16 December 2021

‘It is clear that fossil fuels are not the future’

Giorgia Rambelli, Coordinator for Climate Policy and Energy Governance at ICLEI Europe, reflected on the recent global climate change negotiations (COP26) and the way forward for local governments to a more climate neutral, equitable and inclusive future. ICLEI is the official focal point of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) constituency to the global climate negotiations, and Giorgia was part of the ICLEI team on-the-ground in Glasgow advocating for local and regional authorities.

It has been a busy year that culminated at COP26; what were local government leaders expecting and pushing for in Glasgow this year?

Local leaders had four main goals going into COP26:

  1. Ensuring that multilevel action becomes the norm in the next phase of the Paris Agreement;
  2. Localising financing to better capture urban opportunities for impactful action;
  3. Ensuring climate action is just for all; and
  4. Stepping-up engagement of subnational entities (cities and regions) in the negotiation process.

Local governments are on the frontline and are responsible for making a wide range of decisions that can make or break the success of any international strategy on climate change, so their input needs to be better incorporated throughout climate decision-making to make sure they’re in line with needs and realities. Multi-level action is key!

While nations were pledging big numbers, I also witnessed local governments calling to go beyond pledges, and pushing for accelerated implementation to actually meet those targets. Ultimately, it is local authorities that make policy a reality, so having multi-level collaboration referred to in the final agreement was an achievement; but, we need to continue this momentum in the next phase of global efforts.

The third goal you mentioned shows that cities are pushing for just transitions. How were climate justice and equity part of the negotiations?

From a local government perspective, the truth is that ensuring that justice and equity are key parts of climate action just makes sense. In the scope of the COP26, which was held in a post-industrial city (ICLEI Member Glasgow), we saw a big push from both the City of Glasgow and from Scotland to consider justice. This call started facing roadblocks when nations were asked to back these efforts financially with a loss and damage clause, which would require richer nations to provide financial support to poor and vulnerable nations.

Although that effort failed, we did see some examples of governments pledging money to ensure a more just transition. One of these was the subnational government of the Region of Wallonia (Belgium), once again demonstrating the potential of subnational levels.

For transitions to be effective, people need to support them and to feel supported by them. At the EU level, while we are fully behind the increased efforts to foster just transitions through the EU Green Deal, the EU Pillar of Social Rights and the Porto Declaration, we also believe these need to be localised, as outlined in the Mannheim Message. The definition of transition must also be broadened from a focus on carbon intensity to an inclusive, equitable and sustainable society.

Financing remains a key issue for local governments. How does this connect with climate action at COP?

Ultimately, the messaging to investors coming out of the negotiations was clear: environmentally unsustainable projects are no longer a good investment. While this may risk leading to ‘greenwashing’, it is also a meaningful change in the narrative and a push for private sector support to climate action.

There is an interest in investing in cities, and cities have a number of projects in the pipeline that are ready to be funded. ICLEI provides support to cities by offering technical assistance to help them ensure those projects are bankable, and pushes financiers to reduce bureaucratic demands to make it easier and faster for cities to get funding for urgent climate action projects. We have a number of reports available that support this call, such as the Global Covenant of Mayors aggregation report, which shows with concrete data that cities are immensely impactful.

ICLEI is a partner to the United Nations’ Cities Race to Zero (RtZ) and Cities Race to Resilience (RtR) campaigns. These city tracks are one part of the global RtZ and RtR campaigns, which also rally leadership from businesses and investors. A huge number of private sector organisations have committed to the campaigns. The challenge is now to have strong reporting mechanisms in place to ensure they deliver on these commitments.

What are the next steps here – both for cities, and for ICLEI in Europe and globally?

Much of this year’s negotiations was about fossil fuel ‘phase out’ versus ‘phase down’. Some of these semantic discussions can be frustrating, and it can feel disappointing when targets are not as ambitious as the science requires. However, at the end of the day, there was still global consensus that we absolutely need to move away from fossil fuels. It may be the first time that the global community said this so bluntly.

Moving forward, I believe we will see a shift in conversation that will emphasise many of the more social points that are critically relevant to climate action, and will be top of mind at the next COP, which will be held in November 2022 in Egypt. I think cities should prepare for COP27 to be an opportunity to push forward their work at the intersection of climate change mitigation and other challenges like sustainable food systems, nature-based solutions, climate-driven urbanisation, and climate migration more broadly.

ICLEI Members are keen and ready to engage in global negotiations. We will continue to support and empower them, and will use the ICLEI World Congress, as well as the World Urban Forum, as milestones; our involvement with a range of European initiatives including the Covenant of Mayors, the Edinburgh Biodiversity Process and the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration as support tool; and our projects to strengthen the role of cities at COPs, and to once again point to the need for just transition.

The conversations at the LGMA Pavillion were difficult sometimes, but heartening as mayors declared time and time again that, regardless of how impressive or disappointing the negotiations between nations turned out to be, they were not going to stop taking ambitious and just climate action.


For more information, refer to the LGMA's newly launched COP26 webpage, which serves as an online hub for all information about the recent negotiations: