Empowering City Leaders: Pacing Local Climate Action after COP21

The Compact of Mayors presents a major opportunity for cities to gain support and recognition for combating climate change, and must be active in global discussions beyond COP21. Photo by Luc Mercelis/Flickr

TheCityFix is covering cities at COP21. Urban areas account for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions but are also tremendous agents of innovation to address climate change. Read our full coverage of the Paris Climate Conference as it relates to citiesbuildings, and mobility.


“Our cities are already developing sustainable, lasting and economic solutions to address the issue of climate change,” said Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

As Hidalgo makes clear, cities and mayors have become the primary agents of change in the climate debate, serving as engines to enable societies to adapt to the impacts of a 2-degree warmer world. During the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, co-hosted by Michael Bloomberg and the City of Paris, Bloomberg noted that, “Cities are getting the job done,” with actions taken at city level adding up to majorly shape global emissions. In recognition of this, the time has come to empower local leadership for global climate action.

The summit not only attracted mayors from around the world, but also celebrities—such as Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn and Robert Redford—and a number of stakeholders that work to build more sustainable cities. The attendees witnessed Bloomberg announce that more than 400 mayors have already begun investing in low carbon pathways for their regions, as evident from the Compact of Mayors—the world’s largest coalition of local leaders. As of December 10, 2015, 428 cities, representing more than 376 million people worldwide and 5.19 percent of the total global population, have committed to the Compact of Mayors. Together, the cities in the Compact hold the potential to reduce half the world’s urban greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2020.

Moreover, local climate action is particularly effective for rapidly urbanizing, developing countries. As stated by the Mayor of Johannesburg, Park Tau, “Developing country cities have a major opportunity to lead the low-carbon future.” Johannesburg, South Africa is a fully compliant Compact city. This means that the city has completed the four stages of compliance: Commitment, Inventory, Target and Plan. The city has also pledged to bring down its emissions by 65 percent by 2040. Johannesburg has went a step further, cutting down emissions from buildings, transport and waste sector by 64 percent, 29 percent and 7 percent, respectively as of 2015.  Along with economic benefits, these savings are helping Johannesburg’s community of 4 million combat local climatic risks such as flooding, extreme heat and drought. Also, the city’s investment in a BRT system and green bonds are worth ZAR1.5 billion (approximately $143 million), laying the groundwork for economic development and a sustainable, resilient future. New research from New Climate Economy shows such investment can bring national and local governments’ massive savings for up to a total of USD 17 trillion by 2050.

More cities can help fast-track national commitments for emissions mitigation and adaptation, by joining the Compact of Mayors in the fight against climate change.

History of the Compact of Mayors

In the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and his Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Michael R. Bloomberg launched the Compact of Mayors. This coalition has an impressive membership of 428 cities, representing 376 million people worldwide. The Compact is a coalition of mayors and city leaders who promise to cut down local GHG emissions, increase resilience to climate change, and to track their progress through transparent and standardized measures.

The strength of the Compact of Mayors is its ability to encourage cities to be more ambitious in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. Still, there is a need for the Compact to offer its signatories technical support in order to attract more public and private finance for bolstering local action plans, ensuring members receive necessary support as they reach their target emissions.

The Collective Potential of Cities for Preventing the 2 Degree Scenario

At the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, Michael Bloomberg unveiled the collective potential for emissions reduction of all Compact cities to date through a report authored by World Resources Institute. Analysis shows that existing commitments made by cities (360, as of November 23, 2015) to the Compact of Mayors can cut the global urban GHG emissions by 50 percent by 2030. More specifically, the annual GHG emissions reduction potential was found to be 3.7 GtCO2e. This reduction can fill nearly 25 percent in the emissions gap for preventing global warming by another 2 degrees.

To further support cities, a historic partnership was forged between the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors of Europe during the Summit. This partnership brings together the two coalitions to formally promote voluntary climate actions of cities. Together, this effort will recognize the impact local governments can have on the global climate discussion. It will also partner with the cities network and capture processes from registration to implementation. This partnership recognizes that “cities are where things happen” and will deliver robust solutions in sectors where cities have the greatest control, such as buildings and transport.

The challenge, however, still lies ahead—action will not be complete until more cities sign on to the Compact to reduce emissions and 100 percent of the member cities are fully compliant with the Compact. From the 400+ members, only 35 cities have achieved all the steps of the Compact.

The Way Forward for Cities and Climate in 2016

COP21 has done a tremendous job for climate actions. However, for cities to truly be empowered, they must be integrated into Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and national programs. National governments must support local actions by aligning legislation, providing finance mechanisms, and enabling local leaders to curb emissions and implement adaptive measures. C40 recently launched  new set of research—Climate Action in Megacities 3.0 and Potential for Climate Action—that analyzes the actions cities are taking to address climate change and how they can do more.

Further, multilateral and national banks must boost funding support as national and local leaders invest in addressing climate change. After Paris, there are opportunities for cities to leverage global efforts at Climate Action 2016 and Habitat III to scale finance pledges for support. In sum, creative policy instruments and innovative financing must be put in place as cities transform into a low carbon future and enable action on the ground. For example, the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance aims to accelerate and catalyze financing for cities and will help cities reduce their investment gap.

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