Massive cities grapple with climate change: Notes from the Lima Dialogues

There are two relatively new narratives that have gained significant traction during Lima. The first is the idea that fossil fuels have to be phased out and the second is the critical role of cities.  A special one day session at Lima City Hall organised by ICLEI explored efforts by cities.  A stream of mayors and environmental managers for major cities in Latin America and Asia described their efforts to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change. Public transit, urban planning and flooding were the most resonate themes in cities that ranged from 2- 11 million in population. The climate change agenda often blended with a social justice agenda. For example a recognition that cars are only accessible for a small proportion of the population so public investment in roads as opposed to transit or non-motorised transportation is discriminatory in favour of those who need it most. Or a correlation in Bogota of the areas that are most likely to be flooded with areas inhabited by the most vulnerable population. Plans in many cities on public transit were very ambitious with kilometres of new metros and transit lines planned, often supported by climate finance through UN financing mechanisms.  The Mayor of Recife, Brazil (pop. 3.7 million) talked about has empowered his 12 year old son to make his household carbon neutral. He also said that he walks 6 kilometres to and from work.

A new global protocol for GHG inventories

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories was launched at Lima City Hall. The Protocol will ensure a consistent approach to GHG inventories by municipalities around the world and is quickly being accepted by the UN and other organisations as the default standard. The Protocol is designed to be flexible so that it can be applied in different contexts but is sufficiently rigorous so that national governments can start funding climate action plans under UN climate funding mechanisms. SSG is working with Yellowknife on the use of this standard and we expect it will become the default approach in Canada.

A call for action in Paris

The French Ambassador for Change ended the session with a call for local government to announce their contribution to address climate change prior to the end of March, 2015 in parallel with national governments.

Cities and the Lima text

The increasing recognition of the role of cities has translated into the draft text for the UN negotiations in Lima. The text encourages countries to cooperate on policy for states and municipalities (called subnationals in UN lingo) and to incentivise climate actions by states and cities.  It also invites cities to scale up their actions to achieve an emission pathway consistent with limiting the global average temperatue increase to below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.  Such an approach may mean phasing out fossil fuels before 2050, a more ambitious target than many cities currently have.

The remarkable story of Denmark- a Blueprint for the rest of the world?

It is commonly understood that Denmark is a leader on climate action but the extent of its efforts came to light at the first Multilateral Assessment Process, a new UN mechanism at which countries can cross-examine the plans and targets of developed countries.  Denmark’s plan is to ensure that all of the energy supply, including transport energy consumption, shall be based on renewable energy by 2050. Oil for heating purposes and coal are to be phased out by 2030, and electricity and heating supply is to be 100% renewable by 2035. The specific strategies and policies being employed to achieve this target are detailed in a catalogue of policies and actions. Needless to say, comments from other countries were complimentary. A fascinating exercise- one can’t help but wonder what will happen in Canada’s review, scheduled for July, 2015.

Loss and damage

One of the major issues for many developing countries is the loss and damage resulting from climate change- this concept refers to the damage caused by climate change for which it is impossible to adapt and draws upon a principle of international law that countries have a duty to ensure that activities in their jurisdiction respect the environment of other states. The UN negotiations are struggling to develop a program for which developed countries compensate developing countries for these types of damages, which are likely to be severe. Kristie Ebi, Professor at the University of Washington and an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change author said in a press conference that “about 85% of climate change impacts on health will be on children & most vulnerable.” The largest health threats from climate change, he continued, relate to nutrition, infectious & vector-borne diseases.  There are novel solutions to this challenge, for example, taxing polluters to pay for the impacts across borders but this discussion is one of the more contentious subjects at play.

Bishops, protests and Canada

The largest march on climate change in the history of Latin America took the streets in Lima, approximately 15,000 people, a diverse mix of indigenous peoples, non-profit organisations, political parties and human rights activists. A global organisation of Catholic bishops called for the end of fossil fuels.  In Canada, a report from David Suzuki Foundation showed how the country could achieve its targets by replicating the policies of BC, while Prime Minister Harper called regulating the oil and gas industry crazy.

On the complexity of the negotiations

There are many dimensions at play in the negotiations, many streams of discussion.  The President of the Lima meeting, Peru’s Environment Minister, said that his approach is to try and kill monster by monster, an approach that can resonate with any city or organisation tackling climate change.

When asked about the precipitous fall in oil prices he indicated that there would be many political and geopolitical problems but that providing clarity around the global intention to reduce GHG emissions would reduce uncertainty for governments and investors in uncertain times and help provide global stability.