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December 21, 2023

COP28: an urgent call for multilevel governance

By Goksen Sahin
COP28 flags Expo city
The EU must act swiftly to bridge the gap between ambition and implementation and realise the transformative potential of COP28 outcomes (Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images)

The only way to face the climate crisis is with action co-ordinated and led by all levels of government, from local to international

COP28 in Dubai marked a significant turning point in global climate negotiations. The establishment of a loss and damage financing mechanism and the historic agreement to transition away from fossil fuels are well documented. But another remarkable aspect of the summit, which has not been well covered, was the unprecedented inclusion of cities, regions and subnational leaders in official proceedings and outcomes.

This change of focus reflects the critical importance of cities and regions in tackling the climate emergency and adapting to its impacts. Indeed, the only way to face the climate crisis is with multilevel co-operation – action that is co-ordinated and led by all levels of government, from local to international.

In Dubai, the UAE COP28 presidency and Bloomberg Philanthropies jointly hosted the first-ever Local Climate Action Summit, where more than 300 subnational leaders collaborated with their national counterparts to discuss transformative measures in climate finance, global action, energy transition, and local resilience and adaptation.

This summit, officially integrated into COP28, included the launch of the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships, already signed by 71 countries. By joining Champ, national governments commit to intensifying collaboration with subnational governments, especially as they revise their nationally determined contributions setting out how they plan to reduce emissions in line with a 1.5C trajectory.

This increased momentum around the role of subnational governments in delivering climate action is also reflected in the final COP28 outcome text. The UAE Consensus document emphasises inclusive, multilevel, gender-responsive and co-operative action, while the global goal on adaptation recognises the role of cities and regions in successful adaptation measures. Furthermore, the loss and damage outcome envisions access for subnational governments to direct financing.

All of this underscores the vital role of cities and regions as frontline responders to extreme weather events, and as primary drivers of ambitious sustainability agendas that often surpass national goals.

EU’s negotiation mandate

As the dust settles on COP28, the focus must shift to implementing these global developments.

European Commission executive vice-president Maroš Šefčovič has announced the EU’s support for Champ principles, which align with the EU’s negotiation mandate that recognises the leadership of local and regional governments in accelerating and broadening climate action, while effectively engaging citizens in the transformative process. And many EU member states, including Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal, have signed the Champ pledge.

It is now time to bring these developments to life in the EU. Member states must step up multilevel co-ordination to start implementing the Champ pledge, as there is no time to lose when it comes to accelerating climate action.

A good start would be the integration of subnational actions, like those outlined in Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plans, Climate City Contracts, and Local Green Deals, in EU member states’ National Energy and Climate Plans. An assessment of NECPs, published by the European Commission on December 18, reveals a significant gap between European ambition and concrete implementation. The inclusion of local plans into NECPs would provide support to further subnational actions and assist member states in achieving their national-level targets.

Today, not only are local plans not part of NECPs, but reports on the draft NECPs and city networks’ assessments show that multilevel climate and energy dialogues – foreseen by the EU Governance Regulation Article 11 – do not happen in a structured or systemic way.

If we want EU countries to take a systematic approach to achieving the Paris Agreement, they need to sign on to the Champ pledge and drastically increase multilevel co-operation. The commission’s scheduled revision of the EU Governance Regulation in 2024 presents an exceptional opportunity to establish an EU-wide, structured and systemic multilevel governance approach, putting the Champ pledge into practice.

Europe showcased leadership at COP28 by steering the world towards a fossil fuel-free future and supporting multilevel governance through Champ. Now, the time has come to deliver these commitments at home. The urgency cannot be overstated – the EU must act swiftly to bridge the gap between ambition and implementation and realise the transformative potential of COP28 outcomes.

Goksen Sahin is a senior advocacy expert at ICLEI Europe

A service from the Financial Times