Georg Günsberg | Politik- und Strategieberatung | Franz Josefs-Kai 27,  A-1010 Wien | office@guensberg.at

Frustrated after COP15?

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Don’t be. Cities will be the driving force of real change.

There is no doubt that COP 15 was a disappointment. A lot of reflection has been made in the last few weeks on what the outcome means for international climate policy. Will there be another chance for saving the climate on UN-level?

Maybe that is the wrong question. The interview with Antony Giddens underlines the complexity of climate policy. “Climate change is very, very different from any other political issue we have had to deal with“, he says.

To be honest: My expectations for COP 15 were low. I have been part of the Austrian governmental delegation at COP 1 (Berlin) and COP 3 (Kyoto). I had to understand what it means for negotiators to find a compromise between more than 190 countries. These countries have different interests and positions. They have even different political systems and cultures. The formal UN procedures including the well known part of informal negotiations are by now not capable to get the enormous challenge of a global agreement on a CO2 reduction on track.

So does that sound too pessimistic? Well, actually I’m not. COP 15 brought something else. It showed the enormous potential of other players on the field: Individuals, organisations, companies, regions and mainly cities. Cities can be the driving force of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Around COP 15 there were different conferences on the role of cities in climate protection. Fredrik posted on the Mayors Climate Summit in Copenhagen spotlighting different initiatives on a local level. In Mid December the Ecocity Conference took place in Istanbul. I had the opportunity to participate at the Global Urban Summit Conference in Rotterdam right before COP 15.

World-famous Jeremy Rifkin is right when addressing city representative being at the fore-front of a real change in climate and energy politics. Today, already half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. They consume two-thirds of total primary energy and produce over 70% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. It is a good sign that the rather conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) now gives a focus on the role of cities. A rather new study projects that by 2030, as a result of increased urbanisation, cities and towns will be responsible for 76% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

It is the density of cities that offers a lot of opportunities to us. Density not only in a spatial dimension, but politically. Short distance and closer networks are important in decision making and implementation, too.

There are a lot of examples showing that change is possible. It was again Vancouver impressing in Rotterdam and Istanbul with ambitious targets and a so far successful program in significantly reducing the carbon footprint of its population. The action plan called Vancouver 2020 is inspiring and motivating. Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s Director of City Planning, says: “We are far ahead of other North American cities. Nevertheless we are still not sustainable. We still need more action to reduce our carbon footprint”.

That’s the kick we need. That’s the spirit of real change.

This blog post was originally published on sustainablecities.dk.
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