Paris Climate Agreement Explained: Cities Put the Pressure on at COP21

When 400 mayors from around the globe converged on Paris to demonstrate their commitment for strong, immediate action on climate, they were heard loud and clear.

Getting to an agreement to pursue efforts to limit global warming has been a tough road, but it has been actions taken by cities that helped build negotiators' confidence in setting a high bar. Whether they represented mega cities - London, Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing, Delhi, Rio, Johannesburg - or the most vulnerable communities - the Marshall Islands, indigenous Amazon villages, New Orleans -- they brought a powerful message that waiting is not an option.

This is a familiar refrain, but what made the difference this time was proof of cities' commitment to action.

Every day we were deluged with example after example of mayors breaking through bureaucracy and bypassing national or state roadblocks - refusing to sit back in anticipation of higher action. They have adopted green building codes, cut energy waste, moved to clean energy sources, invested in bicycle and transit infrastructure, and integrated the idea of resiliency into capital investment decisions.


Most mayors saw these actions as ways to build their economies, create jobs, and improve health and the basics of life for residents, as well as leave a strong legacy for future generations. As of this writing, more than 400 cities have signed onto the Compact of Mayors and made commitments to cut at least 3.2GT of carbon, the equivalent to a quarter of the global goal. Each day more cities are joining, spurred by a healthy sense of competition and the work by NGOs like NRDC that are making it easier to take action.

But the road after Paris is going to be rocky. We know that the most ambitious city actions will require more money, innovative financing tools and, most importantly, community support. As Dan Esty, Yale environmental law professor, said during sessions with negotiators, "It is critical to get to the actual implementers - mayors, business leaders, civil society -- as they are the ones that can move from targets to action and solutions."

I would also add that these are the stakeholders who can ensure that their leaders are held accountable for fair and just solutions, and solutions that can quickly scale up to the magnitude of the challenge.

Mayors are all about implementation - getting it done for the people of their communities. In Paris, we saw their impact. We also saw remarkable support from business leaders, financial investors in the form of a new global Green Bank Network, and philanthropy.

It is a convergence of priorities that could be nothing short of transformative.


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