The signing of the Paris Agreement this past Friday—Earth Day—convened leaders from 160 countries in one of the largest civic celebrations in the world. The agreement, a historic commitment that emerged from the COP21 talks in Paris last December, represents a top-down leadership role that national governments must play. But an equally important development also came out of Paris: a bottom-up approach from cities and companies around the world.

COP21 emphasized the important role cities play in addressing the problems Earth faces. In light of the serious threats posed, over 1,000 cities worldwide have joined the effort to address climate change through actions they can take every day. Giant global companies, many of them USGBC members, also signed pledges to address climate change in their own operations.

Climate summit for local leaders

The first Climate Summit for Local Leaders was held at COP21 on December 4, 2015, and gathered mayors, leaders, celebrities, students and citizens at the historic Paris City Hall (Hôtel de Ville). The event, led by Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, along with Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor and Special U.N. Envoy, invited elected officials to reflect on the threat climate change posed to their cities, to reaffirm their commitments and to explain the importance of their actions.

Beyond speeches, there were exhibits at the entrance to City Hall, including small wind turbines and a model solar home. Along the Champs-Elysees, there was a wind turbine and photovoltaic arrays, and Ikea set up stationary bicycle stations that allowed people to peddle bikes hooked up to power the beautiful lights along the grand boulevard. Energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and policies were featured throughout the day. Videos also helped inspire.

Business leaders and celebrities joined the effort. Elon Musk came to address the summit  about the need for breakthrough technologies. Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford also joined the mayors to extend their support for leaders and citizens to act. Unilever announced a consortium to require local sourcing.

Local climate leaders

Leading into COP21, Mayor Bloomberg leveraged public events to gather commitments to climate action through the Compact of Mayors. The U.S. State Department paid attention to cities as well; for example, by convening the United States–China Climate Leaders Summit held in October 2015, which resulted in many Chinese cities agreeing to achieve China’s national GHG goals by 2020 instead of 2030.

USGBC joined the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the National League of Cities (NLC) and ICLEI in hosting 11 U.S. mayors at COP21. These mayors from cities such as Atlanta, Boulder, Des Moines, Grand Rapids, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City and West Palm Beach participated in the Local Climate Leaders Summit as well as events at Le Bourget, where negotiations, technical sessions and displays filled the former airport site.

The challenge ahead

The challenge to achieve the ambitious climate goals set in Paris is enormous, but there is a collective understanding that despite the severe threats, humankind is capable of taking on the challenge. It will take the concerted efforts of national governments, local governments, businesses and people around the world. I am heartened by the fact that we, the USGBC community, are well positioned to be a big part of the solution. Through our extensive membership network; our hundreds of thousands of LEED professionals; our tools, such as LEED and partnerships with WELL, GRESB, PEER and SITES; and our extensive network of allies—together, we can be a major force for good.

Read more about USGBC’s participation in COP21