Cities are building the road to Paris | U.S. Green Building Council

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The 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) will meet in Paris in early December 2015 to continue the search for climate solutions. Expectations are always high—with fears of failure lingering in our minds. Previous COPs have had notable successes—and publicized failures. The challenge of global climate change is enormous. COP 21 hopes to overcome some of the problems and find ways to apply technologies, policies and practices to reduce warming to under two degrees in order to reduce climate change around the world.

This year, there is a special focus on cities. Many of us have long realized that cities are a logical place to address global issues. More people are living in cities than ever before in history, and urbanization is relentlessly growing. Cities consume two-thirds of the world's energy and create more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions. Cities have also been leaders in innovation and problem solving. Mayors and cities around the world are active participants, taking ambitious new steps to address their energy and carbon practices.

In recognition of this, the host government of France has placed a special emphasis on cities at this year’s COP. There will be a Cities Day for the first time at a COP, which will help showcase activities going on in cities around the world. And Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg has joined with Mayor Hidalgo of Paris to recognize local climate action with a convening of mayors from around the globe at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

It's important to note that the role of cities goes beyond the events at Paris. Arguably, the measurable strides that leading cities have made to reduce their climate impact in the past decade, along with a growing number of cities committing to act, give their respective national governments the confidence and backing to go to Paris with a strong national voice.

Here are just a few signs that cities are providing the backbone for a strong Paris agreement:

  • The United States–China climate agreement signed by President Obama and President Xi emphasizes city collaboration. The first U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit was held in Los Angeles Sept. 15-16. Vice President Joe Biden joined Chinese leaders and city officials from over 20 cities. The U.S. contingent included mayors from the host city, Los Angeles, as well as Atlanta, Des Moines, Houston, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and other leading cities, while officials of Chinese cities represented about one-quarter of the country’s population! The summit culminated with commitments announced by many U.S. and Chinese cities. Significantly, Beijing and other cities in China signed a commitment to achieve national carbon dioxide goals by 2020, a full decade ahead of the national goal.  
  • Cities on all continents are signing pledges leading up to COP21. With the leadership of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Envoy Bloomberg, 247 cities have joined the Compact of Mayors and are pursuing a five-step process to address climate change by registering a commitment, conducting an inventory, setting stretch goals, implementing an action plan and measuring progress. 
  • President Obama issued a challenge to all U.S. mayors to publicly commit to a climate action plan ahead of the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris and set a goal to have 100 U.S. cities sign on to the Compact of Mayors. Cities are joining daily, and USGBC, along with partners at ICLEI, C40 and the World Wildlife Fund, are able to help with any cities considering committing to the Compact.

Leading cities have demonstrated that local codes, zoning and transportation policies and programs can make a difference to GHG emissions, while also sparking the local economy, saving money for residents and improving quality of life. Just take a look at the impressive green buildings that the U.S. cities in the Compact have racked up. It’s no wonder cities will play a big role at this year’s COP—and in affecting positive change post-Paris.

Follow COP activities on social media with the hashtags #COP21, #ClimateDeclaration and #BetterBuildGreen.