As UN negotiations stall, 950 cities sign landmark local government agreement on adapting to climate change

12/09/11 Kelly Benjamin
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The UN Climate Change talks are drawing to a close in Durban, South Africa today with international talks on creating a binding agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions not looking likely. However, outside the UN Summit, another international conference took place this week, this one featuring representatives of city and municipal governments from around the world tackling the issue of how to deal with climate change at the local level rather than national.

With an estimated 80% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions coming from cities and 90% of the world's population expected to be living in urban areas by the end of the century, cities are at the center of the climate change crisis. The Durban Local Government Convention held simultaneous to the UN talks in South Africa was sponsored by Local Governments for Sustainability, an organization seeking to bring global sustainability to the local level. Yunus Arikan, manager of the Cities Climate Center says addressing climate change at the municipal level can have a significant impact.

Central to the discussions at the local government conference were how to implement long term adaptation strategies for communities that are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, intense storms, and a host of other impacts scientists say are accompanying man made climate change. Along with adaptation, city leaders discussed reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of cities through a variety of methods including implementing better transportation systems. Heather Allan is the program director for sustainable transport at the Transportation Research Laboratory.

“In terms of urban areas and transport, this is a huge issue.”

The Durban Local Government Convention drew mayors and elected officials representing several hundreds of sub-state governments from around the world. The end result was the Durban Adaptation Charter which voluntarily commits municipal governments to a take action on climate change by assessing local impact vulnerability and prioritizing ecosystems. The agreement was hailed by environmentalists including Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

"I think that this is probably one of the few practical and positive things that will come out of this entire COP and this meeting should have been in the center of the COP."

Naidoo urged local government representatives to not drop the ball on addressing climate change when they return to their communities.

No local government representatives from Florida, one of the most vulnerable states in the US, took part in the convention. The UN Climate change talks will continue late into late this evening focusing on how to save the Kyoto Protocol and delivering financing to poor nations most affected by climate change.

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