Regions ahead of COP24: You can count on us

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Thousands of people attend the People's Climate March to stand up against climate change. [Nicole S. Glass/ Shutterstock]

The European Committee of the Regions defends the role of local and regional governments in fighting climate change and demands for their voices to be heard along the UN climate process, write Karl-Heinz Lambertz and Markku Markkula.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz is the president and Markku Markkula is the first vice president of the European Committee of the Regions. 

The most recent IPCC report was chilling reading: we need to do far more if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change. On our current trajectory, global temperatures will warm by 3°C by 2100 damaging our biodiversity with severe weather affecting millions of people across the globe. The reality is that we are way off track in meeting the under 2°C Paris Agreement goal. 

The COP24 in Katowice needs to accelerate our efforts by consolidating firstly, our commitments – through the creation a robust Rule Book and climate financing;  and secondly, our partnerships so we create a more inclusive global governance that involves all levels of government, civil society and businesses. 

At a time when national interests are taking precedence over international obligations, we need more ambition. The EU is committed to cutting greenhouse gasses to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 and recently proposed a long-term strategy to become carbon-neutral by 2050, something our Committee has been calling for since 2015. This is the same target that the IPCC report claims are needed to keep temperatures warming below 1.5°C. 

For local and regional leaders greening our economies, cleaning our air, making our homes energy-efficient and ensuring a healthy sustainable supply of food makes not only environmental sense but business sense. The recent New Climate Economy Report estimates that bold climate change could deliver at least US$26 trillion globally in economic benefits by 2030. 

Cities and regions have long been rolling up their sleeves: this year we celebrate 10 years since the EU’s Covenant of Mayors was launched – an initiative whereby local and regional authorities voluntarily agree to surpass the EU’s climate and energy targets.

Today, more than 7,500 towns and cities have joined this bottom-up movement which has now gone global. At the sub-national level innovation and ambition continues to drive forward the global climate agenda. 

Yet despite the role of local and regional governments being recognised in Paris, we haven’t made nearly enough headway in creating a truly inclusive global climate governance system. The Fijian Presidency from last year’s COP opened doors to enable local and regional governments, civil society and businesses to have their voices heard within the UN climate process.

This Talanoa Dialogue must not only be continued but strengthened, as it has demonstrated that by increasing inclusiveness we can ramp up ambition. This process is indispensable if the COP24 is to be a success. 

We need an honest, realistic and transparent climate Rule Book that monitors greenhouse gas emissions, reports climate protection efforts and commits how much resources industrialised nations will deliver to poorer countries to help them reduce their emissions and adapt to a warmer world.

This is imperative and we need to encourage all of the world’s regions and cities to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, by being active in the UN’s SDG Cities Leadership Platform and other similar initiatives. 

It’s therefore high time that ‘Locally and Regionally Determined Contributions’ are established to complement ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ to show that we are all responsible for taking climate action and to maintain the motivation at the local and regional level. This will take us closer to bridging the gap between the Parties’ current commitments and the reduced levels of CO2 emissions needed to reverse global warming.

Assessing individual contributions means also helping those regions and cities that are lagging behind. Industrialised countries need to uphold their financial commitments to support developing and more vulnerable countries and regions. 

In Europe, many regions have long been reliant on coal and need support to make the transition to a low-carbon economy. The European Commission estimates that coal mining provides 185,000 direct jobs in 12 EU member states but claims that there is potential to create 900,000 jobs by the end of the next decade in areas such as renewable energy. 

Shifting to a low-carbon needs careful planning, technical support and regional investment to ensure regional economies are protected. In Europe, we need to strengthen the co-creation of EU environmental policy – an area of local and regional government competency. EU regional investment – so-called cohesion policy – needs to be strengthened, not weakened, so that regions and cities can mitigate, adapt and climate-proof their economies. 

This year’s negotiations in Katowice are critical in laying the groundwork for a robust Rulebook to avoid temperatures rising above 1.5°C. The slogan of the COP24 Polish Presidency is ‘Changing together’:  with the right level of political courage and a herculean effort by all of us, it is feasible.

It means transforming our global climate governance so that local and regional governments are formally given a seat at the negotiating table to bridge the gap between the climate pledges and achievements. 

Local and regional governments are showing ambition delivering climate action. Time is short, the world is watching and we need to do more, faster, together. You can count on us.

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