Beyond Daring Cities 2020 – Blueprint for Urban Leaders Taking on Climate Emergency

Remarks by Gino Van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability

Delivered at Outlook Plenary of Daring Cities on 28 October 2020

As Secretary General of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and on behalf of our Daring Cities partners, the Federal City of Bonn, the German Federal Ministries of Environment and of Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, it is my pleasure and privilege to summarize some of the highlights and outcomes of Daring Cities 2020.

Daring Cities 2020 has been the largest online gathering of the urban community on the climate emergency to date. Here is how we did it. Over the past 3 weeks, we hosted 100 sessions, resulting in more than 200 hours of dialogue, and featuring more than 400 speakers, including the UN Secretary General, 8 Ministers, 7 UN Agency chiefs, and more than 150 Mayors, Governors, Councilors and other urban leaders. More than 4500 participants from over 150 countries engaged in this program.

In the year in which the United Nations Conferences of the Parties – the COPs – on climate and biodiversity have been postponed, Daring Cities has become the Conference of Cities on the Climate Emergency. Ambitious sustainability action cannot be postponed, but must rather be accelerated in times of crisis. Together, we have surfaced extraordinary trends and developments happening on the ground and shone a light on bold local commitments and actions that address the climate emergency. Without the need to travel, on-the-ground implementers have been able to exchange their experiences, helping others to replicate their success and learn from their efforts. Whereas local leaders and policy makers have been able to reaffirm and jointly commit to more ambitious climate action. From the last three weeks, we see three distinct outcomes.

The first is that cities and regions are already acting on the Climate Emergency.

“Daring cities” are cities – or regions – that are taking exceptional climate mitigation measures and ensure an enhanced resilience of our communities. They are jurisdictions who are making structural and systemic changes to achieve climate neutrality. They are responding to their residents who have taken the call for immediate climate action to the streets. Daring cities are finding ways to embed climate action in the heart of their COVID-19 recovery plans. They are prioritizing equity-based approaches in order to alleviate the social inequalities and vulnerabilities in their communities.

ICLEI works with nearly 1000 cities and regions that have committed to one or more forms of ambitious and daring climate action. This includes declaring a climate emergency, adopting carbon neutrality targets, divesting from fossil fuels or transitioning to 100% renewable energy. As a unique example, all Local Governments in the Republic of Korea have declared a climate emergency over the course of 2020. Daring Cities 2020 revealed that many more cities have the potential to move in these directions and to turn their commitments into action.

The second outcome is that a daring approach drives momentum to respond to the climate emergency.

A daring approach means to know more, act better and lead together.

“Knowing more” is a prerequisite for any city or region daring to take bold climate commitments and actions. Cities and regions must have access to and be enabled to turn relevant scientific findings and knowledge into local policy making. And more importantly, local policy makers must be able to communicate “the need for change” to residents and stakeholders, to convince them and to include them in the transformation.

Knowing more is a prerequisite to dare to “Acting better.” Throughout Daring Cities 2020, urban leaders from across contexts shared their bold commitments and strategies. They showcased that it is realistic to achieve climate neutrality in an equitable and timely manner.

As the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, many cities strive to not simply “build back better” but to go a step further and pursue true redesign  – a concept taken up by the government of Japan that supports its local governments in the systemic change of society to combat climate change and to recover from the pandemic.

The many innovative and ambitious climate actions and policies being implemented around the world are as diverse as the daring cities, towns and regions responsible for them. This is critical, because such a wide and diverse range of policies is required to meet the ambitious climate targets that we must achieve.

I will highlight just a couple of these as examples: Turku, in Finland, is on track to achieve Climate Neutrality by 2029, and put its efforts to cut consumption-based emissions through a 1.5 degree lifestyle. Recife, in Brazil, incorporates the increased vulnerability of its residents as well as the realities of the informal sector into its ambitious climate planning. Delhi, in India, pursues aggressive approaches across multiple sectors to tackle urban air pollution.

Whilst we heard from many more cities and regions that dare to take bold action, it also becomes clear that they can do more when leading together with other levels of government, civil society stakeholders and the finance sector. In Japan, the national Ministry of Environment is building a strong partnership with their local governments to advance their joint 2050 Zero Carbon goal. The Government of Dominica is rolling out an ambitious plan with 20 resilience targets to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation by 2030. Chile, the country leading the climate negotiations until next year, has demonstrated its leadership by presenting a renewed NDC  which refers to sustainable cities as one of its top priority areas for new investments. And Rwanda’s new NDC, the first from the African continent, recognizes multilevel and collaborative action.

More than half of the countries planning to advance their national climate plans through the NDC Partnership have a subnational component. Here, ICLEI is playing a major role in supporting 7 countries in Africa and South America. When it comes to innovative financing, the City Climate Finance Gap Fund is now set up to support early phase urban climate projects. It showcases partnership in leadership, as it includes the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, national governments, and a variety of local government networks such as ICLEI and the Global Covenant of Mayors. Leading together also means leading with citizens, such as showcased by Bonn and Milwaukee, where citizens are co-creating ambitious climate action and policy making with the local authorities.

We also partnered with TED and Future Stewards to bring the global Countdown initiative to Daring Cities. Countdown officially launched on the 10th of October, and was watched by 15 million people. The event brought together diverse voices, some of whom we heard from at TEDxDaringCities, to reach a broad global audience about the challenges and solutions for climate change.

Finally, the third outcome is that local and regional governments need, demand and deserve this convening place for integrated and supported local action.

It’s not a coincidence that there were 100 sessions at Daring Cities 2020. When we took this idea to our network of local governments, and to our partners, the answer was resounding: yes, we want this space to reflect, collaborate and accelerate. Not just as your usual climate conference, but instead with a focus on the urgency to act, and also integrating such areas that at a first glance might perhaps seem unconventional in relation to climate action. This meant elevating discussions on climate issues to a holistic dialogue, and to include further areas such as biodiversity and nature-based solutions, waste minimization and the circular economy, sustainable urban mobility and ecologistics, and sustainable public procurement into the solutions.

To a degree unprecedented by any other local government event, Daring Cities 2020 has convened the right people around the same table to advance comprehensive and urgent actions to tackle the climate crisis. As we enter the Decade for Sustainability Action, we have to be decisive to ensure progress is achieved and accelerated. With the broad mobilization, enthusiasm, and solid outcomes of this year, the Daring Cities Forum is now positioned as an effective platform to keep momentum at the local level, to attain the goals and to make sure ambitions continue to increase during this decade.