Nations and local governments alike emerged from the global climate talks in Cancún with a set of hard fought advancements found in "The Cancún Agreements." It is now time for the world to continue with this positive momentum by tackling the work of creating and implementing a global solution -- one where nations respect and support the power of local action.
As I returned home to the US from the 16th annual Conference of Parties (COP16), I was struck by this year's remarkable achievement, despite widespread doubts that we could drive positive change. From my perspective as a three-term Mayor, I was particularly encouraged by the outcome and the prospects for further climate action during next year's Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa. Local governments have been waging the fight against catastrophic climate change for more than 20 years and in the process attracting business, creating jobs and increasing the quality of life of their citizens. If we can do it well in our cities and our counties -- the rest of the world will eventually catch on and catch up.
Historic gains and world recognition for Local Governments:
COP16 marked a defining moment for local governments' critical role in addressing the devastating impact of climate change with the achievement of a number of significant milestones that made Cancun a history-making summit. Here's why:
For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, the United Nations has officially recognized the crucial roles of local governments in fighting climate change -- as local governments are now identified by delegate nations as "government stakeholders".
Mayor Patrick Hays, North Little Rock, AR, Corporate President and Chair of the Board of Directors of ICLEI-USA, summarized the sentiment of local governments from our point of view in Cancún:
"This is an important achievement that builds on critical climate actions of local communities throughout the world... We welcome this recognition, and simultaneously call on the international community to follow the lead of local governments who have been on the front lines of climate change for the past 20 years," said Mayor Hays.
International progress includes local climate action
World cities and counties arrived in Cancún with a set of deliverables and concrete actions that demonstrate resolve and unrelenting commitment to confront climate change on a local level.
Prior to COP16, hundreds of mayors from around the world gathered in Mexico City to ensure that the next global climate deal empowers local governments and to show that local government voluntary actions can be measured and verified. To underscore this advanced level of international cooperation, more than 150 mayors signed the Mexico City Pact, committing to the Cities Climate Registry -- a voluntary online platform that provides a central clearinghouse of information on climate action gains at the local level.
Through the Cities Climate Registry, localities across the nation and the world can choose to publicly demonstrate their commitment to solutions. This bolstered local government's ability in Cancun to have meaningful engagement in our bilateral meetings with delegates from around the world.
Local governments were given official voice with our first recognition as official stakeholders within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As a result, local representatives from the ICLEI delegation were included in a set of negotiations and invited to make suggestions for revisions to a key negotiating text. Local governments are explicitly referenced in the texts making up the Cancun Agreements, including a critical inclusion in the preamble of the text. Other inclusions in the text for localities include the sections on adaptation, reducing deforestation, and capacity building.
How Cancún moved forward
Transparency was on the top of the minds of stakeholders and national delegations alike heading into the conference of the parties in Cancún. The lead negotiator of the U.S., Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern emphasized the necessity of securing cooperation with an "international consultation and analysis" plan for verifying emissions reductions from developing countries, particularly China. On the other hand, developing countries sought a mechanism for securing transparency in the provision of climate finance from developed countries. Additionally, the ability of the UNFCCC process to host the negotiations openly and inclusively (remember, last year's Copenhagen Accord was hammered out between a select group of countries -- the U.S., China, India, Brazil, and South Africa) was of paramount importance to the future of the Convention. Faith was restored to the international negotiations process and thus a new window for achieving success in Durban, South Africa 2011 is opened.
In the end, a set of agreements on nearly every key issue emerged, building upon the foundations laid in last year's controversial Copenhagen Accord, such as:
- Lowering dangerous emissions: Nations agreed to aim towards a global temperature increase within what is today considered safe bounds by many. Nations also agreed to develop and submit to a system of monitoring, reporting, and verifying national greenhouse gas inventories, including those of developing and emerging economies.
- Finance: Nations established a new Green Climate Fund that will manage a "substantial share" of the anticipated $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020 for lowering emissions and adapting to our already changing climate.
- Technology transfer: The Cancun Agreements established critical mechanisms for technology transfer to facilitate the implementation of effective low-carbon growth strategies in developing countries.
- Adapting to our new climate: The talks in Cancun resulted in an Adaptation Committee, which will assist the Parties in developing a tailored adaptation plan based on best practices developed around the world.
- Deforestation: Addressing deforestation, a key source of global emissions, has now been formally introduced into the process, although details on how to best address this issue will be dealt with at future talks.
Cancún agreement signals more work ahead
The most contentious element of the negotiations this year concerned the future of the Kyoto Protocol, a mechanism for emissions reductions that distinguishes sharply between developed and developing countries in determining mitigation responsibility. The first commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, and whether the Parties will agree to a second commitment period has yet to be determined.
ICLEI is honored to have the opportunity to continue to advocate for the inclusion, recognition and empowerment of localities in the next global climate deal as we move towards COP17 in 2011, scheduled to be held in South Africa. Continued negotiations and dialogue between nations will forge ahead over the coming months as it will be critically important to confront the major obstacles outlined in Cancún -- issues that have kept primarily the major economies, the U.S. and China from turning symbolic pledges and commitments into a solid agreement. There is no denying that an international undertaking of this magnitude requires an incredible amount of will and determination on behalf of all the delegate nations. Much like the efforts and determination demonstrated by cities and local governments to address the urgent need to respond to the deteriorating climate, countries must continue their dialogue to ensure their negotiations move forward and in the direction of progress. The final outcome of which must culminate with a set of legally binding actions to counter the climate crisis around the world. We simply don't have much time to waste.
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