Recipe for successful local action against climate change

Joost Venken, Deputy Mayor of Hasselt, Belgium and Climate Alliance Ambassador

30,000 people, the greatest number of participating nations, delegates and observers in history, united for the same goal: reaching a common climate deal before it is too late. That is what COP21 was to me. In my role of ambassador for the 1,700 cities, which are part of the Climate Alliance network, I had several occasions to highlight the crucial role of the local level in tackling climate change. Cities and towns voluntarily committed themselves to climate action long before the community of states acknowledged its necessity. Climate Alliance was founded in 1990, seven years before the Kyoto Protocol was signed. It has taken 25 years to achieve this historic Climate Agreement in Paris. During COP21 I called upon the higher levels of government to support cities to stand behind their commitments. All my fellow (deputy) mayors had the same story to tell: we are committed! We are fighting the fight, every day, but we cannot do it alone.

To tackle climate challenge successfully we need a firm decision and a commitment from a supranational level, and concrete actions by local authorities. As French senator and municipal councilor of Nantes, Ronan Dantec, said in the COP plenary on behalf of local governments: “You find a deal and we will do the job.” The government levels in between should facilitate local climate action rather than direct it, or, even worse, create legislative obstacles to ambitious local climate policies, diverting resources away from it. Three conditions must be fulfilled, if cities are to make a difference worldwide:

  1. Finance: The gigantic amount of (direct or indirect) subsidies currently spent on fossil fuel industries need to be invested into measures that mitigate climate change and help to adapt to its consequences. For instance, if more of these resources were spent on speeding up the transition to an energy system based on renewable sources, the negative effect of fossil fuels would soon decrease and significant financial means would be at our disposal for climate policies without anyone having to pay a penny more.
  2. Structures: The success of the Covenant of Mayors with more than 6,500 signatory cities committed to concrete climate action shows that working bottom-up is the best way to achieve results. Climate policies need to be designed at the local level, in order to be adapted to the individual situation and make a participatory approach possible. We need horizontal structures instead of hierarchical constructions that result in inadequate top-down policies.
  3. Accessibility: Financial resources and bottom-up structures are key elements to enable effective local climate policy. However, they have to be connected as directly as possible. My own city Hasselt is at the lowest end of a hierarchical structure of six levels of government. This should be simplified and made more direct, more effective and efficient. The UN or the EU can facilitate the empowerment and engagement of cities in both shaping and implementing climate solutions. We do not need a more complex structure, but a smart one that guarantees a fast approach which is more necessary than ever before in the history of mankind.

We can still limit global temperature rise to 2°C or even less, but the window of opportunity is closing fast: it is now or never! Many local governments tackle climate change every day, but it is up to the state leaders to take action now to make the local efforts worthwhile. We need to tackle the climate challenge together. The Lima Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) is a very promising process to involve non-party stakeholders to accelerate climate action. This action agenda should become a permanent part of the international climate process and its governance. As highlighted by the Moroccan Minister Hakima El Haite, “the mobilisation of Non-Party stakeholders has not been a mobilisation of words but a mobilisation of action”. So let’s act together – now! 


Photo Credit: TheClimateGroup via Compfight cc