Wednesday

23rd May 2018

Climate change: nations talk, but cities act

  • Wind turbines in Denmark (Photo: www.CGPGrey.com)

When Jean-Claude Juncker his first State of the European Union speech in September, he spoke so long about migration that he had little time left to talk about the road to Paris.

The president of the European Commission devoted just two of his ninety minutes to climate change. But from a text which his civil servants distributed afterwards, we know what he had planned to say.

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  • Stockholm (Photo: jcmu)

"The fight against climate change will not be won or lost in diplomatic discussions in Brussels or in Paris", Juncker said. "It will be won or lost on the ground and in the cities where most Europeans live, work and use about 80% of all the energy produced in Europe."

Formally, local governments have no say in the treaty that will be negotiated at the Paris Climate Summit in December by the national representatives of 195 countries, plus the European Union. Some of the groundwork is being done this week as climate negotiators gather in Bonn for the last round of talks before the summit.

However, cities and regions will be involved in reaching the climate goals their national governments agree to – and some have already begun to do that.

"As cities, we can lead the way in demonstrating innovative solutions. We can fight against climate change", Karin Wanngard, the mayor of Stockholm, said at a recent conference organised by the Vatican.

Take Copenhagen, for example. Many involved in the climate dossier may associate the Danish city with the failed climate talks held there in 2009. But the bike-friendly capital of 1.2 million may become an exemplar if it fulfills its promise of becoming completely carbon-neutral within the next ten years.

Last year, when the city's environment mayor visited Brussels, he told EUobserver that in his eyes "nations talk, but cities act".

"I see mayors, cities, all around the globe actually acting in promoting more livable, greener and more sustainable cities, whereas I see nations just doing nothing, failing to act on what should have been their responsibility", Morten Kabell said at the end of 2014.

One year on, the list of cities and regions that have taken or promised action has only increased.

Several cooperation agreements have been signed, such as the Covenant of Mayors, which, as of September 2015, has been signed by 5,887 mayors of mostly European cities and municipalities. Of them, 80 percent have submitted an action plan.

While this does not yet mean that promises will be fulfilled, it shows at least that saving energy and increasing the share of renewable energy is on the agenda of local governments.

Regions are also involved in a similar scheme, with the initial results of commitments made by the so-called Compact of States and Regions expected to be presented in December in Paris. Members include Lombardy, Wales, Catalonia, Rhone-Alpes, and Baden-Württemberg.

Divestment movement

The latest emerging trend that is starting to trickle down in city halls is the global "divestment" movement.

Slowly but surely, European cities are also joining this camp, which started in American universities and urges investors to ditch their investments in fossil fuel projects, and reinvest that money in clean energy projects.

Boxtel (the Netherlands), Oxford and Bristol (the UK), and Oerebro (Sweden) have already promised they will no longer hold any shares in oil, coal, or gas projects.

On Monday (19 October) the city of Oslo announced it would divest its €8 billion pension fund from fossil fuel companies. “We are very happy to announce that Oslo will take responsibility for the climate, both through our own policies and our investments", said Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, of the Green Party in Oslo.

And while a place like Boxtel has only 30,000 inhabitants, the cliched 'every part helps', was the message at a recent conference on fossil fuel divestment in Paris.

"Climate change is an easy topic to feel powerless about. It's easy to throw your hands up", said Julia Christian, who was involved in a divestment campaign at a university faculty in London. "But it has to be now, it has to be us."

This article was first published in EUobserver's Regional Focus Magazine 2015

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