As national governments meet at COP28, local governments are partnering for change

6 December 2023

[This article was written by Dave Keating and published on on 4 December 2023]

While national governments tend to be at the forefront of the fight against climate change – as signatories to the Paris Agreement, for example – at this year’s COP28 UN climate summit in Dubai, local authorities are also joining them at the table.

“Communities are on the frontlines of climate change and natural disasters,” said Constance Koukoui, who heads up climate partnerships for Cités Unies France. “That’s why we’re advocating for them to be given their rightful place at national and global events – on these issues and for their participation in related roadmaps.”

Cités Unies and the European coalition of towns and regions PLATFORMA have together been attending the COP summits to promote best practices in some of the decentralised cooperation projects they’ve set up.

This year they’re promoting in particular a climate twin cities partnership between Toulouse in France, Tunis in Tunisia and Düsseldorf in Germany.

“The concept also helps to make this action visible to citizens and to strengthen the effectiveness of local public policies in terms of climate resilience,” she said. “Cités Unies France will also disseminate a tool created by Grand Poitiers to help French communities think about their greenhouse gas balance before or after the design of a project.”

The tool, produced as part of the partnership between Grand Poitiers and Santa Fe in Argentina, evaluates the needs of projects, travel distances, and the carbon cost of the materials used. Once the needs have been assessed, the resulting greenhouse gas balance helps to identify solutions to offset the carbon emissions made.

Cities leading the way

Such partnerships are happening between cities separated by large distances, showing what can be achieved on a global scale. In July, the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments (LALRG) partnered with their Uzbekistan counterpart YUKSALISH to coordinate policy planning with an eye to mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects.

The project, funded by Latvia’s cooperation budget, aims to improve Uzbekistan’s sustainable policy planning by drawing on experiential and technical knowledge from Latvia.

“The main mission of YUKSALISH is to promote administrative reforms, and the main task of the movement is to create an open dialogue with citizens, academic circles and businessmen and to create an effective public control system,” explains Agita Kaupuza, head of the Brussels office for the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments.

“Based on Latvia’s examples of good practice in sustainable policy planning in the field of climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as the analysis of the current situation in the Bukhara and Surkhandarya regions, Latvian and Uzbek experts are developing proposals for the improvement of climate change mitigation and adaptation for submission to the Parliament and the Government of Uzbekistan,” she told Euractiv.

“For local communities and inhabitants in Uzbekistan, the project will provide training and offer tools to promote climate adaptation and promote sustainable development of the local area.”

Another example of these types of projects is a cooperation between Lille in France and Oujda in Morocco, which is linking the common climate mitigation and adaptation challenges facing both cities.

“In Lille, we have to heat buildings, in Oujda we have to refresh them, and all of this has a link to energy,” Marie-Pierre Bresson, the deputy mayor of Lille, told the international radio station RFI in 2021.

She noted the role of international organisations linking municipalities, such as the Covenant of Mayors, the Green City Accord of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and PLATFORMA. The Lille-Oujda collaboration won third prize at the PLATFORMAwards in 2020 for their project “Decentralised Cooperation for Sustainable Energy”.

Such partnerships between cities in the EU and cities outside of it have been particularly useful.

Tbilisi, Georgia, for instance, has initiated several partnerships with European cities including a green transport partnership with the city of Leipzig since 2021 through the German Development Agency (GIZ), a learning exchange with the Spanish city of Barcelona about the city’s “superblocks” prioritizing active mobility and limiting traffic, and another learning exchange with London’s public transport system to share best practices.

These are “clear examples of city diplomacy practised by local authorities in the global or regional arena for promoting causes they care about,” Nino Rukhadze, a member of the Tbilisi City Assembly, told Euractiv.

But such partnerships don’t happen on their own. They are fostered through international organisations, she noted, which have proved essential in these types of decentralised climate cooperation partnerships.

“No other format is capable of offering such a vast range of opportunities for cooperation between cities,” she said. “International organizations serve as channels for accessing a broad spectrum of potential partners and hence, provide unparalleled opportunities for networking, even for forging bilateral partnerships.”

Cooperation at COP

However, despite the examples of successful municipal collaboration, there is concern that international efforts to combat climate change are too reliant on the actions of nation-states, bypassing the potential of regions.

Although international regional associations such as the Covenant of Mayors, CEMR and the EU’s Committee of the Regions are present at the COPs, it is only national governments that have a seat at the table and act as signatories to the Paris Agreement.

In fact, cities could find themselves better placed to deal with the climate crisis in some instances, says Tbilisi’s Rukhadze. “In my perspective, the comparative advantage of cities is that cities are less about ideology and politics and more about results and delivery.”

“Hence, the main message would be less focus on politics and more concentration on causes and results. The cities should demonstrate that obtaining the seat at the main table is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve some greater goals and objectives,” Rukhadze said.

“Also I believe that it is very crucial for cities to demonstrate more fluency and commitment to international law,” she added. “We need to show that we take more seriously, or at least no less seriously, the values, principles, rules and commitments than anyone else in the room.”

At the same time, Koukoui from Cités Unies says that these city authorities need help from international organisations to make sure their voices are heard in these international frameworks.

“We will encourage them to bring the key messages and the voice of European local governments and all local governments around the world to the [Paris Agreement] parties, local communities, economic actors and all the organisations and attendees,” she said.

“This is an ongoing mobilisation to be waged jointly with the other networks because the lack of resources and availability to convey these messages to the parties make it insufficient to take local governments into account.”

This voice is important, adds Latvia’s Kaupuza, because city-dwellers will also be among the hardest hit by climate change.

“Climate change adaptation planning and implementation reduces exposure and vulnerability to climate change. In order to make progress on adaptation, city and regional leaders need to define what actions to take to halt biodiversity loss, restore farmland, preserve forests, protect coastlines, ensure no one suffers hunger, and ensure life and livelihoods everywhere.”

The COP28 summit in Dubai will be running until 12 December.

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

[This article was written by Dave Keating and published on on 4 December 2023]

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