C40 and ICLEI: Grassroots initiatives with Global Impacts

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As global population and economic development continue to grow, so does the need to develop better policies and tools to protect the environment for future generations. Many efforts to combat climate change through international agreements or federal policy have left holes in some of the largest issues continuing to impact human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. Most notably, the Kyoto Protocol attempted to set binding obligations on member countries to reduce GHG emissions. Although it has recognized that both industrialized and developing countries can make efforts toward renewable energy, some of the largest global contributors to climate change have been slow to commit to any real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And while there have been examples of successful policy strides at the national level (see Denmark), big governments and international collaborations have been modest in their impact.

The good news is that cities and other local groups have stepped up to fill in the void. All over the world, urban areas are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. However, these more densely populated areas also come with more opportunity for improvements in sustainable development and overall climate change mitigation. Thus, city-level initiatives and policies offer some of the greatest potential for making significant changes in efficient and clean energy policy, especially in the face of today’s meager international agreements and national efforts. C40 and ICLEI are examples of initiatives that are targeting lower-level political municipalities and making significant impacts globally.

C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group

The C40, founded in 2005 by a former mayor of London, is a worldwide city network formed under the foundational belief that urban areas pose as the biggest contributors to, and therefore hold the greatest potential for, mitigating climate change effects throughout the world. This impressive infographic outlines the C40 mission and makes the case for cities as the natural leaders in sustainability.

One of the biggest milestones of C40 includes the 2012 first-ever catalogue of mayoral/municipal authority over various city assets. This effort is bringing energy and sustainability data into the conversation to enable better decision-making. As a result, we can now identify the areas in cities with the strongest ability to implement climate change and sustainability actions, thus making the greatest impact. 

Also in 2012, the organization held an event one day before Rio+20, the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. Also known as Megacity Mayors Taking Action on Climate Change, the event centered around an announcement that their current members' actions will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tonnes in 2020. The C40 Solid Waste Network was also established, which is a collaboration to reduce global methane emissions with the World Bank and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition. A final marked announcement at the Rio+C40 event was C40’s partnership with the Joint Initiative on Urban Sustainability (JIUS) to foster the sharing of best practices collected by all members through a global library of case studies.

ICLEI: Local Governments for Sustaiability

The ICLEI was founded in 1990 as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, with the first meeting occurring in New York City’s UN Headquarters. In 2003, the organization was changed to Local Governments for Sustainability in order to better encompass all three pillars of sustainability: environment, economy, and social equity. Today, over 1,200 cities, towns and counties from across the world have signed with ICLEI to participate in voluntary programs devoted to a more sustainable future.

To learn more about what they’ve initiated, check out the ICLEI website, which provides the public with over 200 case studies of local sustainable actions implemented across the world with the help of the organization’s tools and advice on urban sustainability.

Collaboration of C40 and ICLEI

In March 2012, C40 and ICLEI joined together with the World Resource Institute to draft the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions Measurement and Reporting (GPC). This report, also supported by the UN Environment Programme, UN Habitat, and the World Bank, is being tested by cities around the world until December 2013. The current draft is split into three main components:

1. Guiding principles and a policy framework to link the efforts across local and national governments and the private sector

2. A 2012 Accounting and Reporting Standard with supplemental guidance on methodologies and reporting templates

3. A roadmap for institutionalizing the process for updating the Standard on an ongoing basis.

The report also includes a greenhouse gas accounting tool tailored specifically for Chinese cities, some of the most rapidly developing urban areas in the world. A final draft is planned for release in 2014.

C40 and ICLEI have proved the potential for both developing and industrialized cities to make significant impacts on climate change mitigation and sustainable development across the globe with various tools, case studies, agendas, and conferences. Through city-level policies, smaller governments have the ability to create real change at a lower level that can also target the biggest contributors to GHG emissions.