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Cities and Climate Diplomacy: Lessons from Southeast Asia

Chairing ASEAN in 2014, Myanmar hosted the final conference of the EU-Asia dialogue on 4-5 September in Yangon. The event, organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and UN-Habitat, brought together about 40 high ranking officials of the national Government of Myanmar, international institutions such as the UN and the EU, as well as experts from think tanks and academia. Myanmar in particular can provide a vivid example of how to include past experience in future development. With a low rate of urbanization (both in terms of urban population and urban growth), Myanmar has dedicated itself to learning from other ASEAN countries to find the right balance between economic growth and sustainable, climate friendly development. As in other countries, regardless of their level of development, climate resilience for cities becomes an umbrella topic to unite adaptation, mitigation and economic growth measures.

Predicated on the question of how to include cities in the global climate regime was the notion that the core of climate change might be scientific, but the solution to it remains mainly a political challenge. Along with a thorough review of the UNFCCC process, drawing a line from the lessons of Warsaw to the preparations for Paris in 2015, political questions and concerns regarding the role of cities and their contributions to the negotiation process were discussed.

Key recommendations include:

  1. Cities’ vulnerabilities to climate change depend on global commons. Only a global agreement can provide the common ground for cities to find answers to this challenge.
  2. Cities and local governments need defining guidelines and reliable frameworks, maybe more so than other actors. This includes long-term financial commitments as well as clearly defined jurisdiction and support for capacity building. These have to be included in any binding international climate agreement.
  3. Cities need a voice in the international negotiation process. They have a legitimate claim to be heard, many climate change sensitive mandates are located on a local level and the pressure to implement measures rests on cities. This should be reflected in a formalized participation mechanism within the UNFCCC.
  4. National positions during international negotiations do not necessarily reflect countries’ ambitions and activities in tackling climate change. At the same time, political realities in international processes, shaped by varying relationships between countries through common interest groups and regional collaborations, can produce a gridlock in the negotiations. Cities can bridge these two gaps through their efforts to implement climate action and city-to-city collaboration in exchanging knowledge and applying innovative solutions.