Activist voices were silenced at COP25 — but Mayors stand ready to lead broad coalition to avert climate crisis

By Mark Watts, Executive Director of C40 Cities

This week at COP25, the vital, often unheard voices of youth activists, indigenous leaders, and representatives from civil society were forcibly removed from the negotiations. Such injustice cannot be tolerated and must not be repeated. With so little time left to act, the international climate community can no longer silence or simply pay lip service to people on the frontlines of the climate crisis who bear the least responsibility, but the biggest burden. This year has been defined by the leadership of the youth climate movement — we must listen to their calls, and act with the urgency they rightly demand.

2020 is a make-or-break year for the future of humanity. We need a broad, inclusive coalition of young activists, civil society, businesses and labour representatives to deliver an unprecedented Global Green New Deal, and cities are prepared to take the lead. In the pivotal 11 months before COP26 in Glasgow, we must slash emissions and ensure that environmental justice is at the forefront of all climate action.

COP25 promised us “ambition, ambition, ambition”, but little progress has actually been made on spurring more ambition from international governments. And so, despite 25 years of climate talks, emissions are at an all-time high and the window to prevent an irreversible climate breakdown is rapidly narrowing. To get back on track, COP26 must work with the real changemakers. That work must start today.

This year’s conference was regarded as the last opportunity to nudge laggard countries into stepping up their climate ambition and announcing new pledges to peak emissions in 2020 and then drastically reduce to zero, as required by the Paris Agreement. Instead, the United States is on track to withdraw from the Paris Agreement shortly before we meet in Glasgow next year. If there is a new president elected in the 2020 election, they will not take office until after COP26. Brazil, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia and others are willfully ignoring the science and failing to act — and even countries that have made strong commitments, like Canada, are not meeting their targets. Overall national pledges are insufficient and set the world on a dangerous and irreversible path of up to 4°C warming. It is plain to see that climate denying national governments, fossil fuel corporations and those with vested interests in them continue to be able to buy time.

With just 10 years to drastically bend the curve of global emissions and keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C, we cannot wait for consensus at the negotiating table or for climate-denying leaders to come to terms with science. For COP26, the UK Presidency will need to take a radically different approach and engage meaningfully with the actors that are actually delivering change outside the negotiations and in the real world. Our coalition will be in place to deliver the actions that science demands.

In this context, the leadership of mayors has the potential to be transformative. Over 100 cities have committed to peaking emissions by 2020 on the way to halving them by 2030, and through powerful actions in the areas of buildings, transport, food, and waste, over 30 C40 cities have already achieved this goal. By building on this leadership of city governments and using their ability to work with an unparalleled global coalition, COP26 has a chance to succeed.

The Global Green New Deal was launched under the leadership of C40’s new Chair, Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen earlier this year. Together with youth climate activists, representatives from labor, business and civil society, mayors of the world’s leading cities pledged to drive an urgent, fundamental and irreversible transfer of global resources away from fossil fuels and into action that averts the climate emergency. Crucially, this includes putting equitable and inclusive climate action at the center of all urban decision-making, and securing a just transition for those working in high-carbon industries and correct long-running environmental injustices for those disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

The world has never been more in need of radical climate action: extreme weather events and record-breaking temperatures in cities around the world demonstrate the accuracy of the warnings we have heard from scientists for decades. Climate change debates are becoming regular features of political campaigns on every continent. In two-thirds of the world, renewable energy is the cheapest form of power and the evidence mounts every day for the benefits of climate action on public health, opportunities and growth. The voices of young people protesting on the streets have massively increased public understanding of the climate crisis and the urgency of climate action.

The task ahead of us requires an extraordinary global effort. It is nothing short of a paradigm shift, a U-turn on unbridled carbon-intensive growth. A game-changer. As the leading network of cities committed to tackling the climate crisis, we will work tirelessly through 2020 with young people, civil society, business, labour organisations, leading nation states and the COP26 Presidency as a coalition of the willing to bring ambition, action and results to Glasgow and beyond.

C40 is a leading global network of cities taking bold and ambitious climate action to deliver a healthy, equitable and sustainable future for all.

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