COP 27: cities and regions are key to move from goals to actions

COP 27: cities and regions are key to move from goals to actions

In the 1850s, John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, was one of the first to describe what would be called climate change one a hundred years later, explaining how gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide and water vapour, can absorb heat, thus unintentionally predicting a catastrophic evolution of the Earth.

170 years later, world leaders are trying to figure out how to keep the planet inhabitable for humanity. And especially now, everybody is preparing their climate talks for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), which will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt) on 6-18 November 2022.

Usually known as COP, the biggest annual Conference of the Parties brings together the majority of world leaders, including the EU, attempting to shift the dial on climate change. After another record year of climate-related disasters, with the urgent need for global action plain to see. The latest COP 26 in Glasgow aimed to reinforce collective actions towards implementing the Paris Agreement to tackle the climate crisis, while declaring a state of global emergency. The goal is still to achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050 in order to keep the increase in average global temperature below 1.5 °C in comparison to pre-industrial levels. 

In times of multiple crises, the priority of tackling climate change has often been called to question. The current geopolitical tensions as well as a battered global food system present a challenge to cooperation at COP 27. But a crucial message must be repeated out loud in Sharm el-Sheikh: climate action is the solution to the current energy crisis.

The need for this recognition comes after the general fear of seeing the European Green Deal ambition undermined, with countries, regions and citizens facing the biggest energy crisis since World War II, an unprecedented pandemic and the most significant threat to security, peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) reiterates its core demand to acknowledge the struggle on the ground level that local and regional authorities are facing in supporting their citizens, and stresses that LRAs are key actors in allowing citizens to be put at the centre of these high-level discussions that will impact their future.

This has been confirmed on many occasions, including by the science-based International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published some months ago and the Glasgow Climate Pact last year.

Our PES Group member and Dublin city councillor Alison Gilliland will have the task, as CoR rapporteur on COP 27, of pointing out that we can overcome the energy crisis through climate commitments only with the involvement and the expertise of regions and cities.

Her requests and messages have shaped a CoR opinion titled Towards a structural inclusion of Cities and Regions in UNFCCC COP 27 and were echoed by the European Parliament in early October.

Local and regional authorities, playmakers in the climate battle

Cities and regions have never been properly taken into consideration during this kind of high-level fora and it’s time to change this for clear and practical reasons:

  • They are the ones translating the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement objectives into actions on the ground. Implementing these green initiatives means delivering adaptation and mitigation solutions.
  • Cities and regions are already advancing through the creation of innovation hubs, new technical and financial solutions, experimenting with new types of governance, all this to achieve practical commitments - around 10 000 local and regional authorities have already committed to ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and tackle climate change.
  • They are the ones reacting to the impact of climate change in order to provide their communities with services, support and protection during and after climate-related disasters, social and health impacts, and to deal with new inequalities.

Progressives are in the lead when it comes to transforming their cities and regions into greener spaces, as many examples from progressive cities all over Europe show.

The power of appropriate means in the hands of local and regional governments

Regions and cities are the ones leading by example thanks to their commitment and proximity to citizens.

Moreover, adaptation challenges vary greatly within each country and region, so local and regional governments are the most suitable to define adaptation goals and ensure that no one is left behind.

But to do their job best, they need to be empowered and financed with appropriate means to support their citizens, build energy-resilient communities, and continue the race towards climate neutrality.

Consequently, they call for:

  • education, access to information and technology. This will also prevent “maladaptation”, that is, for example, an action to counter an effect of climate change that automatically exacerbates the problem itself.
  • reskilling and upskilling. The EU also acknowledges this need, with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen mentioning during her State of the Union speech, that 2023 will be the European Year of Skills.
  • support in filling capacity gaps in policy-making. For example by pushing for more inclusion of women and young people in decision-making processes. They prove to be key players in this era of green transition. Greta Thumberg is the perfect example.

It’s a reality that women, compared to men, litter less, recycle more and leave a smaller carbon footprint. Women's participation in climate change decision-making is key to more gender-responsive and efficient climate change policies and programmes.

  • gender equality and consideration of women when planning climate actions. Climate change policies have gender-differentiated impacts. For example, now, with the demand for energy sufficiency, cities plan to limit public services such as street lights, schools and nursery care. This has a different impact on men and women due to different social roles, safety perceptions and physiology. 
  • direct funding to deliver climate action. Adequate access to finance would allow cost-effective implementation. One good starting point is the new European Commission project, EU Missions, which is using 100 EU cities as smart hubs to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.

The Committee as a valuable partner at the climate governance table

Collaboration among EU regions and cities, sharing of knowledge, information and best practices will be crucial if we want to put the entire EU on the same path towards climate goals and to create a chain of support for the most vulnerable, especially with the winter approaching. 

In this respect, the Covenant of Mayors is a good example. As rapporteur Alison Gilliland stressed in her opinion, 75% of Global Covenant of Mayors signatories have set more ambitious GHG reduction targets than their respective national governments.

Access to both international and national level negotiations would also allow the Committee to ensure that the decision-making happens with cities’ and regions' needs in mind at all levels.

The CoR is ready to cooperate and build effective, regular consultation and cooperation at this COP 27 and in the future, and an open dialogue with the Czech Presidency of the Council of the EU in order to bring forward the requests of cities and regions.

Progressive cities and regions call for solutions

Through her opinion, Alison Gilliland is calling for better integration of the Committee and the above-mentioned requests as the COP’s current and future modus operandi.

Looking at overcoming the energy crisis, the rapporteur is pushing to speed up the transition to an energy system fully powered by renewable energy and calls for an effective awareness-raising campaign on energy sufficiency.

Again, local and regional authorities are best placed to support a fair, inclusive and sustainable transition by implementing measures that also support the most vulnerable groups affected by energy and mobility poverty.

She also advises the COP 27 to strengthen the partnerships with other United Nations (UN) programmes, in particular the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Development Programme, in order to achieve more consistency when approaching climate strategies, including on climate neutrality and resilience, biodiversity and sustainable development.

The PES Group for a better COP27

Alison Gilliland is supported by all PES Group members in stressing the importance of working together to tackle this energy crisis as a Union, while maintaining high commitments for a more sustainable future.

Progressive cities and regions will do their best to make their voice heard at the COP 27 negotiations and make a more sustainable future a reality for citizens across all EU territories and communities.


© Photo credits: Mike Erskine on Unsplash