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Growing Input to UN Processes

To the extent that national interests have allowed, UN organizations and the global processes under their influence have been supportive of this newly born movement of civil society, and especially of the growing voice of local governments. Following the Rio Summit in 1992, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the body designated to oversee implementation of the 1992 decisions, defined nine so-called Major Groups, one of which is local governments. A culture of greater openness, transparency, and dialogue has been started, in which the expertise of stakeholders is of increasing relevance. Local governments have now become significant and recognized players in UN processes.

Within the UN mechanisms to address climate change, for example, municipal observers are involved actively through the Local Government and

Box 14–1. Local Agenda 21: A Powerful Movement with Wide-ranging Impacts

Local Agenda 21 has been defined in many different ways, but ICLEI's definition is used commonly: Local Agenda 21 is a participatory, multisectoral process to achieve the goals of Agenda 21 at the local level through the preparation and implementation of a long-term, strategic action plan that addresses priority local sustainable development concerns.

ICLEI has attempted periodically to analyze Local Agenda 21 progress on a global scale.

In 1997, ICLEI helped inform the UN General Assembly Special Session tasked with a fiveyear review of Agenda 21, and in 2002 it worked with the Secretariat of the UN World Summit for Sustainable Development and the UN Development Programme's Capacity 21 Program to provide a second fiveyear assessment. In 2012, ICLEI carried out a comprehensive stock-taking aimed at identifying if, where, and how Local Agenda 21 had become mainstream. Whether it is called “Local Agenda 21,” as in South Korea, Latin America, and several southern European countries, or “urban sustainable development,” or just “local sustainability,” Local Agenda 21 has unfolded vigorously in thousands of places around the world.

Groups of concerned citizens, religious groups, nongovernmental organizations, and others began interacting with additional stakeholders, such as business, science, or government agencies, to formulate how they wanted to pursue the (sustainable) development of their communities. Not only have many sustainability initiatives resulted from these processes, but in most cases no international process, development cooperation approach, or project can start without declaring stakeholder involvement as a key to its success.

As these processes were linked to and inspired each other across national borders, national civil societies were built at the same time as a global civil society movement grew. Based on the original call of Chapter 28 of Agenda 21, local governments have been seen as the units to manage these processes. In many cases, initiatives came from the public, and local leaders took them up more or less voluntarily. In many other cases, the credit goes to local governments, whether mayors, councils, or chief administrative bodies, for having brought the notion of Local Agenda 21 to their towns and cities.

More than 20 years after Chapter 28 was put in place, local consciousness about global and future impacts of today's actions—and inaction—has never been higher. The multilocal movement has prepared the ground for advancing national and international sustainability policies, and local sustainability processes have established themselves as hubs of social innovation. It is clear that sustainability needs a multilevel governance system with a multisectoral approach. It is time to move from national interests to global environmental justice.

Source: See endnote 7.

Figure 14–1. Local Climate Actions Paralleling Global Actions, 1990–2013

Municipal Authorities Constituency. When the first Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC met in Berlin in 1995, ICLEI started a series of related local-government events and a Mayors Summit on Climate Change. Since then, each COP has been accompanied by a local government side event and a gathering of local leaders. The core message has always been the same: local governments are concerned about climate change and its impacts, are taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions themselves, and call on national governments to increase and accelerate their joint efforts to combat climate change. Over the years, this message has been widened and now includes required action on climate change adaptation as well as mitigation.

Each year, local leaders have based their urgings to national and international governments and organizations on reports about their own local activities and achievements. Even as national governments were still discussing the Kyoto Protocol, many local governments had already agreed on targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. And while national governments still cannot agree on joint efforts to reduce emissions, cities and towns have openly declared goals for themselves as “low carbon,” “fossil free,” or “climate neutral.” From the very first local leaders' summit, the offer from local governments was clear: we do act locally and are ready to support national implementation of internationally agreed targets. No country can reach the urgently needed greenhouse gas reduction targets without strong support at the local level.

Overall, the last 20 years of global climate negotiations reflect well the growing role of local governments in international governance processes. (See Figure 14–1). Local actors, organized in large part by ICLEI, have mirrored global efforts at nearly every stage and have often stimulated the debate among nations with their own commitments.

When delegates to the UN climate conference in Indonesia in 2007 agreed to the so-called Bali Roadmap, ICLEI gathered local government organizations to form the Local Government Climate Roadmap 2007–2009—the largest-ever coalition of local government networks—to call for a comprehensive post-2012 global climate agreement in which local governments are recognized, engaged, and empowered. The hope was that the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009 would result in a breakthrough for climate change. With more than 1,000 registered participants, ICLEI's local government delegation to Copenhagen was the second largest after the Danish NGOs. Local leaders from around the world came to encourage national governments in a series of organized dialogues within the Local Government Climate Lounge. When the Copenhagen conference ended in failure, disappointment with the lack of national government leadership reached the local level as well. Since then, local governments have changed (but not reduced) their advocacy strategies. In November 2010, just prior to the UN climate conference in Cancún, Mexico, many cities decided to show their leadership by adopting the Global Cities Covenant on Climate, also known as the Mexico City Pact. The agreement built upon the Copenhagen World Catalogue of Local Climate Commitments, a clearinghouse for more than 3,500 voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitments by local governments. Closely related was the launch of the carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR) as a tool to document these commitments and related actions.

Both initiatives should have a lasting impact as crystallization points for committed cities and towns.

Although no climate consensus was reached at the Cancún conference, the role of subnational governments was officially mentioned for the first time in a COP outcome document, and subnational governments were recognized as governmental stakeholders within the global climate regime. This has freed them from the paradoxical category of “nongovernmental.” Labels are not really the issue, however. Local governments are fighting for the expectation that national governments will accept local governments as appropriate and efficient implementation partners and endow them with powers and access to resources—a role that is in their own interest of advancing the fulfillment of their global commitments.

At the 2011 climate conference in Durban, South Africa, the Durban Adaptation Charter completed the mechanism of local government commitments. The Charter's content points to the close relationship between climate mitigation and adaptation needs, pulling countries in the same direction. Hundreds of local governments and their national associations have signed this local commitment to respond to climate change, linked to a call to reduce the sources of climate-altering greenhouse gases. The strong presence of local governments in Durban demonstrated again the cooperation of municipalities from both industrialized and developing countries, and encouraged local government networks to prepare a new advocacy phase. Most recently, at the 2013 climate conference in Warsaw, Poland, local government organizations joined forces to present the second, “renewed” phase of the Local Government Climate Roadmap, looking toward the Paris climate conference in 2015. The agreement highlighted synergies with processes focused on urbanization outside of the UNFCCC framework, and it made a stronger case for financial resources and direct access to global funds and market-based finance instruments. In general, it has become clear that many local activities are underfunded and that the local level needs investment for reducing emissions along with everyone else. Increasingly, transnational mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility, the Green Fund, and even the World Bank and its related institutions are moving toward supporting local activities, and private investors are more willing to spend money on local climate action.

As compared with the UNFCCC, municipal observers play a lesserdefined role in other UN agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, where they are grouped under “Sub-National Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities.” With support from ICLEI, however, these UN mechanisms and their related meetings and negotiations have increasingly recognized the implementation role of local governments. (See Box 14–2). Local governments also are involved actively in the UN's post-2015 development agenda, the main outcome of the Rio+20 conference in 2012. (See Box 14–3.)

 
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