race on climate

Angie Fyfe, Executive Director of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA, discusses how thousands of stakeholders are mobilising ahead of COP26

The next decade will decide the future for humanity. Delivering a green and just recovery to the COVID-19 crisis; creating strong, fair economies that serve everyone; and drastically cutting greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to limit global warming to the 1.5° degrees Celsius target of the Paris Agreement, all equally need to be achieved. None is possible without the others, and success in all is the only way to prevent a catastrophic crisis.

The upcoming UN Climate COP26 in Glasgow will be meaningful and successful only if each nation presents new and more ambitious national climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). National governments can and should level up their ambition by engaging local and regional government counterparts, many of which are already aiming at climate neutrality.

Creating a climate neutrality roadmap requires the establishment of an organisational framework and the identification of priority sectors for action. In turn, these need to consider key elements of sustainable development, such as climate justice, green economy and local jobs.

Cities Race to Zero

This is where the Cities Race to Zero and Race to Resilience come into play. These initiatives aim to mobilise an unprecedented coalition of stakeholders ahead of COP26. For Cities Race to Zero, cities commit to science- based targets and the implementation of inclusive and resilient climate action ahead of and beyond the COP26. The Race to Resilience campaign aims to catalyse a step-change in global ambition for climate resilience, strengthening the resilience of 4 billion people in vulnerable communities by the year 2030.

Both initiatives are led by the High-Level Climate Champions for Climate Action – Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Muñoz, and are backed by a multitude of global partners, including ICLEI, C40 Cities, CDP, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the World Resources Institute (WRI), and the Resilient Cities Network.

ICLEI is gathering pledges for the Cities Race to Zero through several global and regional programs. Globally, cities can pledge through the GreenClimateCitiesTM Program, a tested and proven process methodology and associated Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) framework for walking step-by-step toward climate neutrality.

In the United States, communities mobilise for Race to Zero through the program “ICLEI150 in the Cities Race to Zero”, an operationalised work plan to support these important climate, health and equity goals. Already, nearly three dozen cities, towns, and counties have joined. ICLEI provides technical support to act today toward meeting mid-century climate neutrality commitments, including calculating city-specific science-based targets to align with the Paris Agreement.

According to an ICLEI USA analysis of 100 U.S. city and county greenhouse gas inventories, the average science-based target requires a per capita emissions reduction of 63.3% by 2030. Our analysis finds that for the vast majority of these 100 local governments, this target is achievable with the application of existing policy instruments and technology.

To meet its carbon emissions reduction goal, the City of Des Moines, U.S., needed to look beyond existing action, particularly within the energy sector. The City set the nation’s first goal of 100% community-wide, 24/7 carbon-free electricity by 2035. Des Moines is working closely with its power utility, which will need to build massive battery capacity, to achieve this goal.

Just as utility engagement is needed, multilevel governance is a crucial lever for accelerating action, proven by South Korea, where every city has declared a climate emergency or in Japan, where national-local climate planning has created a “de-carbonization domino effect” involving hundreds of cities.

In the U.S., the State of Hawai’i has most exemplified multi-level action. It was the first in the U.S. to pledge a 100% carbon neutrality goal and in May 2021, it became the first state to declare a climate emergency. This meant mobilising immediate emergency efforts to restore a safe climate, a move made following advocacy from the four counties in the state. Maui County contributed text to the historic resolution, underpinned by the outcomes of a year-long emissions-accounting training cohort ICLEI led with the four local governments.

Whereas Maui focused on a vertical approach, the City of Orlando is collaborating horizontally. An early adopter of the Cities Race to Zero — and with its climate work already embedded within a regional East Central Florida Climate Resilience Collaborative — Orlando looked beyond its city borders to build state- wide momentum. The City partnered with Align Public Strategies, ICLEI, and other partners to launch a “Florida Race to Zero”. This state-wide Race serves as a friendly competition between mayors and cities to showcase how their cities are leading the way to climate neutrality.

Climate neutrality

Use of the term “climate neutrality,” as opposed to the more familiar “carbon neutrality,” is intentional. For local and regional governments in the ICLEI network, climate neutrality is an integrated approach to reducing carbon emissions to zero. Resilience is an entry point to action, not an add-on. Local governments provide services to maintain the functionality and safety of their communities. Climate adaptation, resilience and equity are natural extensions of this role, and the cities, towns and regions that pledge to join Cities Race to Zero and Race to Resilience embody these principles.

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Executive Director
ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA
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