Why cities need to play a bigger role in the climate negotiations
February 3, 2019
What is COP?
The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are yearly conferences held in the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). They serve as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties (Conference of the Parties, COP) to assess the global progress on dealing with climate change. The 24th session of COP was held in Katowice, Poland in December 2018 attended by about 30,000 people. We had a look at the discussion around urban issues in the global climate negotiations.
Cities at COP24
This year at COP24 in Katowice, mayors, urban professionals, NGO’s and economists voiced their opinion on the critical role played by cities in addressing climate change. Cities are a key factor in achieving the goals of the NDC’s (nationally determined contributions) which outline the post-2020 climate action by every country, the increased ambition of the latest report by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) which is the UN body for assessing the science related to climate change and the SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals).
“Cities are where people live, and they are responsible for higher percentage of emissions, so that is where all the work should begin”, says Anthony Pearce from WWF Sustainable Cities Program. Cities are pivotal points in raising ambitions and implementing climate action and quite a few side-events at COP this year saw participation from organizations like C40 Cities, ICLEI, WWF, UN-Habitat and WRI. “Although its early days, the discussion about the role of cities has increased since the Paris COP”, he adds. The Talanoa Dialogue, which is a process designed to help countries implement their NDC’s includes the efforts by non-party stakeholders, and accounts for efforts made by cities as well.
NAP’s – a starting point in the negotiations
The NAP’s or National Adaptation Plans is the closest the negotiations at COP have come to acknowledging the role of urban form or ‘space’ in facilitating climate action. So far, only 11 countries have submitted a NAP and about 22 countries are in the process of developing a NAP. Discussing the NAP’s is important for cities because they must be based on an analysis which considers the spatial, social, economic and environmental perspective and must be implemented at different levels of urban development planning. Planning at the national level is just as necessary as planning at the city or district level and there is a strong emphasis on the vertical and horizontal collaboration between all stakeholders to be able to implement the plans. There was also a discussion about addressing the NAP’s in the NDC’s, and the resubmission of NDC’s with a raised ambition before 2020 will bring more clarity to how much of the NAP’s are integrated within every country’s long-term carbon strategy.
We have only a little more than a decade to remain within the 1.5°C global warming limit and things need to start moving faster. Raising ambition at the national level will prompt a change in planning and design at the city level or neighbourhood scale. We need to extend this discussion to defining the role of mayors, urban planners, architects and engineers in delivering our increased targets. What do the NDC’s, 1.5 IPCC report and SDG’s mean for city planners, engineers and architects? C40 cities has attempted to address this in their Urban Policy Makers Summary report where they discuss the role of cities and urban areas in achieving the 1.5 IPCC report. According to the report, cities must set targets to reduce emissions from buildings by 80-90%, reduce energy use from transport by 30% and increase renewable energy supply by 70-85% if we are to stay within 1.5° warming threshold. The feasibility and barriers to mitigating emissions from energy systems, land use and ecosystems, urban infrastructure systems and industrial systems is also highlighted. Mobilizing funds to support this transition is imperative and many side-events at COP also discussed how this can be done at the city level and to implement the NAP’s.
Another way to raise ambition is by making cities take the lead in achieving higher targets and showing the national governments that it is possible. The One Planet City Challenge by WWF Sustainable Cities Program is a global competition that mobilizes action and support from cities towards a 100% renewable future. Local government can push the national government to raise their ambition and everyone especially youth can play a role in facilitating this at the local level. As the next generation of urban planners, designers and decision makers, young professionals need to step up to the challenge of making urban systems more efficient, cleaner and sustainable.