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01/10/2016

Europeans surrender control of climate initiative to Bloomberg

Climate & Environment

Europeans surrender control of climate initiative to Bloomberg

Michael Bloomberg will visit Brussels on 22 June to launch the new urban pact to confront the climate change.

[David Berkowitz/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, will be in the driving seat of a new global alliance of cities to tackle climate change, despite the EU having pioneered the idea of coordinating mayors to fight global warming.

After two years of overlapping efforts, the European Commission and the businessman turned environmental activist, Michael Bloomberg, will on 22 June merge their initiatives to reduce greenhouse emissions and mitigate the effects of the climate change.

The fusion of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors and Bloomberg’s Compact of Mayors will create the new global Covenant of Mayors, an alliance of 7,500 cities, representing more than 600 million inhabitants across the planet.

But the European Commission will pay a high price for the merger, handing over control of day-to-day management and possibly sacrificing influence on governance and standards.

The Covenant of Mayors, the oldest of the two alliances, has expanded beyond the EU to include 6,800 cities in 58 countries since 2008.

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Meanwhile, just 508 cities have joined the Compact of Mayors, launched in September 2014 by Bloomberg and supported by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

But according to public data, only about 50 cities have drafted detailed plans to reach their goals under Bloomberg’s initiative. 5,500 cities and regions have prepared their binding action plans under the Covenant of Mayors.

The success of the EU project over the last eight years led to the creation of regional EU -backed Covenants of Mayors in regions like Africa, and countries such as China, India and North America.

Paris romance              

Initial discussions over the merger took pace during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris last December.

After six months of tough negotiations, agreement was reached to have a shared chairmanship of the Board of Directors. But the secretariat, in charge of the day-to-day functioning of the initiative, will be led by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also expects that the standards for monitoring and reporting the emissions and climate adaptation efforts, a key instrument of these initiative’s bottom-up approach, will be based on his standards and not the EU’s, according to internal documents obtained by EurActiv.com.

An EU official disagreed with the “perception” that the initiative will be in Bloomberg’s hands. The cities would be the real owners of the alliance, the official argued.

Although the official admitted that the secretariat will “most likely” go to Bloomberg, he stressed that it will be based in Brussels and will be accountable to the co-chairs. The chairs will be Bloomberg and Commission Vice-President for the Energy Union, Maroš Šefčovič.

Losing control

The final details of the secretariat and the definitive reporting standards will be finalised by January 2017, when the new Global Covenant of Mayors and its website should be up and running.

But other voices in Brussels lamented how the Commission yielded to Bloomberg’s pressure.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an EU source questioned whether the Covenant of Mayor’s successful governance system would survive.

Others argued that both initiatives “shared the same objective”, although they admitted that “it is clear that we have different approaches”.

According to Global Covenant of Mayors’ internal documents, combining the initiatives will help reach more cities in more continents and “will decrease competition amongst entities and streamline recruitment efforts, leading to increased city participation and even greater momentum for city-level action”.

In order to do that, the new plan will tap EU and Bloomberg Philanthropies funding.

“This merger represents the strongest and the clearest signal to national governments that not only are cities acting to stop the effects of climate change, they are leading and leading together,” Bloomberg is expected to say on 22 June.

Bloomberg sent a message of support to the Covenant of Mayors in 2009, but never became a member of the urban alliance by submitting a binding action plan.

Instead, he implemented his on greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan while he was mayor of New York, separate to the EU governance strictures that now he aims to control.

Background

The Covenant of Mayors, launched in 2008, is the world’s biggest urban climate and energy initiative, involving 6,600 cities and regions in 57 countries. The signatories, including cities and regions, share a long-term vision to decarbonise the local economies, while providing sustainable and affordable energy to all.

They must produce Climate & Energy Action Plans within a year that are subject to monitoring processes. Cities failing to meet their obligations will have their membership in the covenant annulled.

Covenant signatories are encouraged to work together, cities with regions and states and then with national governments.

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Meanwhile, the Compact of Mayors is a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change, and to track their progress transparently. The Compact was launched in 2014 under the leadership of the global city networks, and with support from UN-Habitat, the UN’s lead agency on urban issues.

On 22 June, Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, Michael Bloomberg; the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and the head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, will participate in the signing ceremony.

Timeline

  • 22 June: signing ceremony to create the Global Covenant of Mayors.
  • January 2017: the new secretariat and website will start functioning.