UN Takes Steps to Recognize Role of Local Government in Combating Climate Change


The international community closed out 2018 by agreeing on the “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, known as “COP24.”

While the focus of COP24 was on what could (and could not) be agreed on as rules for the national level, a less-reported but still important development from this conference was the increased inclusion of city and regional governments.

Indeed, notable conference attendees highlighted the key role of non-state actors such as local governments in tackling climate change. Canada's environment minister Catherine McKenna noted that while the national rules are important, “a lot of the real action is happening” at the subnational level. Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger even disputed that the U.S. has actually dropped out of the Paris Agreement because of the high level of climate action by state and local government.

Because cities contribute 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and local governments are, according to the European Committee of the Regions, “responsible for more than 70% of climate change reduction measures and up to 90% of climate adaptation actions[,]” the Local Government and Municipal Authorities (“LGMA”) constituency of the Convention called for formally including cities and regions in the Paris Agreement, which would likely include monitoring and reporting progress toward carbon reduction goals by cities and regions (instead of only nations).

Leading up to COP24, state and local governments participated in the “Cities and Regions Talanoa Dialogues,” a series of consultations held across the world aimed at giving local and regional governments a voice in how countries should strengthen and implement their national climate plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions). The results of these dialogues then fed into the international negotiations at COP24.

While the final rules did not adopt the LGMA’s proposed language to “welcome” the outcome and outputs of the dialogues, the emphasis on the importance of contributions by subnational actors to combating climate change was formalized in the COP24 rulebook. Specifically, the COP24 rulebook (currently still in draft form):

35. Takes note of the outcome, inputs and outputs of the Talanoa Dialogue and their potential to generate greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition;

36. Recognizes the efforts and actions that Parties and non-Party stakeholders are undertaking to enhance climate action;

37. Invites Parties to consider the outcome, inputs and outputs of the Talanoa Dialogue in preparing their nationally determined contributions and in their efforts to enhance pre-2020 implementation and ambition[.]

The rules also include requirements for parties to provide information on subnational climate adaptation goals and actions; involvement of subnational stakeholders to integrate climate adaptation into national policies and strategies; and alignment of national and subnational climate policies.

At least four Michigan cities have already registered their commitment to climate action with the United Nations through the NAZCA Portal, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, and South Haven – all of which have joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy. Other U.S. municipalities have taken actions such as issuing municipal green bonds to finance climate resiliency or committing (as we did here in Traverse City) to 100% renewable energy for municipal operations by 2020. 

Even though the United States has opted to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, it participated in COP24 and cannot officially exit the Agreement until 2020. So, with the 2020 deadline for countries to update their Nationally Determined Contributions just ahead, now is a great time for local governments interested in being a “global player” in the fight against climate change to act on the outcome of COP24 and get or stay involved.


Photo of Lydia Barbash-Riley


Lydia Barbash-Riley is an associate attorney with Olson, Bzdok & Howard specializing in environmental and energy law. You can learn more about Lydia on our site here or contact her at lydia@envlaw.com.




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