NLC Delegation Champions Local Government at Climate Talks

January 11, 2010

As the world gathered in December to discuss the threat of climate change, NLC was present to represent the voice of local government. The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-15) met in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 7-18, and, consistent with many other groups representing local and state governments, the NLC team was in attendance for the second of the meeting's two weeks, when the majority of the attendees were present.

Henrietta Davis, councilor, Cambridge, Mass., and Matt Zone, council member, Cleveland, represented NLC and America's 19,000 cities and towns. The two serve as chair and vice chair, respectively, of NLC's Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Policy Policy and Advocacy Committee. Completing the delegation were three staff members from the NLC Center for Research and Innovation: Ken Rosenfeld and Tammy Zborel from the sustainability program, and Jim Brooks who oversees international programs.

The NLC delegation, working with partner organization ICLEI-USA, received credentials as official observers, and was very active throughout its stay. While the official national delegations fought their way to the resulting Copenhagen Accord, NLC worked with other organizations representing local governments to spread its own message: America's cities have been the leaders in the U.S. on climate change, they serve as the front line in experiencing the effects and they are positioned to take on both mitigation and adaptation measures in the future. 

Annual U.N. climate summits have been held since 1995, but there has not been a similar level of international attention and anticipation since the conference that produced the Kyoto Protocol 12 years ago. With the possibility for tangible international action and finding a succeeding agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, tens of thousands of national delegations, academics, private corporations, nongovernmental organization interests, authors, media and representatives of states, provinces, regions and cities from all corners of the globe converged in Copenhagen to have their voices heard.

Although the United Nations expected 12,000-15,000 people to attend the conference, unofficial sources placed the actual pre-registered number as high as 45,000. As a result, hours-long lines swelled around the Bella Center meeting site each day as access was gradually reduced then finally restricted on the last day.  

Inside, the Bella Center teemed with activity, including meeting rooms and national delegation offices, an exhibit hall bustling with hundreds of displays and information booths, and corridors lined with conference documents.  Delegates had to navigate around crowds, which formed everywhere - at official side events, television monitors broadcasting live speeches from the main floor and even around an occasional protester dressed as a polar bear.

Throughout the week, the NLC team attended and participated in numerous workshops and briefings on topics including climate science, policy, adaptation strategies, economic impacts, international networks and financing mechanisms.

During a private briefing with the U.S. State Department, Councilor Davis and Council Member Zone joined other local officials in testifying to the ongoing accomplishments of local government and the need for increased federal support to expand and strengthen locally led climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. 

"Cities and towns have been the implementers of this work for years," Davis said afterward. "We have a lot of experience to share and would like to be recognized by the federal government as partners."

Councilor Davis also addressed a panel hosted by the European Union Committee of the Regions and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, pointing out the valuable contributions of municipalities, regardless of size or region, and calling for a more inclusive approach to recognizing and engaging all local efforts. "We're all in this together," she said.

While the success of this summit will ultimately be judged by the content of the accord, there was an underlying acknowledgement by most attendees that this is neither the beginning nor the end. The work is far from the level where it needs to be internationally, but will continue, even if it occurs at a slower pace than what most believe is required. 

Nowhere was the fusion of enthusiasm, anxiety and urgency more pronounced than in the sizable local government delegation from around the world. As the second largest group of delegates, local leaders made their presence known and their message clear. Directly engaged in the issues - and impacts - of climate change, cities bring not only experienced solutions, but the desire to apply them on a large scale. 

In the U.S., national targets will be achieved in part through local action and therefore cities are eager to work in partnership with the federal government to help develop strategies and ensure adequate support for these efforts.

"Cities recognize that the outcomes of a global treaty will directly connect to local government as the implementers," commented Council Member Zone.

NLC's participation at COP-15 sought to find alignment with international audiences, while also reinforcing local government positions to the federal government back in the U.S.

For more information, see the delegation's reports on the new NLC blog: CitiesSpeak.org.

Details: To learn more about NLC's work on sustainability and climate change issues, contact Ken Rosenfeld at rosenfeld@nlc.org or Tammy Zborel at zborel@nlc.org.