This article is part of our special report Cities and regions against climate change.
SPECIAL REPORT / Local authorities are raising the pressure on national governments to increase their CO2 emissions reduction targets. But they are struggling to make their voice heard at the international climate negotiations. EURACTIV France reports.
Regions are beginning to be acknowledged as important actors in the international climate change negotiations. Towns and regions have long been instrumental in implementing international climate commitments, but they want greater recognition for their efforts.
In a resolution adopted unanimously last Monday (16 November), French senators called for “states to recognise the fundamental role of the territories and communities they represent in the success of the Paris agreement”.
“The most important level”
For the senators, regions are “the most important level where national commitments to mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects are enacted”.
Senator Jérôme Bignon, the author of a resolution on the importance of regions for the success of the COP 21, said, “According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 70% of climate action should be taken at local level.”
70% of all global carbon dioxide emissions come from cities, where local authorities have many different points of leverage for climate action. Among those cited by Bignon were “waste management, the development of public transport and clean energy, […] the protection of the coast and decentralised cooperation with less advanced countries”.
“The central role of regions deserves recognition and support. France will make sure they are promoted. 8 December will be dedicated to their commitments,” said Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie.
Recognition of local action
Mobilisation on a local level is now being taken into account by the UN negotiators. “The text produced in Bonn in Germany distinguishes regions and cities from other parties to the negotiations, like businesses and civil society,” said Bernard Soulage, the vice-president of the Rhône-Alpes regional council and a member of the Committee of the Regions.
This distinction, previously drawn at the Cancun conference in 2010, had disappeared at the COP 20 in Lima last year. “The three places [in the Bonn text] where local authorities are mentioned are not subject to debate, and should stay in the final text,” Soulage added.
The regions also hope to push national governments to increase their ambition ahead of the COP 21, which aims to limit global warming to +2°C by the end of the century. The Committee of the Regions produced a report in October that called on the EU to increase the ambition of its emissions reduction objectives and aim for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Among the report’s proposals was a system to evaluate and increase the contributions of EU member states every five years.
But not all of Europe’s regions are equally committed. Divisions at a regional level often mirror those that separate EU member states.
The Under 2 initiative, a platform joined by regions from around the world to press for emissions cuts of 80-95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels, has attracted the European regions of Baden-Württemberg (Germany), Catalonia (Spain), and Rhône-Alpes (France), but has struggled to motivate Polish regions.
Even at a national level, the heavily coal-dependent EU member state acted as a strong brake on European climate ambitions.
“More German regions will join, and in France the Ile-de-France region has also announced its plans to sign the agreement,” said Soulage. “But in Poland, things are more complicated.”
“I am expecting a response from the Krakow region, the country’s second largest, which is still deciding whether to commit to the initiative,” the councillor added.
The Under 2 initiative has so far been joined by 57 regions from around the world, which together represent more than 17% of global GDP.