Role of local authorities in meeting net zero recognised at COP28

In her latest despatch from Dubai, Martina Juvara reports on how the essential work of local authorities in meeting net zero is being recognised, and considers the implications of the energy agreement signed by world leaders

03 December 2023
Secretary general of the United Nations António Guterres (second left) chairs a session on the energy agreement at COP28
Secretary general of the United Nations António Guterres (second left) chairs a session on the energy agreement at COP28
Martina Juvara takes a break during a long day of discussion and debate in Dubai
Martina Juvara takes a break during a long day of discussion and debate in Dubai

 

Day 3 of COP28 in Dubai was a dense and full-on affair. I am here in my capacity of official observer for the International Society of City and Regional Planners, and – as I did when I attended COP26 two years ago – I’ve convinced my friends at LTT and TransportXtra to help me disseminate my thoughts. This also helps me to crystallise my thinking and reflections at the end of a busy day.

First of all, I should come clean about ‘celebrity-brushing’! I confess to a certain flutter when I crossed paths with secretary general of the United Nations António Guterres, president of France Emmanuel Macron or the UK's minister of state for development and Africa Andrew Mitchell, who is here to form partnerships with African Nations.

I have even received a warm hug from Maimunah Sharif, executive director of UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and a real power-woman: she met me before, but I suspect she thought I was someone more important!

Next, I turn to the main focus of today’s discussions and negotiations: the energy agreement. This could be construed as a way of avoiding the critical ‘phasing out’ of fossil fuels, as called for by António Guterres and advocated by King Charles III. The deal signed today does not do that as it retains fossil fuels as essential part of the transition.

However, it does comprise some helpful components: tripling renewables by 2030; increasing efficiency of fuel use; commitment to report and cut methane and other climate warming non-carbon emissions, mainly generated by oil and gas and waste; and cut routine flaring in oil and gas production, plus a real commitment to decarbonise heavy industry (steel, aluminium, cement and heavy transport). 

Notably, this is supported by the US and China and around 50 oil and gas companies, including some large ones. Independent observers, however, think that reducing use of fossil fuels is simply not enough. They argue that it is merely an ‘out of jail card’ for a destructive industry and, more importantly, that it will be impossible to take renewables further or even just tripling them without taking oil out of the picture. In short, this deal is only positive if it is genuinely implemented by 2030 and considered Phase 1 of a more ambitious plan. I’ll be watching with interest to see what more can be achieved over the next 10 days of the summit.

Alongside this are the ‘baskets’ of measures proposed by the shipping and aviation industries, both committing to a minimum of 5% sustainable fuels by 2030 and acceleration of organic changes that lead to lower emission, together with plans for a Zero Carbon Aviation by 2050 (https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Pages/COP28.aspx) and near to 2050 for Maritime (https://theicct.org/marine-imo-updated-ghg-strategy-jul23/). Both initiatives will revolutionise land operations, particularly for shipping ports, which will translate in Clean Energy Hubs along key green corridor routes. 

All these heavy industries and their representative organisations are, at least in words, committed to work across all nation states and change their industries at the global scale. NGOs are pointing out that for a ‘just transition’ workers need to be protected, reskilled and redeployed. They warn that any loss of jobs will slow down the pace of change or justify new high carbon investment against all commitments. Unfortunately, the UK was mentioned in this respect and not in shining colours.

Another big event over the past couple of days is the Local Climate Action Summit. With the support of the COP Presidency, the Local Government and Municipalities Authorities constituency, which is the groupings of cities and regions within COP, has for the first time been invited to the big table of national leaders. This is recognition, long overdue, that tackling emissions in cities is essential for any Net Zero target and that any adaptation plans needs to be administered by local authorities if they are to be successful. 

The new Coalition for High Ambition Multi-level Partnerships (CHAMP), announced at COP28, recognises the role of cities inn decarbonisation. This means that reporting on carbon targets from the next round of 2025 could include place-based achievements rather than sectorial ones. For instance, the decarbonisation of transport will no longer be limited to stopping the sale of fossil fuel cars but also reducing the need to travel and electrification of public transport fleets. The expectation is that climate funding could then be channelled directly to cities.

A final remark in what was a very dense day: The World Bank and other partners launched The Urban Greening Program as part of the Local Climate Action Summit, to provide policy, implementation and finance to 15 'lighthouse cities' (more jargon!) for urban greening strategies.

Glasgow is one of the 15, and will embark in a vast programme of urban forestation and urban planting, with a particular focus on disused industrial areas, in an effort of increasing access to nature in deprived areas, where ancient forests had been destroyed to make room for commercial activities. The initiative is not without political challenges as jobs and houses are needed alongside more trees, declared leader of Glasgow City Council Susan Aitken, 

Martina Juvara is Director - Master Planning at Urban Silence

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