The missing link in national climate plans – cities, green pledges in UK election manifestos, and more

By on 11/06/2024 | Updated on 11/06/2024
Image: Andre Benz on Unsplash

Welcome to this month’s Global Government Forum Sustainability Monitor, bringing you the latest government news on this topic from around the world.

We want these newsletters to provide insight on the work of government and we’d love to hear more about the projects you’re working on and the challenges you’re addressing, so please get in touch.

Sarah Wray
Editor, Global Government Forum

In this edition:

Former Vancouver mayor to lead global city-country climate collaboration efforts    

Gregor Robertson. Image courtesy of C40 Cities

Gregor Robertson, the former mayor of Vancouver, has been appointed as a special envoy for cities in a high-level climate collaboration with national leaders. The appointment comes as new research finds that there is significant scope for countries to work more closely with cities to accelerate climate action.

The research: According to UN-Habitat, cities are responsible for around 70% of global primary energy consumption and 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Despite this, a new report from UN-Habitat, the United Nations Development Programme, and the UNESCO Chair on Urban Resilience at the University of Southern Denmark finds that this is not reflected in national climate plans.

The report, which analysed the climate commitments of 194 countries party to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, found that just 27% of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have a strong focus on urban priorities, up from 14% in 2016. Over a third (35%) have low or no mentions of urban content and 39% have moderate mentions.

Country trends: According to the study, NDCs with strong urban content tend to be low and middle-income countries including China, Colombia, Morocco, India, South Africa and Turkey, while those with moderate and little or no urban content in NDCs include high-income and/or highly urbanised countries such as Canada, European Union Member States, Japan and the United States, along with Brazil, Indonesia and Nigeria, among others.

Climate CHAMP: To accelerate the closer collaboration that the report finds is needed between city and national governments, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM), with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, has appointed former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson as its special envoy in the Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnerships (CHAMP). The CHAMP initiative was launched at COP28 in Dubai by the United Arab Emirates COP28 Presidency and Bloomberg Philanthropies and brings together 72 countries that have pledged to cooperate with their local governments and make their NDCs more ambitious ahead of COP30 in 2025. 

City potential: According to projections by GCoM, climate action undertaken by its signatory cities in the 72 CHAMP-endorsing countries could reduce 2.465 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by 2050, which it says is approximately equivalent to the combined annual emissions of Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Partners not stakeholders: “Country leaders must recognise that the battle against climate change will be won or lost in our cities,” Robertson told Global Government Forum. “Urban areas are where the impacts are most felt and where innovative solutions are often first developed. It is imperative that national leaders embrace cities as critical partners, not just as stakeholders.”

Blockers: Asked what has blocked better collaboration between national and city governments to date, Robertson said there is a “historical disconnect” between levels of government and their priorities that must be addressed.

Firsthand knowledge: “During my tenure as mayor, I saw firsthand how cities around the world were leading the way on climate but lacked the authority and resources from their national governments,” he said. “This was due to political differences or bureaucratic hurdles, or both.”

Closing the gap: “Generally there was a mismatch between national priorities and budgets and local project needs – cities were focused on immediate, actionable solutions but national policies and programmes were often delayed by lengthy legislative processes,” Robertson added. “But with climate disasters now frequently causing enormous damage there’s an urgent need for a more synchronised approach where national strategies empower and enable city-level initiatives.”

In his role, Robertson will spearhead global collaboration efforts. He will act as the voice of cities when engaging with governments to negotiate greater collaboration between policymakers at the national and sub-national levels.

Debt payments soar for countries most vulnerable to climate crisis

Kevin Schneider from Pixabay

Debt payments for the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are set to hit their highest level in over 30 years, according to new figures released by charity Debt Justice. 

Rising payments: The 50 countries most vulnerable to climate change are now spending four times more on external debt payments than in 2010, according to the calculations based on data from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The analysis finds that 2024 external debt payments will be at their highest level since at least 1990.

Debt payments blocking climate action: Heidi Chow, executive director of Debt Justice, said: “Record levels of debt are crushing the ability of the most vulnerable countries to tackle the climate emergency. We need a rapid and effective debt relief scheme to cancel debts down to a sustainable level. The UK can play its part by legislating to ensure private lenders take part in international debt relief agreements.”

