As stated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action. This is a resounding success for multilateralism.”
Aside from its specific content, what is truly remarkable about the agreement – as stressed by Ban Ki-moon – is that in the space of approximately 20 years the environmental issue has become the barycentre of a new political scenario that overrides players and State borders. Moreover, cities are at the root of this process and at the core of the new scenario.
The environmental issue has become the barycentre of a new political scenario that overrides players and State borders where cities are at the core of the new scenario
Long before the famous Stern Review (2006) afforded them 75% of the blame for global CO2 emissions, some cities (often small and outlying) became hotbeds of a new approach to responsibility, searching for answers to climate change, overriding or pressing their respective central governments (their representatives in the vertical hierarchy) and forging cross-border (and horizontal, i.e. without superior government representatives) alliances.
In the late 1980s, long before the United Nations Climate Change Convention in Rio (the so-called 1992 Earth Summit), three major transnational city networks were formed: the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, a network of American and Canadian cities known as ICLEI (subsequently expanded to become the international Cities for Climate Protection CCP), the Climate Alliance of German, Austrian and Dutch cities and Energie-cités, a network of French, British and German cities. These city networks placed energy efficiency and emission control at the heart of a new need and political requirement.
The ecological-climate issue is one of the cruxes in the reconfiguration of an authority, notwithstanding nations and their institutions, rooted in the cities and in a new sense of citizenship
Cities’ networks interpret climate change and relate it to local issues
The pioneering cities of the late 1980s’ networks tended to be small and medium-sized cities in the northern hemisphere but, by the turn of the first decade of the new millennium, many capital cities and metropolitan areas in the south of the globe were starting to rally round – and with them big international bodies such as the World Bank which, in 2009, hosted the Urban Research Symposium on Climate Change, and the United Nations UN-HABITAT programme, which in its 2011 annual report reflected on the urban implications of climate change.
The rest is recent history. Although, only yesterday Italy was, at national level, authorising fresh drilling close to the coastal resorts (prompting an institutional crisis between local and central governments), the new Convention of European Mayors has set 2050 as the limit for the transition to 100% renewable energy and an 80% reduction in climate-changing emissions.
Cities are not just a patient in need of a cure but patients searching for their own cure
For those involved in architecture and the city, this means reiterating the fact that cities are not just a patient in need of a cure but patients searching for their own cure.
As regards the future of politics, this scenario shows that the ecological-climate issue is one of the cruxes in the reconfiguration of an authority, notwithstanding nations and their institutions, still or once more rooted in the cities and in a new sense of citizenship.
Top image Lyon masterplan, France