At the forefront of climate action, regions ask for clear signals

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Regions and local government have asked for the “right signals” from world leaders in Copenhagen so that they can kick-start the policies and investments needed to make the switch to a low-carbon economy.

Speaking to EURACTIV on the margins of the climate summit taking place in the Danish capital, Luc Van Brande, president of the Committee of the Regions, an EU consultative body, said regions needed a clear legal framework but also the financial tools to act.

His statement was echoed by Michele Sabban, president of the Assembly of European Regions, during the Climate Leaders Summit, a side event in Copenhagen organised by the Climate Group with over 60 presidents and ministers from state and regional governments.  “It is up to the regions and the local authorities to implement the commitments taken. For that to happen, a multi-level partnership is needed,” she said.

Kyoto Protocol signatories are already struggling to meet their target of reducing greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to 1990 levels. And with emissions in 2007 at 11% above 1990 levels, the risk is high that it will be not met, said regional leaders.

New types of policies, partnerships and instruments that dramatically scale up present efforts will be needed, they argue. These must be cross-sectoral and programmatic to ensure sufficient gains across all sectors of the economy.

Regional government sees itself as the forerunner of advanced climate policies. European regions and North American states and provinces have established mandatory, long-term greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction goals and similar progress can be witnessed elsewhere, for example in the state of Sao Paolo in Brazil or in the Western Cape province of South Africa, they said.

Speaking to EURACTIV, Jane Davidson, Welsh environment minister, said states and regions often move ahead of national governments, noting that Wales is committed to reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2020. 

Although Davidson is calling for the highest target possible here in Copenhagen, she stresses that underlying the target there should be a plan. “We are not just signing up to targets, we have spent the last two years developing a plan against which these targets will be delivered,” she said.

Within national policies and frameworks the territorial approach targets sub-national authorities, experts said. 

“Sub-national governments are making big moves. We heard from Scotland its intention to reduce emissions by 42% by 2020. Other similar initiatives are taking place in Canadian provinces, in US states,” commented Mark Kenber, policy director of the Climate Group, a non-profit organisation bringing together governments and corporations. 

“On the ground the implementation is really beginning to happen now. What they need to go ahead is that international signal,” Kenber added.

Adaptation and mitigation to climate change are dependent on local planning decisions, the regional leaders underlined. Similarly, it is believed that between 50 and 80% of GHG emissions are influenced by local behaviour and investment choices, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). 

Local taxation

However, regions are demanding clear financial incentives from national governments to achieve this. A third of public expenditure in the EU is related to regional authorities and two-thirds of the investments are made at regional level, said Van den Brande.

Simon Brooks, vice-president of the European Investment Bank, the EU’s lending arm, said regions have an obligation to act on climate change.

But he noted that cities and regions are attractive customers for banks as they are significant institutions in their own right, with the opportunity to use local taxation to back their loans.

‘Action tank’ 

In Copenhagen, sub-national governments have set up of an “action tank” between local authorities and companies, which would together come up with concrete proposals for national governments.

“It is important to take stock of the experiences that have worked and that we will make available to those regions which need them,” Sebban said. 

Transatlantic regional partnership

The Committee of the Regions and the US Conference of Mayors have been working towards the signature of a memorandum of understanding between the two bodies.

Although the US national government has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, almost 1,000 mayors from the US Conference of Mayors, representing 87 million people in the US, signed the ‘US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement’ pledging to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol targets. 

“We need to work together on climate initiatives to tackle global warming,” said vice-president of the US Conference of Mayors Elizabeth Kautz. “Eveybody can make a difference, one light bulb at the time,” she said, noting that authorities in the US are working on the energy efficiency of public buildings and switching public transport to biodiesel or other alternatives.


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The impact of climate change on regions and cities across Europe will vary depending on their location. Recent research suggests that 170 million people – more than one third of the EU population – live in regions significantly affected by climate change.

Many regions and cities have recognised the opportunities stemming from 'greening' the economy, not least with the help of EU funding. For example, EU structural and cohesion funds earmarked EUR 100 billion to support eco-innovation, environmental risk-protection measures, clean technologies and enterprises at local level (EURACTIV 10/03/09). 

In addition, funding for research on issues such as environment, energy, transport and global monitoring and security ubstantially increased to EUR nine billion as part of the EU's 7th Framework Programme.

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