"A top-down approach that ignores sub-national authorities will do nothing to advance the cause of climate action," said German liberal politician Nicola Beer, who represents the Hessen regional government in the EU's Committee of the Regions (CoR).
Beer prepared the CoR's opinion on international climate change policy, which was adopted in Brussels on 1 December. The document sets out a series of recommendations for how the European Union and its member states should approach the challenge of dealing with climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The issue of climate change is especially relevant this month, as a major United Nations conference is taking place in the Mexican beach resort of Cancún. Representatives of governments from around the world are continuing their negotiations with the aim of agreeing a framework for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.
"We are working step by step from the bottom up," said Beer, describing the efforts of Europe's regions to reduce their own CO2 emissions by investing in energy efficiency and sustainable transport. "The work of European regions should be presented as a model to participants in Cancún. Acting locally is more important than ever."
Barroso backs 'territorial pacts'
Also speaking at the CoR plenary session, the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said that "many windows already exist in the EU's budget for emissions to be reduced by Europe's regions".
The Commission president recalled that under the 'Europe 2020' strategy agreed by EU leaders in June, member states have already agreed that during the next 10 years they will work to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 20% (using levels measured in 1990 as the reference point). They have also promised to promote energy efficiency and develop the use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Barroso told the CoR that he is strongly in favour of the idea of "territorial pacts" to back-up the implementation of the 2020 strategy and oblige national governments to work in partnership with their regional and local authorities. Under this idea, a regional government would negotiate and sign an agreement with its national government and also with the European Commission.
The president of the CoR, Mercedes Bresso, agrees that cooperation between different levels of government is necessary for achieving the Europe 2020 goals, but insists that this "must happen on an equal footing, and not with regions and cities being seen as mere implementing authorities".
Key role for EU funds
The CoR has also adopted an opinion on the EU Energy Action Plan, drafted by Michel Lebrun, who represents the Wallonia region in the south of Belgium. This document highlights the role of regional and local authorities in promoting energy efficiency, and the benefits that this can achieve in terms of reducing CO2 emissions.
"Transport, housing, public buildings and public lighting infrastructure all fall within the remit of local and regional authorities and are areas where substantial CO2 reductions and energy savings are possible," says Lebrun.
The CoR believes that local and regional authorities should have greater access to EU funds, including direct loans from the European Investment Bank, in order to help them promote the development of renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency.