The chance to shift climate policy in a direction that keeps 1.5°C alive has been thrown a lifeline with the Glasgow Climate Pact. Countries have agreed to return to the negotiating table in 2022 with updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to ratchet up commitments more rapidly than before. It will take much greater ambition during the next few years to keep the 1.5°C goal in play, with current NDCs estimated to result in 2.4°C of warming by 2100, according to recent research.
Cities are vital to limiting warming to 1.5°C. Over 70% of carbon emissions come from cities and by 2050 two-thirds of people will live in these urban centres. Coalition research suggests that it is possible to cut 90% of emissions from cities using proven technologies and practices, and that doing so will create enormous socio-economic benefits such as annual returns of US$2.8 trillion in 2030 and 87 million new jobs this decade.
Cities have a central role to play in creating low carbon, resilient and equitable cities, but they cannot achieve their ambitions alone. Globally, local governments have primary responsibility for less than one-third of urban emissions reduction potential compared to national government’s two-thirds. They rely on national government support and collaborations across sectors to develop long-term strategies to unlock the finance for ambitious local climate action.
The Coalition co-hosted an official side event at COP26 where national and local government leaders joined civil society and development experts to discuss the issue of how to convert NDCs to local action. The discussion explored how national governments can place cities and local governments at the heart of their plans to increase resilience, reduce emissions and generate green jobs. A key take-home message was that while there is no one-size-fits all approach to localising NDCs, there are many case studies and models of ambitious local climate action around the world which demonstrate what can be achieved with the right support.
First, priority should be given to building technical capacity and knowledge at a city level, followed by adequate access to finance. Cities will need help to overcome obstacles to financing, especially in the developing world, where poor project pipelines and lack of sovereign guarantees often keep them from developing bankable projects.
Ingrid Hoven of GIZ, outlined the models they have been developing to bring financing opportunities to cities, including the City Climate Finance Gap Fund. The fund was established to provide cities in developing and emerging economies with free technical assistance to transform climate ambitions into finance-ready projects. In its first year of operation, it approved technical assistance for 33 cities with projects ranging from stormwater management masterplans in South Africa, to feasibility studies for green roofing public buildings in Montenegro. Ingrid believes that cities have an important role to play at the forefront of capacity building, and that there is a window of opportunity to invest in city-level capacity and knowledge so that climate finance can flow directly to them.
Secondly, the need for productive collaboration between different levels of government was discussed. Local action is key to NDCs implementation, but cities need support from, and to collaborate with, higher levels of government. Cities are often more ambitious in their climate action than national governments, but many cities get very little money for themselves. They can be held back in their actions without alignment with national governments, explained Adriana Lobo, Director of WRI Mexico. National programmes can help support common objectives, as demonstrated in Mexico, where federal funding has been leveraged to advance sustainable public transport across many cities.
Thirdly, city leaders require long-term, stable commitments to finance, free from political agendas. Too often, political struggles between parties jeopardise effective climate policy. The Canadian Green Municipal Fund, was highlighted by Carole Saab of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), as a scheme that has been successful in providing security of funds for local multi-year investments in sustainable practices. The 20-year CA$1billion, federally funded programme has been designed to outlive successive governments. It is delivered by the FCM, to disperses grants and low interest funds to municipalities to catalyse sustainable innovation and build resiliency. The fund demonstrates what is possible when you connect national government tools and finance with a long-term mechanism working directly with cities.
Finally, collaborations between cities through alliances and networks are powerful motivators for ambitious local climate action. They create opportunities to bring mayors and city leaders together; showcase what other cities are doing; demonstrate how to implement best practice in other metropolitan areas; and to assert political pressure on national governments.
Luis Colosio Riojas, Mayor of the City of Monterrey in Mexico, pointed to the power of alliances and movements, like the Race to Zero campaign, in mobilizing cities for climate action. In his view, the current level of coordination and collaboration between mayors is unprecedented, with alliances enabling cities to exert political pressure on national authorities to follow a common goal against climate change.
It was clear from the discussion that while cities represent a huge opportunity to deliver on NDCs, they cannot seize this opportunity alone. “It is impossible to get to 1.5°C if we don’t get our different levels of government working together – national, regional and city governments – working together towards a joint goal”, concluded Ani Dasgupta, President & CEO of WRI.
The signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact by the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC is a step towards stronger national climate plans and cities will undoubtedly be major players in fulfilling these targets. But to adequately put low carbon urban transformations into practice, national governments need to seize the urban opportunity and drive climate action through national policies and targeted investments to decarbonise cities and make them more resilient.