The climate clock is ticking. Ahead of the UN climate conference COP27, starting this week Sunday in Egypt, progressive cities and regions call once again for concrete actions at all levels of government to address climate change.
Meanwhile they are leading and implementing the urgently needed change on the ground. From greening urban spaces to fighting energy poverty, it is them to make the real difference. This is why their role needs to be better recognised in the negotiations. A first encouraging step in this sense came two weeks ago from the European Parliament. But we need more than words. We need actions.
We spoke to our member Alison Gilliland, Dublin City Councillor and rapporteur of the European Committee of the Regions opinion for the COP 27. She will be part of the Committee's official delegation to COP27.
What do you want to achieve as a member of the CoR delegation at COP27?
The key role played by local and regional authorities in implementing climate action has been recognised in both the 2015 Paris Agreement and last year's Glasgow Climate Pact . Building on this, our key aim is to have i) a commitment to actively involve subnational governance levels in the development of multilevel governance and cooperative action both in the design of climate policies and in their implementation and ii) a commitment to a formal structure to include sub national governance levels in future Conference of the Parties climate dialogues written into the COP27 outcome document. This will involve many conversations with those at the climate negotiation table. To support our mission we will also make the most of the many networking opportunities to highlight and promote practical examples of climate adaptation and mitigation actions our cities and regions are currently leading and implementing.
What is at stake for regions and cities when it comes to climate change?
Local and regional authorities are embedded in every community, they connect with all ages, all abilities and are conscious of local socio-economic community circumstances. Evidence shows that 70% of climate mitigation measures and 90% of climate adaptation measures are implemented at local and regional level. Therefore cities and regional authorities are at the forefront of realising climate change on the ground, in practice - they are leaders and they are implementors. Many strive to do more, more quickly than their national climate action plans - this can be particularly seen in those cities who clamour to join the EU Mission Cities and actively share and learn though many EU and global climate networks. Many also struggle to raise funding either locally or from national government to implement their ambitions. This is why we also seek that local and regional governments can avail of direct climate funding. The more support, whether that be sharing and learning or funding or tech and research investment we give to our cities and regions the great the positive outcomes for local communities and ultimately our planet.
Why is it important to involve specifically regions and cities in the fight against the climate crisis?
As indicated city and regional governments are most hands on when it comes to effectively addressing climate change on the ground - knowing our local areas we can tailor climate measures to our particular socio-economic, cultural, demographic and environmental contexts. Cities in particular are crucial to realising our net zero targets given that most people live in large urban city areas. Given the high residential densities of cities combined with their large centres of employment/enterprises not to mention their enhanced access to public services and infrastructure is much easier to scale up and achieve a critical mass when it comes to climate interventions - for example district heating schemes, 24/7 public transport infrastructure and services, carbon neutral last mile delivery options or electric vehicle sharing schemes etc. The more our voices are included and listened to around the climate decision making table the more effective we will be in implementing climate mitigation and climate adaptation measures as well as measures to combat loss and damage.
How do you tackle climate change in Dublin? Do you have any successful local initiative to share?
We're very very conscious of the need for ambitious climate adaptation and mitigation measures in our capital city and indeed the wider Dublin region. We have a Climate Change Action Plan 2019-2024 in association with Codema (Dublin’s Energy Agency) and the Dublin Metropolitan Climate Action Regional Office (CARO) which we are now updating to meet the requirements of our new national climate ambitions and NDCs. We are so very fortunate that our Climate Action Co-ordinator is a dedicated and passionate climate expert and supports all departments in our local authority to realise their work and ambition.
This year we became an EU Mission Climate Neutral and Smart City which has really motivated us to scale up our actions. We have a well established and innovative Smart Dublin department in Dublin City Council and it has a very strong climate action focus and will very much support our Mission city ambitions and priorities.
Given our particular context, we have many priorities including mitigating the impact of rising coastal waters and susceptibility to flooding and protecting both natural and built environments along the over 50km of beautiful coastline that includes Dublin Bay which is a UNESCO Biosphere. In this area Smart Dublin has developed many sensor based projects including sensors to monitor rising waters and flooding and advise maintenance crews of the need to clear gullies of debris and emergency crews of the need for assistance.
Another priority is mitigating emissions from private cars by increasing our active travel infrastructure - we have several major projects in train to increase the number of segregated cycle lanes and concurrently green the adjacent public realm and enhance our biodiversity. In our city centre we are increasing the number of traffic free streets so that we have quieter, better air quality streets - these are complimented by more actively greening open spaces to move to a more pleasant city centre experience for all those who live, work, recreate and visit there. We are also promoting last mile carbon neutral deliveries and offer an affordable and accessible cargo bike partnership to local businesses through our Local Enterprise Office, an office which also provides training and information sessions on greening business.
We do have our challenges - for example, we have been very slow in providing sufficient segregated litter bins and introducing drinking water fountains to better recycle and cut down on plastic. Our new Bus Connects plan has also slowed as we are finding it difficult to recruit sufficient bus drivers to support new connection routes and night time schedules.
People often speak about young people as the “leaders of tomorrow” who will “solve the crises of today”. What do you make of this type of rhetoric and what do you see as the role of young people today in the effort to reach carbon neutrality? Is their participation/consultation necessary at all?
While we all are aware of the global challenge of climate, we must all act locally. Everyone has to be involved as we need to capture everyone's perspective and ideas. Young people can bring their particular experiences, solutions and vision to the table - those who are active and passionate about climate will know what works and what is needed for their generation, they will know to engage with and persuade their peer groups to be involved, they can act as role models and motivators. They are not just supporters but they are leaders for climate implementation. Indeed I would go as far as to say that everyone has to be a leader in this crisis, whether that be in their home, in their workplace, in their sports and leisure clubs or in their community, regardless of their age, gender, ability or societal role.
Alison Gilliland has been a speaker at this year's Europcom conference focusing on “Communicating climate action”. Parts of this interview have originally been published on the live blog of the European Committee of the Regions.
© Photo credits: Aron Visuals on Unsplash