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08/12/2016

French Senate highlights the role of local authorities in fighting climate change

Climate & Environment

French Senate highlights the role of local authorities in fighting climate change

The city of Lyon has invested in hybrid buses.

[Mohamed Yahya/Flickr]

Despite the international nature of the climate negotiations, decisions taken at local and regional levels can have a big effect on climate change. EurActiv France reports

By promoting public transport and renewable energies, supporting the thermal renovation of buildings and protecting natural habitats, local authorities play a central role in fighting climate change.

A report by the French Senate on climate change and the devolution of power to France’s local authorities found that “local authorities have been exemplary in launching all kinds of initiatives that benefit the climate since at least the 1990s”.

Action on a local level will be indispensable if the agreement from the COP 21 is to be implemented successfully.

>>Read: Frédéric Vallier: ‘Countries will fail to meet climate targets without regional efforts’

“Without the mobilisation of local authorities as major stakeholders in the energy transition, the Paris agreement will be a dead letter,” the report stated.

In putting together the report, the French Senate wanted to “display the good practices of the regions in the fight against climate change by highlighting the driving role and dynamism of local authorities”, said Jean-Marie Bockel, a centrist senator and the president of the Senate’s delegation to local authorities.

Missing the target

Just three weeks before the 21st United Nations Climate Conference in Paris (COP 21), the commitments of UN member states to cut greenhouse gas emissions lack the ambition needed to reach the objective of limiting the global temperature rise to +2°C by the end of the century.

According to the OECD’s latest estimates, the national contributions to the COP 21 (INDCs) will limit global warming to +2.7°C at best.

>>Read: Annabelle Jaeger: ‘the EU can achieve zero CO2 emissions by 2050’

To reach the 2°C target, beyond which the effects of climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible, the COP 21, which will take place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December, will have to inspire global leaders to increase their efforts.

Local competencies

But while climate negotiations are held at an international level, the implementation of national commitments depends heavily on local communities and regional authorities.

70% of global greenhouse gas emissions are currently produced in cities, but cities, districts and regions hold important powers in the domains of town planning, energy transition and waste management. Their concrete actions can place them at the forefront of the energy transition.

Regional action

The report’s authors analysed innovative initiatives like those trialled in the eco-district of Issy-les-Moulineaux, a south-western suburb of Paris, which include a geo-thermal heating network and an automated vacuum waste collection system.

In Nord-Pas-de-Calais, a region with a population of over four million, the regional council’s climate, air and energy scheme aims to “limit the increase of artificial surfaces to 500 hectares, dividing by three the regional dynamic between 1998 and 2005”.

>>Read: Europe’s regions demand financing for climate action

Regional authorities are also keen to lead on the question of transport, one of the most carbon intensive sectors.

According to the Association of French Regions (ARF), the involvement of regional authorities in promoting alternatives to the car has led to a 24% increase in the number of seats available on France’s regional train network and a 55% increase in the number of passengers.

But Republican senator Caroline Cayeux, one of the report’s co-authors, believes these good practices “will not spread without a stable regulatory framework and the necessary financial resources”.

>>Read: Cities and regions call for access to Green Climate Fund

Another Republican senator, Éric Doligé, called for the establishment of a national system to facilitate the exchange of best practices between France’s regional authorities. 

Background

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, in December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015.

The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Reaching an agreement, whether legally binding or not, is the priority between now and December. 

Further Reading

French Senate

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change