COR President takes swipe at COP deal, hails global Covenant of Mayors

Markku Markkula [Open Days/ Flickr]

The President of the Committee of the Regions yesterday (8 December) took a swipe at leaders struggling to reach a deal to cap global warming at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, while hailing the efforts of mayors to save the planet.

Markku Markkula said that local leaders were delivering real results on climate and were more ambitious than their national equivalents. He hailed the ‘globalisation’ of the Covenant of Mayors, an EU initiative that brings together city leaders in the fight against climate change.

The model, which he contrasted with international efforts to limit warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, has now been expanded to include non-EU municipalities across the world.

“The current climate proposals lack teeth and won’t be enough,” he said, “But we all have a collective responsibility to tackle climate change.”

The draft UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) agreement is expected to rely on a system of regular reporting, rather than binding international laws and enforcement.

Markkula was referring to a UNFCCC report that suggests current climate proposals would only limit temperature rises to two degrees, which would still have significant ramifications for the planet.

Along with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Sef?ovi?, Markkula called on local and regional governments worldwide to sign up to the Covenant. It commits signatories to cutting at least 40% of 1990 levels of carbon emissions by 2030. In October 2014, EU leaders agreed to a 2030 target of at least 40% for all greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 1990 levels.

“The Covenant of Mayors […] delivers results and surpasses national ambition. It makes everyone work together and pool resources. The globalisation of the Covenant of Mayors is good news for both climate justice and sustainable development,” Markkula said in Paris.

Sef?ovi? said the expanded Covenant, praised for pushing forward EU environmental energy policy despite, in some cases, national opposition, would be backed by the Commission.

“The Covenant of Mayors has proven to be very successful so far, and we have to build on its success. We are therefore committed to reinforcing this network and turn it into a truly global movement, based on a shared long-term vision,” he said.

As part of the effort to take it global, the initiative has officially become part of the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) – a platform launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that registers commitments to tackle climate change.

Durban mayor

James Nxumalo is vice-president of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and the mayor of Durban in South Africa. He said, “It is cities that tackle climate change most effectively […]local leaders are taking local level initiative to help set the terms of climate action, and are forging their own path to a more sustainable future.”

Jonathan Mueke is deputy governor of Nairobi in Kenya. He invited the EU to set up a secretariat in his city, promising its dedication to becoming an African exemplar of sustainability and green energy.

After describing local legislation which means all new buildings must have solar power for heating water, he said the Covenant would be particularly useful for benchmarking and exchanging best practice in Africa.

The original Covenant was founded in 2008 to meet and beat EU energy and climate targets. Since then, it has grown to more than 6,500 cities and regions. It was recently revamped to include climate adaptation measures.

The new agreement incorporates the 2014 Mayors Adapt initiative, which focused on adapting to climate change. The renewed strategy now includes a promise to tackle both climate mitigation and adaption.

The Committee of the Regions has strongly backed the Covenant of Mayors. Markkula has demanded the role of cities and regions be enshrined in the final COP21 deal. Negotiators have until Friday (11 December) to seal the agreement. A new draft text was expected late last night or today.

>>Read: COR President: COP21 will be a failure if cities’ role not enshrined in final deal

The ‘globalisation’ of the Covenant was also welcomed by non-governmental organisations, some of which have described the actions of sub-national leaders as a highlight of COP21.

“Cities and regional authorities play an important role in the fight against climate change,” David Miller, WWF-Canada’s president and CEO told EURACTIV.

“The Covenant of Mayors commitment shows that cities are playing an important role in reducing the impacts of climate change, while underlining the need for all levels of government, businesses, and communities to work together for to put us on a path towards a 1.5 degree world.”

There is a growing clamour in Paris for a deal capping global warming at 1.5 degrees, rather than the two degrees originally trailed.

At a joint press conference with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations, Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete was asked about the 1.5 degree target. He said the issue was still being discussed but the bloc was “open” to the idea, after announcing a joint declaration for a legally binding, ambitious deal at COP21.

Pacific nations in particular want 1.5 degrees, as they are at particular risk of climate change.

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.

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.

The Covenant of Mayors, a European Commission initiative, recognises that cities have a responsibility to contribute to the fight against climate change, as around 80% of CO2 is emitted in urban areas.

Signatories include over 5,000 EU cities and regions which voluntarily committed to cut CO2 emissions by over 20% by 2020.

Participating mayors and local authorities commit to producing sustainable energy action plans, which must detail how they plan to reach the promised emissions reductions both in the public and private sectors of the city concerned. The mayors will then have to report on implementation progress at least every two years.

Separately, the Energy Cities group bills itself as "the European association of local authorities in energy transition". According to a recent analysis by The Economist, a third of the world’s cities will be susceptible to the effects of climate change by 2025.

But cities also contain a disproportionate amount of buildings and street lights, account for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and could be pivotal in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.

  • 11 December: Last day of COP21


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