Reporting from Cancún: As Climate Talks Continue, Local Governments Move Ahead with Concrete Actions

As the slow-moving conference on climate change gets underway in Cancún, the 193 nations present at the talks don’t seem to agree on much of anything. There is little hope that China and the United States will get past their differences on transparency reporting and other key sticking points, which made the Copenhagen agreements difficult to sustain.

An altogether different scenario is getting underway on the local level.  Mayors and local government representatives who are on the front line of the planet’s fight against a changing climate don’t have the luxury of time; they are moving forward with concrete climate actions with the understanding that there is simply no time to waste.

Local Goals on the National Stage

In light of the expected outcomes from COP16, a group of several hundred local government leaders from around the world traveled to Cancún this week with a clear objective: to bring the world community’s attention to the grave impact that climate change is having on cities and local communities around the globe.

We need our voices to be heard.  Mayor Hays from North Little Rock, AR, ICLEI USA President and Chair of our Board of Directors said it best this week when speaking to delegates and summit participants at the climate talks.

“Our primary role in Cancún will be to continue to raise awareness of the central role local government’s play in climate action throughout the world…..we must ensure the establishment and recognition of a clear and defined key role for local governments to exercise during these international climate negotiations.”

Local Governments Leading Through Action

As the 193 nations meeting at COP16 discuss ways of finding agreement on a workable framework for lowering GHG emissions, local government leaders from the U.S. and the world will be discussing way of addressing the devastating impact of climate change on our cities– from rising waters and flooding in cities like Boston, Miami, and San Francisco, to  record temperatures in Asian cities that are causing severe drought and wildfires, not to mention  record snowfalls that have crippled air and land transportation in cities throughout  Europe.

World Mayors Climate Summit and the Mexico City Pact

Local governments are not approaching the Cancún negotiations empty-handed.  To the contrary, we have a concrete set of actions and solid agreements to discuss with world leaders in order to demonstrate our commitment and our pledge to combat climate change on a local level.

A few days before the start of COP16, more than 130 world mayors from around the world gathered in Mexico City for an unprecedented pre-climate summit to advance concrete action on climate change and underscore unity and an advanced level of international cooperation among local governments.

During the World Mayors Climate Summit (WMCS) in Mexico City, local government leaders made history by signing the Mexico City Pact, which establishes a monitoring and verification mechanism for cities to address climate change and implement GHG reductions.  The Mexico City Pact sets in motion the carbonn Cities Climate Registry (CCR), calling for cities to register in an online platform that will record and compare their mitigation and adaptation commitments with other cities.  The CCR sets a clearly defined verification process of these commitments to be followed by each city during their official reporting. More on this can be found at http://citiesclimateregistry.org/

My colleague and Secretary of the Environment for Mexico City, Martha Delgado, said it best when announcing this historic agreement: “Cities have great capacities to address climate change, even in the absence of a binding global treaty among nations, which is why we are here today. We are demonstrating the leadership of mayors and the world to take action on climate change.” Link to statement: http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/21484

Mexico City is certainly leading by example when it comes to confronting climate change head-on. The mayor of one of the most populous cities on earth, Marcelo Ebrard, has launched an aggressive Green Plan to reduce GHG emissions by 7 million metric tons by the year 2012 through a comprehensive program of new public and private investments aimed at targeting transportation, public lands, reductions in air pollution, improvements in water, solid waste and sanitation infrastructure and unparalleled citizen cooperation.

When it comes to effective climate action, there is no doubt that all roads lead to cities and localities.  Through the success of well-developed, well-implemented climate action plans, local governments continue to demonstrate their profound commitment to addressing climate change on a local level and they are looking to the international community to show a similar level of commitment during these climate negotiations in Cancún.  As is customary during these negotiations, most of the action happens during the last wee hours and days.  With this in mind, hope remains among the international non-governmental community that COP16 will yield some progress on climate change.

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