Local Governments are Climate Change First Responders

January 11, 2010

Some have called the COP-15 meeting last month in Copenhagen "the environmental Woodstock of this generation." It brought together people from far and wide with high hopes and aspirations, representatives of large countries and small.

I was honored to attend this historic meeting as one member of the NLC delegation focused on promoting and mobilizing the unique and powerful role of local governments.

To that end we met with leaders of cities and communities from all around the globe. At informational briefings we confirmed that cities, towns and counties are a big part of the greenhouse gas emission problem: home to the bulk of the world's population, we are users of a significant amount of the world's energy.

We also confirmed that we are an essential part of the solution and that we're already doing so much good work.

We are the organizers of significant mitigation efforts, retrofitting our local government buildings to use less energy, enacting stringent local building codes, planting and maintaining trees in urban forests and reducing mountains of trash through local recycling efforts.

We are the first responders preparing for severe weather emergencies such as heat waves, hurricanes and droughts. And it will be up to us to adapt our cities to climate change effects such as sea level rise and insect pest infestations.

While the U.N. badges we were issued indicated that our delegation represented a nongovernmental organization (NGO), it's important to point out that the thousands of municipalities represented through NLC are indeed governmental. Unlike many NGOs, we have a broad perspective that must go beyond the interests of narrow, particular solutions. As government organizations, we will seek every appropriate remedy, using our existing authority and powers.  

Perhaps then we need an internationally recognized title consistent with our role. I suggest that we pursue a separate designation - local government organizations (LGOs). We are already playing a unique and critical role in solving the worldwide problem of climate change. Working together, there is much that LGOs can and will accomplish - and we've just begun to harness this power.

Henrietta Davis is a councilor in Cambridge, Mass., and chair of NLC's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Advocacy Committee.