Post COP26: What’s next for cities?

We invited leaders from across the globe to discuss the key takeaways from the COP26 summit and what actions Canadian cities must take to ensure a sustainable, climate friendly future.

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Un résumé des idées, des thèmes et des citations les plus convaincants de cette conversation franche

1. Clean energy and capacity building

According to Freddie Huppé Campbell of Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE), COP26 was the first time that the reduction of coal and fossil fuels was seriously brought to the table. It is not enough to just phase out coal and other fossil fuels slowly, we need to eliminate it in the next four years globally. This process needs to be done inclusive of capacity building strategies to help communities make these transitions. A collective approach, which is engrained in Indigenous practices, requires meaningfully engaging all members of a community and giving them decision-making power. In the past six years, ICE has worked to develop Indigenous led renewable energy projects, with at least 25% equity owned by Indigenous Communities. Breaking down barriers, providing education and giving power to Indigenous Communities enabled funding mechanisms and policies to shift, creating government programs that are tailored to Indigenous needs and desires. This process can be translated to urban areas by determining what residents want and how those desires can be supported.

2. A lot of people are talking about climate change but there needs to be more action

Francis Fong, the Managing Director at TD Economics noted that what was different about COP26 was the sense of urgency that people are approaching climate change these days, particularly due to the increase in extreme weather events. Francis said that “COP26 is happening against this backdrop of this being our last chance to make serious commitments to take the action needed to implement system wide changes”. Cities cannot act alone, connections with financers must be made available to people to create the necessary change. Cities have much of the population and therefore have the highest demand for energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and thus many opportunities to take action. Francis is optimistic about the evolution of the role of finance in fighting climate change, particularly over the last 12 months, and said, “if we’re able to make these commitments now, then we’ll at least have a fighting shot of reaching some kind of reasonable target by 2030”.

3. The role of intermediation in climate action 

COP26 set the framework for climate targets, however it is not legally binding and therefore according to Julia Langer, CEO of The Atmospheric Fund, to increase action and provide support, we need to build our intermediation capacity to work towards the targets in the framework. One takeaway that came out of COP26 was that there is so much capital out there just looking for impact and supporting the role of intermediation can help connect projects to this capital. There is a lot of successes in cities, and while it may be disaggregated and not at scale, there is an opportunity to use intermediation to scale up and coordinate our approach to climate action in cities. Julia highlighted the importance of targets but noted that we need to be explicit and operationalize to keep us inspired and focused on our approach to climate action.

4. A move to short-term actions

When asked what worked from COP26 Agathe Cavicchioli noted “What worked is we are seeing a real shift in focus away from net zero by 2050 commitments…it doesn’t mean anything to commit to doing something in 2050”. Moving towards short-term actions and shifting away from long-term strategies that a lot of laggard climate countries are currently taking is crucial for seeing climate action take place in countries. Cities need to implement short term actions that have high impact and ensure accountability for staying on track for meeting long-term climate targets, rather than these vague 2050 commitments that don’t entail any major actions, policies or reforms that may never yield any results against these objectives from COP26. The shift to talking about 2030 has been crucial and this is where the NDC’s are important, as these are the actions that countries will take to help them achieve the long-term goals of the Paris agreement.

5. The role of the city moving forward with COP26 objectives

The outcome of COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact calls for greater action and financing of adaptation, but how does it involve cities? It does not specifically include the word cities but has references to cities and other stakeholders termed “non-party stakeholders” in the pact. Additionally, the pact calls for multilevel and collaborative action, acknowledging action cannot happen at the single level of national governments. Cities need to recognize that they have power to create real change, according to Agathe “there’s power in leadership and there’s power in vision and there’s a lot of power in bringing together your residents and your local community groups, including the most vulnerable, the systematically marginalized ones to deliver collectively, truly gender inclusive and truly inclusive policies.” We cannot get distracted from the mitigation component, cities have the tools, resources, influence, and innovation to move the dial on climate action. Cities should break down the problem and find the key players for solutions and implement what is needed, or advocate for it at the provincial and federal level.