America’s Pledge to the Paris Agreement and the commitment to see it through was indeed a top story line at COP23, the 23rd annual installment of the Conference of the Parties climate talks organized by the United Nations’ climate body. During the two weeks of the conference, held Nov. 6-17, 2017, the delegation of U.S. cities, states, universities, and businesses sporting #WeAreStillIn lapel buttons literally staked their claim in Bonn, Germany, under an inflated bubble near the official COP campus.
The presence of these groups provided reassurance to many from outside of the U.S. who aren’t caught up in the movement-building and who had given up on U.S. participation in climate action until 2020, at the soonest
ICLEI USA was proud to bring a delegation of 10 elected officials and seven city staff members, along with six individuals who participated in a broad coalition known as the U.S. People’s Delegation.
The igloo-like bubble officially named the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion was symbolic — given the national government’s choice not to have a United States climate center at the talks this year, Americans remained isolated and apart from the rest of the world gathered in the official zones of COP23.
Instead, the interaction between the U.S. Peoples Delegation and their elected city, state, and county leaders provided cohesion at this climate change conference. While Trump and his administration’s positions have divided the U.S. from the global climate community, it was clear that the interests of the elected officials delegation at COP23 were very much aligned with those of the American people.
The key event bringing leaders and people together, the U.S. People’s Delegation Town Hall hosted by ICLEI and 350.org, gave citizen delegates an opportunity for what proved to be a rich and open dialogue, including the need to get money from the fossil fuels industry out of politics. (Watch a recording of the Town Hall and many other U.S. events here.)
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said that he is the mayor of a city that has promise today because it is making this transition, including banning fracking within city limits. “We exported people like we exported steel. We don’t have to be wedded to the past. Let’s have a Marshall Plan to bring others along.”
Denton, Texas, also banned fracking, but the state legislature overturned it — complicating Brigid Shea’s work as Travis County Commissioner. “I ask the climate deniers: shouldn’t the county protect people who are being harmed and shouldn’t the people who are responsible for the harm pay for it?” Citing the need to do so much more to prepare people for extreme weather events, Commissioner Shea noted that Travis County can no longer rely on first responders, as there aren’t enough of them. The elderly are especially vulnerable. “We need to know where these people live so we can find them in an emergency.”
“The first people to help you are your neighbors — get to know them!” responded Dan Zarrilli, Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer for the City of New York. For NYC, neighborhood ties expand beyond the city boundaries — currently, more than 100 NYC employees are in Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Maria recovery.
There’s very little political polarization in St Gabriel, Louisiana, a city that has, along with its neighbor Baton Rouge, experienced three 100-year floods in the last year. Mayor Lionel Johnson said at the local level, the challenges are common and have to be addressed regardless of political party.
An event that was decidedly off key at COP23 was the single official U.S. side event, a panel of top fossil fuels executives who argued that fossil fuels will continue to be used as energy access expands.
That notion was debunked during a press event the following day, during which the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) program announced its new People-Centered Accelerator to focus on human health and women’s empowerment to accelerate energy access. The question was raised: “Has [the official U.S. national delegation] been to Delhi where you literally cannot breathe the air?” SE4All CEO Rachel Kyte dismissed the notion that a massive subsidy of coal-fired, grid-tied power is going to provide energy access to those without reliable electricity — looking instead to “the speed, cost, and health benefits of distributed energy systems.”
The Paris Agreement relies on two primary components for its success: broad participation and sufficient ambition to achieve no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming. ICLEI was pleased to bring a broad coalition of stakeholders together at COP23 and to continue to push for ambition through The Bonn-Fiji Commitment of Local and Regional Leaders to Deliver the Paris Agreement at All Levels.
Enjoy the highlights from COP23 in the photo gallery below, refer to our full roundup of events and delegates, explore our new Localizing the Paris Agreement guidebook released at the climate talks, and reach out with your goals for how your community can work with ICLEI USA to further climate action and resilience here at home.
