Paris climate agreement: Words needing strong action

The UN Climate conference COP21 is over. And now? What remains of the euphoria that filled the plenary hall at the end of two intense weeks of negotiations? Shall we, the local and regional governments, clap or boo?

31 pages and then?

It is, indeed, a premiere and a diplomatic success that 195 States adopt a global agreement on climate governance. Never before, such a big number of high-level policy-makers had been backcasting their post-carbon future and discussing means to stop fossil energy. This is a symbolic revolution as the world is ready for change: It took 43 years for the Club of Rome’s “limits of growth” to be finally acknowledged by the international community.

However, we have to do much more than issue a 31-page document. The historic transformation of the energy system and the global economy will not happen with a “well below 2°C” goal by 2100 only. The commitments in the Paris Agreement are either not legally binding (greenhouse gas emissions reductions) or squeezed to the annex pages (the $100 billion green financing pledge). Effective domestic policies and reliable mechanisms in the States that submitted voluntary INDCs are needed now to implement the international agreement.

In the case of the European Union, which is currently shaping its EU Energy Union, meaningful change will come through:

  • strengthening the EU’s 2030 strategy and 2050 roadmap
  • reinforcing legislation in Member States to foster action for the energy transition, and
  • establishing a new governance system where the sub-national level is key.

Cities had hoped for an even more solid climate framework: one that would have given them trust in their own audacious policies, power to accelerate action with the adequate support from their national governments and money to make it happen.

City voices becoming louder

Now, the good news. What happened in the sidelines of COP21 in Paris showed leaders and communities at city and regional levels that their incredible efforts do matter.

As a partner of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), Energy Cities welcomed the unprecedented opportunity for multi-level cooperation as well as the COP Presidency’s ambition to help existing initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors to scale up and report on their progress in Paris. During the cities and regions focus day that took place on December 8th right in the UN Blue Zone, Maroš Sefčovič and Markku Markkula, respectively Vice-President of the European Commission and President of the Committee of the Regions, launched the Global Covenant of Mayors, a “global alliance, open to anyone ready to join forces”.

Likewise, a number of other high-level gatherings such as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, gave a voice to some of the thousands of Mayors worldwide who are closely working with their civil society on energy and climate solutions.

Energy Cities has used this international stage to showcase what cities are already doing, both in the framework of our own debate on local governance on December 3rd as well as during events in the UN Blue Zone on post-carbon cities, 100% RES or energy democracy.

Post-Paris promise

Paris is just the beginning. This so-called historic climate deal sets the direction for a new, decarbonised pathway. However, we must quickly find the solid means and mechanisms that will move the commitments from the UN diplomacy arena to national and sub-national policy action. Global diplomats and national decision-makers should embrace the ongoing broad local energy transition movement and adapt financing and capacity-building to those community-driven alternatives.

At Energy Cities we will be working as hard as we can to help close this gap. We will do this with and for the benefit of all those local and regional authorities that already deliver on the energy transition with creative, bold and foresighted measures. 2016 (as well as 2017, 2018…2050) promises to be challenging and exciting!

More on what happened during COP21: here


Publication date

December 15, 2015