Regions push for greater influence in climate negotiations

Climate change will drastically affect Europe's wine producing regions. [Rachel Kramer/Flickr]

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.

>>Read: False start at Bonn climate conference

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.

Increasing ambition

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.

>>Read: EU ministers’ ‘deal’ on emissions leaves little time for COP21 diplomacy

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.

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

Even at a national level, the heavily coal-dependent EU member state acted as a strong brake on European climate ambitions.

>> Read: Poland says it ‘won’ at the EU summit

“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. 

United Nations conference on climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. This Framework Convention is a universal convention of principle, acknowledging the existence of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change and giving industrialized countries the major part of responsibility for combating it.

The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 was a milestone in the international negotiations on tackling climate change.

For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries. The protocol, which entered into force in 2005, was intended to cover the period 2008-2012.

A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.

Although Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, COP15/CMP5 recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 made the 2°C target more tangible by establishing dedicated institutions on key points, such as the Green Climate Fund.

The willingness to act together was reflected in the establishment, in 2011, of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), whose mandate is to bring all countries, both developed and developing, to the table to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all the States Parties to the UNFCCC. This agreement should be adopted in 2015 and implemented from 2020.

In the interval until a legally binding multilateral agreement is implemented in 2020, the Doha Conference (Qatar) in 2012 established a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020), which was ratified by a number of industrialised countries, and terminated the Bali track.

The Climate Change Conferences in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima , Peru, in 2014 enabled essential progress towards COP21 in Paris in 2015. All the states were invited to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of COP21.

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