November 4, 2016, marked the occasion that the Paris Agreement on climate change entered into force. This historic event signals nations’ commitment to reversing the upward trend in greenhouse gas emissions responsible for devastating climate change. The Paris Agreement asks that countries adhere to a warming target of well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But although national governments have received much of the attention throughout the process of adopting and signing the Paris Agreement, local-level governments also have played a prominent role in advancing climate action in the leadup to the agreement’s entry into force.
In recognition of the civil society’s role in reaching swift adoption of the Paris Agreement, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called a special meeting of non-governmental organizations to honor their efforts on the occasion of the agreement’s entry into force. ICLEI was among the groups asked to attend the November 4 meeting at UN Headquarters in New York City in order to speak on behalf of local-government commitments to combat climate change.
“This is an emotional day for me,” the Secretary-General, who has shown strong leadership on climate action throughout his tenure with the United Nations, said in his opening remarks. “The most important thing from today is how to push the agreement into action. This should be honored as a political commitment. Otherwise, it’s just sheets of paper.”
ICLEI USA Executive Director Angie Fyfe spoke at the meeting, echoing the Secretary-General’s call for government action and providing specific examples of city action. “The ICLEI-managed carBonn Climate Registry now has over one gigaton of commitments from local governments by 2020 to reduce their ghg emissions. Mayors across the world are joining the global Compact of Mayors, and we know that one of the most important things that we can do is to decarbonize our electric power sector. So, across the globe, we are seeing cities — for example, the Australian Capital Territory up to Vancouver and Aspen, Colorado — making commitments to go 100 percent renewable energy. Mexico City is implementing new policies and programs around building efficiency. ”
In addition to work on energy savings and building efficiency, Fyfe offered examples of ICLEI’s work to address habitat and forest loss: “Emissions are going down and carbon sinks going up through land use and forestry initiatives. This is happening in part through our ICLEI Africa Secretariat who leads our biodiversity work and Nature for Cities.”
Although the day’s events were about successes already achieved, Fyfe highlighted the work that still needs to be done, noting that city-led projects around the world require finance to be realized. “The Transformative Actions Program at ICLEI has gathered 125 applications from cities across the world who have project in mitigation, in adaptation, across all sectors that are looking for finance,” Fyfe said. “We look forward to our fellow civil-society members here and the private sector to ensure those actions are financed.”
The ICLEI network offers its members increased security through solutions-sharing with an emphasis on furthering equity for all residents. “We see that cities are knitting together in adaptation, disaster risk reduction in a bit of a safety net to ensure this transition to a decarbonized economy is inclusive and equitable and just,” Fyfe said. “So we would call on the United Nations and the nations themselves to devote budgets, policies, and programs for climate action to further support this work at the city level, and to bring cities into that action so that we may move faster and farther together.
To close the meeting, the Secretary-General called on civil society to “be vigilant and forceful,” acknowledging ICLEI and the other groups present as the “human rights defenders” of civil society and reminding attendees that people are at the center of the Paris Agreement’s ideals. “Keep up the fight and hold governments accountable,” he said.
The Paris Agreement’s entry into force follows 30 days after the number of countries to officially join the agreement reached the required threshold: a minimum 55 countries responsible for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As the Secretary General pointed out, 98 countries had joined as of November 4. Entry into force follows on the heels of COP 22 climate conference to be held November 7-13, 2016, in Marrakech, Morocco. Discussion at COP 22 is expected to center on solutions for turning the promises outlined in the Paris Agreement into action. See ICLEI’s COP 22 agenda for our activities on the ground in Marrakech.