After 10 years of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in Europe, a voluntary initiative launched by the European Commission in 2008, a consolidation of data from 1,800 cities and 90 million inhabitants shows a 25% reduction in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between 2005 and 2017, surpassing the European States’ 2020 targets of -20%.
However, in a context of mass adoption of carbon neutrality objectives, the monitoring of the impact of local climate policies remains scattered and poorly consolidated, even at the national level. Many cities around the world have only recently started calculating their GHG emission inventories, or are refining their methods and data. At the same time, data collected and reported across cities, and over different time periods does not cover the same parameters, and is difficult to consolidate.
The relative stability in the number of cities committed to the Global Covenant of Mayors (~10,500 in 2021) hides a rapid increase in the membership and deliverables of the Regional Covenants of Mayors, initiated by the European Union in coordination with the Global Covenant and main local government networks. Signatory cities now represent almost 14% of the world’s population, compared to 11% in 2019. The momentum is particularly strong in Latin America and the Caribbean, where more than 100 cities have joined the initiative since 2019, with a current total of over 519 signatories representing 31% of the region’s population. In contrast, in Asia, signatory cities represent only 8% of the continent’s population.
In Latin America, the adoption of action plans is also showing clear progress, with over 50 mitigation and adaptation plans published since 2019. In South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, few cities beyond the funded pilot projects have been able to complete their mitigation/adaptation plans.
From planning to regulation, through direct investment and public procurement, the instruments available to cities and regions to steer their transition are increasingly varied, and mobilise the whole range of their skills. In the background, the management of the pandemic has accelerated reflection on the densification of urban services and their local governance.
What truly symbolises cities’ responsiveness to the pandemic is the widespread deployment of bicycle lanes and, above all, the perpetuation of bicycles across the globe which have gone from being a low-cost social resilience measure to a genuine instrument for mitigating urban transport emissions in the long term, in a context where public transport use and finances are in dire straits.
By 2020, 617 cities around the world had pledged to 100% renewable energies, most of them in Europe and the United States, with populations between 100,000 and 500,000. By the end of 2019, 58 cities and regions, including 44 in Europe, reported being supplied with 100% renewable energy.
Analyses of the first round of national contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement in 2015 show that few countries have sufficiently involved local and sub-national actors in defining their climate strategies. Only 10% of countries report having integrated their national climate objectives into local and regional climate policies and budgets.
The full integration of their potential and needs is the most evident in Latin America (Peru, Chile, Argentina, Cuba, Colombia, Mexico), in some cases as early as in the first round of NDCs. The Peruvian State has set up a “Multisectoral Working Group” to integrate the contributions of the different ministries but also of non-state actors in the country’s new NDC in 2020, approved by the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, thirteen ministries, but also by the National Assembly of Regional Governments and the Association of Municipalities of Peru (AMPE).
In Germany, Canada and Brazil, the federal state legislates little or nothing on the climate obligations and competences of municipalities, whose action depends much more on the level of ambition and disparate policies of intermediary governments, and on calls for projects or specific funds available, most often sectoral ones. Few of them are therefore required to adopt and monitor the implementation of a climate plan.
Local governments are more willing to be involved in the formulation phases and as vectors of national and sectoral policies. Few experiences show that their achievements are taken into account to re-evaluate and adjust national policies, prevented by poorly harmonised monitoring-evaluation methods and poorly centralised information.
There are several signs of increased localisation of the SDGs, with communities playing a key role in ensuring access to essential services during the lockdown measures and acting as privileged interlocutors for citizens and local economic actors.
In Europe, of the 34 local government networks from 28 European countries surveyed, 82% are aware of the SDGs and regularly refer to them in their activities, up from 31% the previous year. On the other hand, local governments are now associated to more than half (55%) of the Voluntary National Reviews presented by states in 2020 to demonstrate progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda (compared to 40% in 2019).
For climate, this integration of the SDGs as close as possible to local governments makes it possible to strengthen the alignment of low-carbon transition policies with the population’s expectations in terms of social justice. In Bristol, for example, the climate plan is integrated into the city’s socio-economic development strategy, while Strasbourg analyses the contribution of its climate policies in relation to each of the 17 SDGs. Bogotá, one of the pioneer cities in the deployment of “Corona Cycleways”, is committed to reducing gender inequalities in urban cycling.
A recent analysis of the climate policies adopted by 429 cities within the framework of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy in Europe shows that, to date, 70% of them report adaptation actions. A majority of these actions are only at the formulation stage or in the process of being implemented. On the other hand, while almost all of these cities produce analyses of the climate risks they face, only half of them formulate adaptation objectives and less than 70% of them dedicate funding to adaptation. While the integration of local skills into national adaptation plans is progressing, access to financing and technologies that are still immature and costly remain the main obstacles noted by the cities.
By making it possible to go beyond local administrative boundaries, regions are proving to be the preferred scale for planning adaptation to climate change at ecosystem scales. . Of the 28 RegionsAdapt member-regions that reported on their adaptation practices, 90% of the regions say they have experienced a socio-economic impact due to climate change, related to public health or the increased economic costs of disasters. 80% have already developed or are developing risk vulnerability assessments, and 70% have already put an adaptation plan in place.