Urbanization and Climate Diplomacy: How to Realise the Potential of Cities for Ambitious Climate Action?

Madrid will host the UNFCCC COP 25 after Chile cancelled hosting the event due to internal political unrest.

After national governments achieved a global agreement on climate change in Paris, it is crucial to implement the respective commitments and identify potential for increasingly ambitious action. In this process cities will be essential. New Partnerships of cities, civic organisations like philanthropies and the private sector have shaken up traditional climate governance. Increasingly, established city networks make it more feasible than ever for national governments to engage with urban actors. However, their role in international climate governance does not yet match their potential. The report by adelphi on Urbanization and Climate Diplomacy examines how cities and city networks can be integrated into the current international climate policy architecture. One of the indicators of the underestimation of cities’ potential in the UNFCCC process is the fact that the INDCs lack a prominent focus on local governments for the transformation towards low carbon development. Analyses of the involvement of cities in climate finance suggest similar conclusions.

Urbanization and Climate Diplomacy adelphi report 2015

Due to structural hurdles, multilateral financing is more accessible for national governments. These structures are constantly evolving, but institutional and human capacity building on a local level as well as enhanced vertical coordination are still needed. Based on the analysis of the historic and current role of cities, their motivation to engage in global climate diplomacy and the wide range of emerging urban actors, the report recommends the following principles and measure to enhance the role of cities and especially the role of city networks:

Decisions about the role of cities vis-a-vis states and international organizations must be grounded upon the reality of interdependence

There is no clear line separating a local from a national or international issue – be it climate change, migration, or economic development. If solutions to such issues are incorrectly framed in zero-sum terms, this stifles the chance for their practical and sustained achievement. There is no “urban” or “national” problem: there are simply problems. Enhanced coordination and collaboration between all levels of government is a prerequisite for cities and city networks to effectively contribute to climate action.

There must be terms of engagement for city networks and the international community

It is vital to create a setting that allows all stakeholders to interact on an equal footing and to promote a better understanding of the nature and agendas of the plethora of city networks. A discussion on the conditions for effective engagement with city networks should therefore at a minimum address their internal governance, the number and global distribution of member cities, and the type of activities networks can contribute in the international process. The UNFCCC provides a good opportunity to initiate this debate at the global level. Guidance can be drawn from the admission criteria for stakeholder groups at COPs, or the more recent experiences with the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, which already specifically addresses cities and regions through the NAZCA Platform.

Improve coordination among city networks

City networks, too, could benefit from a clear delineation of their roles. The increasing diversification of such initiatives provides much needed flexibility but also calls for better coordination. For instance, it might be difficult for cities to choose an appropriate tool for assessing urban vulnerability from the multitude of approaches available. A good example of an initiative that addresses such issues is the Medellin Collaboration on Urban Resilience, an alliance between UN-Habitat, UNISDR, the World Bank Group, IDB, GFDRR, the Rockefeller Foundation, 100 Resilient Cities, C40 and ICLEI. The Medellin Collaboration fosters harmonization of approaches and tools, catalyses access to finance and supports capacity building in cities. The Compact of Mayors is another good example of an initiative that fosters coordination amongst city leaders and city networks.

Define the role of city networks in fostering cooperative relationships between the private sector and cities

National policies need to both regulate private industry emissions and strengthen cities´ ability to deal with industry directly. The private sector is often an important ally of cities with respect to climate action, as exemplified by business involvement in C40, ICLEI and other city networks. This needs to be encouraged, while also strengthening transparency and accountability. If designed to be fair and mutually beneficial, cooperative relationships with the private sector can greatly increase the capacity of cities to pursue the kind of aggressive action that is needed to tackle the challenges of climate change.

Give urban issues stronger consideration in national climate policy

The future review of INDCs should call for enhanced vertical integration in national climate policy specifically addressing cities. City networks can act as a facilitator. They are able to mobilize their members and additional cities in signing up to global initiatives, such as UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient campaign, the Durban Adaptation Charter or the Covenant of Mayors. They can also proactively engage in developing guidelines on vertical policy integration in the INDC process and they can provide substantial knowledge and capacity to integrate urban issues in national climate policy.

Use the pre-2020 period to test enhanced modes of engagement

As the Paris agreement will only enter into force in 2020, the next years provide a window of opportunity to explore new ways of collaborating with cities. More attention needs to be paid to the role of cities in climate finance, especially with respect to the GCF. While most networks are unlikely to qualify for accreditation, their close affiliation with many already accredited entities positions them well for an advisory role. In particular, networks can help to coordinate horizontal collaboration. For example, the City Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) not only fosters regional dialogue and knowledge exchange, it also facilitates the pooling of infrastructure projects to reach required investment thresholds.