This month, governments from around the world convened in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt) for the 27th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP27). ICLEI was on-the-ground as the official focal point of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) constituency to UN climate negotiations, advocating for cities and regions with an emphasis on the fact that #MultilevelActionDelivers.
Cities must be part of the formal COP agenda
COP27 negotiations culminated in the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. In a sign of success for the LGMA, this COP outcome document once again explicitly lays out the importance of multilevel action, stipulating that it: “Recognizes the important role of indigenous peoples, local communities, cities and civil society, including youth and children, in addressing and responding to climate change and highlights the urgent need for multilevel and cooperative action in this regard” (emphasis added).
This recognition of the power of, and the critical need for, multilevel coordination was felt throughout COP27. There, the Egyptian Presidency organised, for the first time at a COP, a Ministerial conference on Climate and Urbanisation. This was preceded by an Urban7 session, co-organised by ICLEI Europe, which invited national and local leaders to share their expectations and prospects for ensuring urban agendas are front-and-centre for the current COP Presidency and upcoming 2023 Japanese G7 presidency.
Sharon Dijksma, Mayor of ICLEI Member Utrecht (the Netherlands) and ICLEI-LGMA Special Envoy for COP27 Ministerials noted, “I welcome the first-ever Ministerial on Urbanisation and Climate during COP27, which puts multilevel collaboration at the heart of the debate. But, I reiterate that COP27 should be the last climate conference where cities and regions are only on the informal agenda of the UNFCCC. From next year onwards, multilevel action must be an integral part of the official COP process.”
In many ways, the Sharm el-Sheik Implementation Plan is most notable for the fund it establishes to address “loss and damage” among low-income countries brought on by the climate crisis. In response, Rafał Trzaskowski, Mayor of ICLEI Member Warsaw (Poland), and Chair of the Committee of the Regions’ ENVE Commission and Green Deal Going Local Working Group, explained that this should reach local and regional levels too, saying: “We need direct funds and technical assistance for subnational governments and a global system to collect and monitor cities’ and regions’ carbon emission reductions. Together we can bridge the emissions gap.”
Engaging youth to address the climate crisis
Aligned with 2022 being the European Year of Youth, ICLEI officially launched a Vision on Youth Engagement in Global Climate Action at COP27. This impressive Vision builds on initiatives pioneered in ICLEI Members worldwide that meaningfully include youth in climate action and targets.
As Erion Veliaj, Mayor of Tirana and member of the ICLEI European Regional Executive Committee noted during the launch of the Vision, “We love to push for change when it involves other people – but the question remains, how willing are we to change ourselves? When a teenager or a young person loves, for example, car-free days, then even the most cynical, sceptical person will love that the child is happy and enjoying this change in their city. That helps us make changes ourselves.”
Setting the path to climate-neutral cities
ICLEI Europe and its Member Cities led many of the discussions throughout COP, including prominently during the Decarbonisation, Agriculture, and Energy thematic days, and in the launch of an EU Green Deal Declaration. Throughout the event, and particularly during the “Climate neutral and smart cities with and for citizens” session, local leaders discussed how EU initiatives such as the Cities Mission, the newly launched SURGe initiative, and the Covenant of Mayors represent a model that engages local expertise in multilevel action, which should be leveraged at a larger scale.
Imanol Zabaleta, Director of the Environmental Studies Centre in ICLEI Member Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basques Country) remarked on why this is so important moving forward, saying: “We need bodies and practitioners that can understand both the high-level theory behind ecological transition, and have the ‘savoir faire’ on the ground to make the needed change.”
Furthermore, Wolfgang Teubner, ICLEI Regional Director for Europe emphasised the key role that cities hold: “The actions of cities and local governments will be key to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement that were re-confirmed at COP27. However, the recognition of this role by the parties is still not a given. This is why the high engagement of ICLEI as LGMA focal point, together with our esteemed partners and supporters, is so important. The newly launched SURGe Initiative, bringing the urban development and climate agendas closer together, is an important step forward in this process. ICLEI Europe is proud to have been part of its development under the lead of the Egyptian Presidency and UN-Habitat.”