma is mayor of Utrecht and special envoy of the city network to the United Nations.
In 2015, in the historic Paris climate agreement, it was globally agreed to limit global warming to 1.5 to 2 degrees. We are now seven years later. Since then, national governments have been working with each other with varying degrees of success to convert these agreements into concrete policy.
We have no time to lose. Heat waves, extreme droughts and floods threaten the already vulnerable parts of our world: millions of people lose their home and hearth, farmers see their harvests deteriorate, with major consequences for the food supply. It is vital that at the annual global climate conference – which will take place in November in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh (COP27) – and afterwards set the sights on action, with the important goal of ensuring that the parties that can make a difference make their voices heard.
Cities and their policymakers are the defining voice in tackling climate change. After all, 68 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. This means that cities and their regions are responsible for more than 70 percent of the total CO2emissions. Cities therefore hold the key to the green transition. In fact, cities want to lead the way in this. Cities provide innovation and have the capacity to commit on a large scale to clean mobility, making the built environment more sustainable and greening the energy supply.
A good example is the initiative from the European Commission, 100 Climate Neutral Cities: a group of 100 cities in Europe aiming to become climate neutral as soon as possible. As a participant in this, Utrecht is working towards the goal of becoming energy neutral as soon as possible. We do this by saving as much energy as possible in all our (public) buildings, the construction or adaptation of infrastructure for sustainable heat supply and the development of new sustainable energy sources for electricity and heat.
Nevertheless, during these important annual climate negotiations, we see that representatives of cities are only slightly involved. The focus is on national governments or ministers and government leaders, who often lack a link with their important cities and regions. It is still too often and too much about a reaffirmation of the importance of the transition and about the broad, abstract lines, while it must be about progress, deepening and a clear implementation of the plans.
As a result, there is a lack of input from the cities, government cooperation at various levels and direct funding flows for cities and their regions are lacking.
This entails an even greater lack: involving and enthusing the inhabitants of the cities, and in particular those who are already struggling to keep their heads above water, is insufficient. It is precisely during this time that attention must be paid to this. The socio-economic agenda has been a missing chapter in the climate negotiations for years, while our society is the cork on which social progress floats.
The social aspect of the green transition is something that mayors and representatives of local authorities can pay particular attention to. It is up to the cities to get residents on board and to let vulnerable groups benefit from the greening. Only if we can achieve that will the transition really have a chance of success. As mayor of a large city in the Netherlands and special envoy of the city network to the UN, I will convey this message to the European Committee of the Regions in the run-up to COP27.
In short, the voice of the cities can be decisive. To do this, we need to set up a strong partnership, consult cities and regions during the negotiations and organize financing flows that cities and regions can directly claim.