The Commission’s Energy Union chief on Tuesday (27 June) urged all cities to join the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, an initiative which has gained more weight since Donald Trump announced the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič made the appeal alongside Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of UNFCCC, the United Nations climate change secretariat, as well as several mayors – including the mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, and Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson – who came to Brussels for a board meeting of the Global Covenant of Mayors. Šefčovič and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Michael Bloomberg, currently co-chair the Board.
The Global Covenant of Mayors now has more than 7,400 cities on board with an estimated population of nearly 700 million. Formerly the Compact of Mayors, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy is the largest coalition of mayors committed to accelerating climate action. One of its most emblematic leaders was former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film star who is also an environmentalist. Šefčovič said it was exactly one year since the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy took its present form by bringing together the EU Covenant of Mayors and the Compact of Mayors. He stressed that the role of the organisation has become even greater in recent months. It is no secret that the EU is banking on the initiative to work towards the Paris Agreement goals despite the withdrawal of the US government, and in general to work closely and more actively with non-state actors.
The cities are “an agent of change”, as the impact of climate change is most significant on localities and on cities, and mayors are the first addressees of the citizens’ concerns, Šefčovič said. He added that one of the objectives of the board meeting was to discuss the introduction of comparable data standards for measuring climate impact for the cities. Such data must be science-based, Paris-compatible and credible, he explained. “Allow me, through the media, to call on all local leaders around the world to be part of this unprecedented global movement. Let all of them join the Global Covenant of Mayors”, the vice-president said.
Espinosa said that with the Global Covenant of Mayors, things had moved “incredibly fast” and the first results were already “amazing”. She said that mayors had already played a crucial role in pushing for the Paris Agreement. The next annual climate change conference will be held in November in Bonn, the seat of the UNFCCC. She said the conference would be presided over by the prime minister of Fiji, and this would be the first time that such a small island state would take on such a “huge responsibility”. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Espinosa said, quoting Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities) for describing the climate action challenges. She made no mention of Donald Trump but said the Global Covenant of Mayors represented “the best of times”. She also expressed great satisfaction that 150 countries had already ratified the Paris Agreement in a short time.
‘Trump better watch US cities’
Gregor Robertson spoke of global challenges but mentioned the experience of Vancouver, famous for its “Greenest City” initiative. He said that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been elected on a strong urban agenda. “Change is led by the cities,” he insisted and went on to predict: “The Trump administration better watch out for US cities. They are on the rise and I think they will prevail in the end, turning the tide and making sure that the US is a climate leader, rather than what is happening currently”.
Šefčovič asked Robertson to share Vancouver’s experience with electric vehicle (EV) charging, mentioning that EU ministers had recently found that having one in ten parking spaces fitted for electric vehicles was “too much”. Robertson said for the past six years Vancouver has had a minimum of 20% parking places set aside for EV, and that all new homes have been built with EV charging infrastructure.
Kasim Reed said that in the US, local leaders who are focused on climate action represent 75% of the US population and 75% of US GDP. He said US cities were going to work harder and in a more focused way for climate action after Trump’s decision. As a result, there would be “huge progress” on the US side.