If we don’t control emissions by 2020, we won’t be able to achieve SDGs

Christiana Figueres, Vice Chair of GCoM and Former Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, launched the South Asia Chapter of Global Covenant of Mayors on the second day of South Asia Cities Summit. In a candid conversation with Kumar Dhananjay, she talks about the relevance of the Covenant and role of cities in achieving international goals including the Paris Agreement of which she was a key part

What is the purpose of launching the South Asian Mayors Covenant?
As you said, today we have launched the ‘South Asian Chapter of the Global Covenant’ that is I would say ‘the network of networking cities’. We have many city networks including ICLEI, C40, UCLG, and have been doing very good work with the support of cities around the world. And now we are bringing all these networks together under one single umbrella which is the ‘Global Covenant of Mayors’ that currently has more than 7000 mayors and cities already as members. Now we all are coming together to form a global family of cities that supports the other networks and work of cities.

What kind of activities are you planning to undertake under this network?

The Global Covenant of Mayors is focusing on three different areas mostly and the first is to open access to finance for cities because most cities in most countries don’t have access to finance. So, we are working with different financial institutions to try to figure out where we can create windows of finance for cities that don’t have access to their national governments and that need finance to do their projects and that’s one and the most urgent effort. Secondly, we are expanding the exchange of information and best practices among all cities since we are now a global family. We are able to get information in capacity building to cities from anywhere around the world that are relevant. So you have much broader menu of cities to choose from in different aspects in energy, water management, waste management, transport and forestry or whatever area the cities want to work in. And thirdly we are working on data because each of the city networks has until now been using a slightly different methodology for counting how much emissions reduction they can achieve and while that has been a good discipline, if you have different methodology, it doesn’t allow you to aggregate. We are standardizing the methodology so that you can aggregate and we will soon be able to know how much is the very beneficial contribution of all cities around the world.

You mentioned finances. As in India for example, the Constitution was amended and devolution of power took place and the local bodies were empowered. But 25 years down the line when the constitutional amendment was done, two factors, one is functionaries and other is finances still remain critical. Functionaries are there but finances are not there in place. Do you see the similar pattern across the globe or just in the developing countries?

I think this is actually true for most countries perhaps with few exceptions in Northern European cities that are more advanced. But as a whole you see it in countries whether they be developed or developing but perhaps more intensely in developing countries. There is a process under way through which national governments are beginning to devolve not just authority or responsibility but also finances to the cities. And the process is slower or quicker in different countries but I think across the world it is something that everyone is moving towards.

As we see 2030 is the year that has been decided to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. Do you think it is a realistic time frame or will there be challenges?

I think it is realistic if and only if we are able to meet the challenge of climate change by 2020 otherwise we can’t do it. If we are not able, as a global community, to put ourselves in a position of bringing emissions down by 2020 we will never be able to reach the SDGs by 2030. The destruction of infrastructure around the world will be so great that everyone will have to reconstruct constantly and not have any available budget to pursue any of the other SDGs. So, getting to the turning point of climate change in being able to reduce emissions by 2020 is the path that we need to be on in order to get SDGs by 2030.

You are an architect of the whole Paris Agreement. How disappointed are you that the United States finally decided to pull out of the Agreement? And how is it going to affect global scenario?

I am sad for the United States but it is not affecting the rest of the world. It affects some part of the United States but not all. I think it’s important to differentiate between the opinion of the White House, which is a political opinion and course of the real economy in the United States. The real economy of the United States continues to decarbonize because they understand it’s good for their economy. So, you have a growing number of states, cities, corporations, universities, institutions in the United States. They continue to decarbonize because they understand that that is the way they are going to remain competitive. That is just a political opinion which will change as soon as White House changes.

There is a view that to bring the carbon emissions down, to help the developing countries to meet their energy demands, there has to be technology transfer. But one gets a sense that there is a lack of enthusiasm when it comes to transfer of technology, so that the developing countries can use them and finances are also restricted. Your views?

I don’t think that’s true. And I think best proof of that is India itself. India last
year installed more renewable energy particularly solar energy than fossil fuels. In fact India installed twice as much energy capacity using renewable sources than fossil fuels. I don’t think a case can be made that India does not have access to renewable energy technology. India is one of the leading countries in the world on renewable technology. China is number one in Solar Panels, Wind Turbines. I think it has been proven that it is actually the large developing countries who are the leaders of this as they should be. These technologies are best technologies for developing countries. These are the technologies that allow these developing countries to improve their economic growth, to bring their people out of poverty, and to do so in a clean and competitive way in the future.

I would like to seek your views on this – at times there are differences between two countries where they don’t talk to each other. There are the times when cities can transcend the national boundaries and can interact and exchange ideas and share experiences-successes or failures. What should be done and what should not be?

Yes, and that’s very normal and I don’ think that’s strange. You see it in families – if the mother and father are not talking to each other and even if they get a divorce, the children talk to each other. That’s just human behavior. We collaborate with those who are open to collaboration and where we see benefit. If two countries are not talking
to each other at national level for whatever geographic reason, if cities and provinces see things that they can collaborate across and help each other out, well then that happens. It’s just human nature.

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