Cities Alliance Finds a Niche at COP21

For Cities Alliance, COP21 was a rare opportunity to mobilise two of our Joint Work Programmes and bring them together to contribute to the discourse on climate change at one of the world’s most influential forums.
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For Cities Alliance, COP21 was a rare opportunity to mobilise two of our Joint Work Programmes and bring them together to contribute to the discourse on climate change at one of the world’s most influential forums.

We were especially delighted that SDI and WIEGO were able to attend COP21 and participate in our events. For SDI, it was the first time the organisation has participated in COP, and the first time organised groups of slum dwellers have had a voice in the international climate change conversation. 

Both of our Joint Work Programmes were highly visible at COP21. On 8 December, the Lima to Paris Action Agenda – a collaboration between the UN and national governments – announced a five-year plan to guide cities’ climate actions. Our new Resilient Cities partnership was singled out by the Government of France and the UN Secretary-General’s Office as one of several promising initiatives to support the plan.

Cities Alliance Director William Cobbett was a panelist at the Lima to Paris Action Agenda event to discuss resilient cities, along with UN-Habitat Chief Joan Clos, Mayor of Dhaka South Mohammad Sayeed Khokon, and Jay Weatherill, the State Premier of South Australia.

Joint Work Programme for Habitat III events

In addition to the launch of the Resilient Cities Joint Work Programme, our Joint Work Programme for Habitat III – which aims to create and deliver a common set of priority messages for Habitat III – organised two high-level events that provided excellent visibility for the partnership. 

Cities Alliance has a specific niche that adds value to the Paris Agreement: A focus on strengthening the climate resilience of informal settlements and informal communities.

Organised by UN-Habitat, both events aimed to share the message that Habitat III is an opportunity to further consider climate change through an urban lens.

On 7 December, UN-Habitat and Cities Alliance hosted a session at the Cities and Regions Pavilion. Titled “Cities Take Climate Action,” the session resulted in a lively debate on how cities are acting on climate change, and how this action can be accelerated. The session was well moderated by Femi Oke of Al Jazeera English, who shone in the talk show format.

Key messages from the session included: 

 - Luiz de Mello of OECD stressed that we must take immediate climate action in cities, due in part to the lock-in effects of inaction. 

 - Mayor Parks Tau of Johannesburg emphasised providing for the urban poor, who “find themselves vulnerable through no fault of their own”. He also called for a new global climate regime to enable local action. 

 - Henry de Cazotte, of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that cities can help national governments achieve their targets for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. On this point, Luiz de Mello called for platforms for structured dialogue between levels of government on climate action. 

 - Ingrid Hoven, Director General of Global Issues at BMZ, Germany emphasised that, while there are plenty of climate-related investment opportunities in cities, such investments require suitable financial instruments. She also noted that climate investments could yield important co-benefits for local populations. 

 - Cities Alliance Director William Cobbett suggested that “climate action requires cities to do their core business properly – there is no separate box for climate action.” However he noted that often local authorities have not been assigned the responsibilities required to take needed actions, and cautioned that policies seeking to discourage rural-to-urban migration are ineffective.      

 

The Joint Work Programme also held a second event on 9 December which showcased the roles, opportunities and constraints faced by Cities Alliance members and cities in developing and financing urban climate investments.

What does the Paris Agreement mean for Cities Alliance?

After two weeks of events and sessions at COP21, it is clear that the Cities Alliance has a specific niche that adds value to the Paris Agreement. Our partnership mobilises decades of experience to focus on strengthening the climate resilience of informal settlements and informal communities – a key element of climate resilience that has so far been underserved.

At the policy level, the Paris Agreement now requires all signatory countries to prepare Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – legally binding commitments to support sustainable development at local, regional and national levels that are monitored by the UN Framework on Climate Change. 

These INDCs cover a broad range of issues and sectors for cities, all of which have relevance for city resilience planning. It was widely acknowledged in Paris that partnerships with cities will be critical once countries began implementing their INDCs. Looking ahead, the Cities Alliance will have to link our initiatives with the INDCs and help facilitate the necessary partnerships, most likely through our Country Programmes.

More Information

UN-Habitat and ICLEI’s reporting on the Joint Work Programme for Habitat III activities at COP21:

Hurdling the barriers to deliver climate finance to cities

Cities take climate action

UN-Habitat and partner host cities take climate action session at COP21

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