Mayors and local authorities representing cities around the world this week urged delegates attending a milestone session of climate change talks to ensure that cities are kept high on the agenda given that they are home to half the world's population and responsible for much of the emissions that cause climate change.
"The voice of cities has to be heard at the COP in Poznan," said the city's mayor, Ryszard Grobelny, referring to the 14th Conference of the Parties which started last week under the auspices of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC).
He was speaking at a Local Government Climate Session co-organized by Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the Association of Polish cities.
In a joint message to the conference, they said: "We, cities and local governments, represent half of the world's population; consume up to 80 percent of all energy, implement strong local climate actions; commit to ambitious reduction targets, mobilize citizens around the globe; and offer national-local partnership to limit global warming.
Picture © UNFCCC
"It is the local authorities which have a much closer relationship with their citizens than national governments. It is our duty to ensure that the opinions and voices of our citizens are heard when it comes to climate change," Mr. Grobelny said.
Echoing his views, the Mayor of Entebbe Uganda, Mr. Stephen Kabuye who serves as Vice-President of ICLEI, said that local authorities were in a special position.
"We need to go to the leaders and we need to go down to the schools, the places of worship to spread the gospel of climate change," he said. The issues at hand in Poznan were so important that if not well handled – all the other problems (of urban poverty) could get worse, he said.
World leaders meeting in Poznan are expected this week to create a successor treaty to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, in which dozens of nations, but not the United States, agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several mayors said they hoped this position would now change.
In Bali last year, nations set a goal of negotiating a successor to Kyoto, which expires in 2012, in Copenhagen in 2009. Delegates in Poznan are discussing ideas and setting a work schedule leading to Copenhagen.
But the economic crisis and the timing of the talks have dampened expectations for the conference. There was concern that sour economy may discourage wealthier nations from agreeing to help fund cleaner energy in developing countries. And the United States is being represented in Poznan by the Bush administration.
President-elect, Barack Obama, who has promised to take strong action on climate change, did not send representatives. But he said in a statement: "The time for denial is over. We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my administration to do."
Mr. David Cadman, a Vancouver City Councillor and President of ICLEI added that the problems were urgent and that the world could no longer delay on a sound climate change agreement.
"Climate change is happening all around us. We are in a crisis. We have to make some very substantial changes. The world's cities have got it; now national governments need to hear us."
UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, who arrived in Poznan this week, will raise the urban profile at the meeting as the United Nations focal point for cities.