ICLEI USA Executive Director
An all-star cast of climate leaders joins the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders event held Nov. 12, 2017, at COP23, including former Governor of California and R20 Regions of Climate Action Founder Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mayor of Bonn and First ICLEI Vice President Ashok Sridharan, and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa. The Summit was the focal event for local and regional governments at COP23 and culminated with adoption of The Bonn-Fiji Commitment of Local and Regional Leaders to Deliver the Paris Agreement at All Levels, the playbook for climate action at the local level recognized by the UNFCCC in its final press announcement. Photo by ICLEI Global
Mayor of Bonn and ICLEI First Vice President Ashok Sridharan Presents the Bonn-Fiji Commitment to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres. “Hundreds of local and regional leaders from more than 60 countries and all levels of government — 1,000 participants in total — have adopted the Bonn-Fiji Commitment, last Sunday, at the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders,” said Mayor Sridharan. Read more. Photo by ICLEI Global
California Governor Jerry Brown delivers an impassioned speech with a strong statement on the role of local leaders and the movements and networks through which they mobilize at the opening of the Climate Summit for Local and Regional Leaders. Photo by ICLEI Global
On the closing day of COP23, representatives of the Fiji government and the climate talks presidency ceremoniously handed over a Fijian Drua to the residents and mayor of Bonn. The Drua is the traditional voyaging canoe of Fiji. This replica, called Lady Climate Change, symbolized how developed and developing countries can work together to tackle climate change. “We are grateful for the generosity of the German government and the generosity, hospitality and warmth of the people of Bonn,” said Attorney-General Sayed-Khaiyum. As a gift to Bonn, the Drua symbolizes that “we are all on the same canoe, the same boat” he said. Photo by ICLEI Global
Outside the official COP23 campus in Bonn, Germany, citizen activists from across Europe gathered to lend their support to aggressive climate action. Photo by 350.org and Survival Media
The ICLEI USA-350.org U.S. Peoples Delegation joined a wider coalition of Peoples Delegates for a Speak Out event on Nov. 9, 2017. The U.S. Peoples Delegation brought citizen activists, city staff, youth, and members of the environmental justice communities to Bonn to join elected officials in shaping the future of local-level climate action. Photo by 350.org and Survival Media
ICLEI USA-350.org Peoples Delegate Justin Marquez of El Cerrito, CA, poses a question on aggressive renewable energy targets to a panel of elected officials at a Town Hall event held Nov. 11, 2017. Watch a recording of the Town Hall. Photo by 350.org and Survival Media
From grey to green: Smokestack cities power to bright future. Cities are transitioning from industrial pasts to sustainable, green economies. Mayor Peduto of Pittsburgh, PA, brought stories of these transitions to a Town Hall with the U.S. People’s Delegation, where he was joined on stage by Mayor Lionel Johnson, Jr., of St. Gabriel, LA and Council Member and ICLEI USA Board Member Pam O’Connor of Santa, Monica, CA. Mayor Peduto represents Pittsburgh as founding member of the Urban Transitions Alliance, a group of post-industrial cities working toward sustainable economic futures. Photo by 350.org and Survival Media.
ICLEI Secretary General Gino Van Begin greets former Governor of California and R20 Regions of Climate Action Founder Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss ramping up local climate action. Some indication that action is accelerating came through the announcement that 1,019 local and regional governments from 86 countries, representing 804 million people, have reported emissions reductions targets to the carbonn Climate Registry (cCR), one of the most widely used climate action reporting systems in the world. Photo by ICLEI Global
The Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders coincided with the UNFCCC’s Young and Future Generations Day, a celebration of youth power and participation. The youth joined with their elected officials to urge ambitious climate action for all generations. Photo by ICLEI Global
City of Denver Sustainability Director Jerome Tinianow represented Denver’s role in the Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement, a group of 14 cities committed to drive a transition to sustainable consumption and production by implementing sustainable and innovation procurement. Photo by ICLEI Global