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Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Lyon summit

Irene Quaile
July 3, 2015

The French city of Lyon has been hosting a climate summit. Unlike the UN talks, which take place at government level, this meeting brought regions, cities and other players together to drive climate action from below.

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Things are heating up on the climate front. With a heatwave engulfing Lyon and most of western Europe, the pressure to reach a new world climate agreement is building up steadily, just six months ahead of the key Paris UN climate conference. While recent pledges for emissions reductions and forest protection from China and Brazil give some grounds for optimism that climate change could finally be getting the attention it deserves from key governments, the UN process is a slow one. The chances of keeping global warming below two degrees centigrade - considered the maximum we can subject the planet to without major repercussions - are not rated highly.

Climate action from the bottom up

But fighting climate change is not something that can be left solely to the mega-meetings of the United Nations. With renewable energies becoming cheaper and more efficient and people around the world increasingly aware of the need for action, regional and local bodies, businesses and NGOs are taking action of their own.

Regions and businesses influence energy use.
Regions and businesses influence energy use.Image: Imago/Photoshot/Construction Photography

Some 800 mayors, CEOs and trade organizations from around the world have been meeting in Lyon over the past two days to ask for more say in the UN talks, and to showcase their own moves to cut carbon emissions. Local and regional governments have no official seat at the UN climate negotiating table, although they have to cope with the risks of climate change directly. More than half of the global population lives in cities, producing 70 percent of global greenhouse gases.

The World Summit Climate & Territories is part of France's strategy to get as many people involved in climate negotiations as possible, to increase the pressure on world leaders to reach a global accord to reduce emissions at the Paris summit. It was organized by the major global networks of sub-national and local governments in collaboration with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and hosted by the Rhone-Alpes Region, of which Lyon is the capital.

Support from the top

French President Francois Hollande put in an appearance and told the delegates on Wednesday that money was the main roadblock to a global accord. He stressed poor countries need investment to adapt to climate change, and rich countries need to invest in cleaner technologies.

Hollande, Obama, Merkel.
World leaders need civil society to combat climate change.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

French development minister Annick Girardin stressed the key role of municipal leaders, saying it was often easier for them to prevent climate disasters and clean up towns than it was for governments worldwide to agree on emissions targets.

Alliances for aggressive action

In Lyon, three European regions joined California and a growing list of states and provinces worldwide to sign an agreement said to be the “first of its kind” to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

Leaders of the summit host Rhône-Alpes region in France, Scotland and Spain's Basque Country signed the “Under 2 MOU,” as the memorandum of understanding is known. Officials of the Lombardy region of Italy also announced their intention to sign the agreement. The announcement follows last week's signing of the MOU by the Mexican state of Chiapas and Cross River State in Nigeria.

To date, 17 states and provinces in nine countries and four continents have signed the Under 2 MOU. Collectively, the signatories represent a population of 123 million and more than $5 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP), constituting what would be the third largest economic entity in the world. The Under 2 MOU is designed as a “template for the world's nations to follow”, in the run-up to the Paris summit.

“Our growing, diverse coalition is proof that a significant group of states and territories from around the globe are ready to support ambitious commitments by their national governments in Paris this December,” said California Secretary for Environmental Protection Matthew Rodriquez. “At the same time, it demonstrates that sub-nationals are not waiting for our national governments to act. The time for aggressive action is now.”

Civil society could facilitate two-degree goal

Jean-Jack Queyranne, President of the Rhône-Alpes Region, host of the Lyon summit, said the memorandum represented “an unprecedented mobilization of sub-national and local actors, with strong commitments and proposals.”

The Climate Alliance, a group which binds its members from 25 countries to halve per capita emissions by 2030 from 1990 levels, was charged with presenting the conference pledges at the close. It called for local authorities to be given access to funding to prepare for climate impacts.

The UN wants to increase the role of non-state actors. Energy-efficient transport systems and buildings - key elements in emissions reduction - are often controlled by local or regional governments.

NGOs play a key role in protesting climate change.
NGOs play a key role in protesting climate change.Image: Reuters/W. Rattay

In a message read by his climate representative Janos Pasztor, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told participants the world was not yet on the path to reversing the emissions trend or limiting global warming to two degrees centigrade. Scientists warn that on the current trajectory, the earth is on track for warming much higher than the target. That will mean increases in droughts, fiercer storms, and more frequent heatwaves and other extreme weather events.

With just five months to the signing of the Paris pact, Pasztor said practical solutions on the ground were already much more advanced than the governments taking part in the negotiations."

Local and regional governments often bear the biggest burden in dealing with the consequences of extreme weather events, which are predicted to become more severe and commonplace as the climate changes. Many of the delegates at Lyons will have felt they were already having a taste of things to come, as the heat wave pushed temperatures to a nine-year high. The high demand for electricity for air conditioning led to massive power cuts in France, and transport was disrupted, as train tracks warped in the heat.

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