It is in the world’s cities that the most ambitious climate action can be observed – but equally the most harrowing failures. As much as 70% of global CO2 emissions originate in cities. Thus, the impact of cities on our climate is huge – and greater consideration must be given to their needs and potentialduring climate negotiations. An increasing level of collaboration among cities (e.g. in networks) makes it more feasible than ever for national governments to engage with cities as a coherent group of actors. This is supported by the evolution of climate governance since the failed Copenhagen Climate Change Conference of 2009 from a top-down process to a more bottom-up process. Some key lessons are emerging:

  • Decisions about the role of cities vis-à-vis states and international organisations must be grounded in the reality of interdependence: Enhanced coordination and collaboration between all levels of government is a prerequisite for cities and city networks to effectively contribute to climate action.
  • There must be terms of engagement for city networks and the international community: It is vital to create a setting that allows all stakeholders to interact on an equal footing. Therefore, any framework should at the minimum address the internal governance of networks, the number and global distribution of member cities, and the type of activities networks can contribute to the international process.
  • Improve coordination among city networks: The increasing diversification of network initiatives provides much needed flexibility but also calls for better coordination to avoid doubled or even conflicting efforts.
  • Give urban issues greater consideration in national climate policy: Both the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda as a cornerstone of Habitat III have far-reaching implications for national urban development strategies. Climate action, both on mitigation and adaptation, should be closely linked to the implementation efforts of these agendas. This means including urban development in INDCs, as well as integrating climate action into any national urban development policies.
  • Use the pre-2020 period to test enhanced modes of engagement: As the Paris Agreement will only enter into force in 2020, the coming years provide a window of opportunity to explore new ways of collaborating with cities and their networks. This is especially relevant in regard to climate finance, notably through better access for cities and local governments to the various international climate funds including the Green Climate Fund.

To address the knowledge gap at the nexus of urbanization, global governance and climate change politics, the German Foreign Office sponsored a workshop with leading thinkers and practitioners in 2015. Its recommendations and their implications were published in the report Urbanization and Climate Diplomacy – The Stake of Cities in Global Climate Governance, discussed at COP21 in Paris and examined with regard to other crucial global processes, in particular the 2030 Agenda and Habitat III.