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City leaders and young activists strive to be heard at climate summit

LTT’s COP28 correspondent Martina Juvara reports on the launch of a global group of young leaders, and why local authorities insist they must have a role in shaping the climate change agenda

04 December 2023
Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (left) and Marianne Overton, an Independent councillor at Lincolnshire County Council discuss finance and policy at COP28
Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (left) and Marianne Overton, an Independent councillor at Lincolnshire County Council discuss finance and policy at COP28

It is early morning and another day of national holiday, with the Dubai Metro full of delegates hurrying to avoid the long security queues at the summit. My head is swirling with all the information from yesterday’s sessions.

The big leaders have left and are due back in a week’s time for the final decisions and shows. That leaves the negotiators free to work undistracted by the usual political twists and turns. There will be a lull in media coverage and big announcements will become scarce.

Meanwhile, we’ve had the launch of the Global Youth Statement GYS2023 by the Youth Constituency – the group of young leaders and activists who have official representation through Ambassadors to COP. This is not yet available online but officially received by the COP Presidency, according to press releases. I look forward to reading it, as it contains a set of Youth Demands for a better future including for security, heath, cities and more.

The rest of my day was mainly spent trying to understand the agenda for cities and local government, the MLG or multilevel governance as it is known, within the COP process. 

Debra Roberts from the IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change the scientific advisors to the UN, stated unequivocally that “science is demanding that we run a race, while we are speed-walking at best”. It is certain we will overshoot 1.5 degrees C and that we have to prepare for a very different future, she warned. This means that our cities and ways of living will be soon very different; either a life dominated by the management of disasters, no longer dystopian but normal, or a life radically transformed. 

Futurists and innovators from companies like Siemens pointed out that we are exiting the pilot project phase, and it is now possible to implement big integrated change at scale. Our urban settlements are terribly inefficient in their use of natural energy, materials and food resources. The call is to embrace efficiency of resource use in everything we do. To quote Climate advocate and former US Vice President Al Gore Al Gore, “political will is also in itself a renewable resource”, hinting that we know what to do and how to do it - we just have to act.

Within this context, the Local Government and Municipalities Authorities Constituency has been celebrating representation at this year’s summit, with a mayor sitting for the first time at the same table as ministers. In 2009 mayors were not even invited to attend COP as a side show and it was only in 2015 that they have formed into a pressure group: the LGMA Constituency.

Now they aim to “change the architecture of who comes to the table so that real change can be achieved”. This is the multilevel governance, MLG, agenda that needs to creep into the text of the negotiations and agreements.

This seems obvious at face value, but the recognition is hardly happening the world over. The climate change agenda and funding have largely ignored cities and local government, both in the pledges and national commitments. Cities have been left to develop their own action plans, but these are typically independent of  government policies. Though dependent on government for funding, cities are tasked with delivering carbon reduction and sustainability, socially just transition, address climate disasters while providing climate education and health support.

Cities and local governments are having to develop, implement and manage detailed policies at the forefront of the climate emergency. Understandably, they want to be part of the decision making process.

The Constituency is also a platform for sharing experiences and ideas and for mutual support. Where else can you see a Lincolnshire Councillor, an IPCC scientist and an indigenous Governor from Ecuador sitting together to discuss finance and policy?

Make sure you read Local Finances and the Green Transition report the more finance is centralised and funds for local government are reduced, and the more demands are made at local level, the fewer people are protected. Sounds familiar?

Martina Juvara is Director - Master Planning at Urban Silence

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