Cities Bring Powerful Voice to Paris Climate Change Negotiations

Press Release
Press Release

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Cities were at center stage during the two week U.N. Conference of Parties (COP21) climate change negotiations last month, giving a sense of urgency, optimism and resolve to the high-level negotiations taking place at Le Bourget.

At a first-ever Climate Summit for Local Leaders forum to highlight local leadership on climate change, hosted by Anne Hildalgo, Mayor of the City of Paris and Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Bloomberg declared that it was the "Largest gathering of global mayors and local leaders ever, the first to coincide with the U.N. meeting of nations, and we're making history today. But we are not here to make history, we are here to preserve the future."

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History was in fact made last week in Paris when 196 countries signed an agreement that establishes a long-term global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"With the final COP21 agreement, the world has come together to commit to aggressively act on climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The unanimous agreement to hold global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius can only be achieved with strong actions and commitments from cities, as well as the private sector and other sub-national actors, in support of our national goals and beyond," said NLC CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. "We applaud President Obama and negotiators from around the world for pursuing an agreement that is ambitious and includes an accountable and transparent review process."

NLC, in partnership with ICLEI, the U.S. Green Building Council and the World Wildlife fund, sent a delegation of 11 local elected officials to Paris to participate in COP21. The NLC delegation-representing the largest group of U.S. local officials attending COP21-met with leaders from around the world, including Mayor Hildalgo, Jane Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, a delegation of ten U.S. senators, and representatives from the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Read a full roundup of the group's Paris activities, including interviews with a number of mayors in the delegation, on NLC's Cities Speak blog.

Highlights of the Climate Agreement

  • Sets an ambitious long-term goal of keeping warming "well below" 2 degrees Celsius. The agreement aligns with the scientific consensus that global temperature warming above 2 degrees Celsius will lead to dangerous climate change consequences. Moreover, under the agreement, countries will "pursue efforts" to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    Ahead of the negotiations, nearly every country submitted a written pledge to cut carbon emissions. These pledges, however, are not substantial enough to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Cities, as well as the private sector, are therefore seen as essential actors in helping nations' achieve their goals, particularly in light of the fact that the national climate action pledges themselves are nonbinding. Because they are nonbinding, the climate agreement will not have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate.
  • Countries will submit more ambitious climate plans every five years. In order to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by the second half of the century, countries are required to review their climate action plans every five years, starting in 2020, and to (ideally) submit new, more aggressive plans for reducing emissions.
  • The agreement includes a system to keep nations accountable. In reviewing their progress toward meeting their emissions reductions pledges, countries will have to follow specific guidelines and report on their progress. While there is no penalty for countries that miss their target, the reporting requirements are intended to bring transparency to the process.

"Cities have played a prominent role leading up to the Paris talks and will be needed even more as we implement the goals established in the COP21 agreement," said Ralph Becker, NLC Past President and Mayor of Salt Lake City. "Now, we must take the steps with our public and private partners to dramatically decrease carbon emissions through comprehensive actions. Clean, affordable energy in our community development and transportation systems are at the heart of a successful future. Cities are the key to giving our kids the safe, healthy environment they deserve."

As proof, more than 400 cities worldwide have signed on to the Compact of Mayors pledging to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change and track their progress transparently. The data collected through the Compact of Mayors will help quantify the impact city actions have on global greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilience, and will establish an accountability and reporting framework to track progress on commitments over time.

In October, President Obama issued a challenge to have 100 U.S. cities committed to the Compact of Mayors ahead the negotiations, which was not only met but exceeded, with over 120 U.S. cities publically committing to a climate action plan by the start of the negotiations.

"We know that this is the start of the work that needs to be done," said Anthony.

Image credit: Michael Bloomberg/Flickr