Creditors: For the countries covered in the figures, 38% of their external interest payments are to private lenders, 35% to multilateral institutions, 14% to China and 13% to other governments.

Drought-hit Zambia: Debt Justice said the example of drought-afflicted Zambia underlined the need for action. After three-and-a-half years of negotiations, the Zambian government has recently agreed a debt restructuring deal with some of its private lenders. The deals allow for large increases in debt payments if the economy does better than expected, but there is no equivalent clause to reduce payments in the event of a shock, such as a drought. Under the terms of the debt deal, Zambia will have to pay bondholders US$450m this year.

One-way street: Tim Jones, head of policy at Debt Justice, said: “It is outrageous that Zambia’s creditors have demanded a deal where they get huge increases in debt payments if things go well, but no losses if Zambia is hit by disasters such as droughts. The $450m going to bondholders this year is money which could have been used to respond to the national disaster.

“As well as debt cancellation, rich countries urgently need to pay their climate debt by delivering grant-based, adequate climate finance.”

Debt swaps: To support debt-laden, climate-vulnerable countries, the idea of ‘debt for nature’ swaps has also seen renewed interest. Barbados, for instance, has participated in ‘debt for nature swap’ programmes such as using savings from debt reduction to upgrade water infrastructure.

Speaking at Global Government Forum’s Innovation 2024 conference earlier this year, Donna Cadogan, head of the public service and cabinet secretary of Barbados, explained: “This is an initiative where countries who are heavily indebted like Barbados reach out to other entities and financial institutions and get them to buy into the sustainable development policy of the country by reducing some of the debt which is owed, on the condition that the government itself implements sustainable policies.”

Watch again: Replay the Sustainability in Government panel from Innovation 2024 featuring government climate leaders from the UK, Iceland and Barbados.

Upcoming sustainability webinars from Global Government Forum

Image: Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Addressing today’s crises and tomorrow’s catastrophes

October 1 2024: Register now

Governments are facing so many crises, this has been dubbed the era of permacrisis.

More governments are looking to deploy an anticipatory policy approach, where decision makers focus on how to anticipate future developments and build resilience to act amid uncertainty.

This webinar will discuss the key elements government departments need to consider to make sure they are preparing for the future, and that policymaking can be developed to incorporate the interests of future generations.

Safeguarding future generations

October 17 2024: Register now

This webinar will discuss how this approach can work in government, sharing insight from those who have developed and implemented such strategies, as well as how public servants can develop the skills to navigate complexity with greater confidence.

Webinar: An equitable path to net zero – economic transformations and just transitions

October 29, 2024: Register now

As part of the Global Government Leaders Forum, during this webinar a panel of civil servants will explore how governments can build and maintain public support for the green transition. It will address issues such as how to enable a green transition while tackling poverty, how workforces and businesses in carbon-intensive industries can be supported to find new forms of income, and how public bodies can decarbonise their own operations.

World Bank and IMF to strengthen climate support for countries

 Alexa from Pixabay

The World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have announced that they are strengthening their partnership to help countries tackle climate change more effectively.

Co-ordinated approach: The initiative builds on previous collaboration and aims to foster stronger country partnerships, drive policy changes, and scale up investments for climate action. “This enhanced collaboration will support nations in developing and implementing climate strategies through a coordinated, country-specific approach,” a statement from the organisations said.

Three principles: The partnership will focus on three main principles:

  • Identifying climate challenges and policy reforms: The WBG and IMF will work closely with countries to pinpoint their specific climate challenges and necessary policy reforms, guided by the WBG’s Country Climate and Development Reports and the IMF’s climate analysis, along with each country’s climate goals.
  • Implementing reforms with support: Together with other development banks and partners, the WBG and IMF will help countries implement these reforms by providing technical assistance and financing.
  • Mobilising climate finance: Upon request, the WBG and IMF will help set up country-led platforms to attract additional climate finance, including private sector investments.

Climate financing: The WBG said it plans to allocate 45% of its annual financing to climate initiatives by 2025, support renewable energy for 250 million people in Africa by 2030, and expand its crisis response tools. The IMF is working to enhance resilience through its Resilience and Sustainability Trust, which has supported 18 countries since October 2022.

Overall, this enhanced cooperation is expected to optimise the increased resources the institutions are dedicating to climate action and bring in additional resources from development partners and the private sector, the organisations said.

UK general election: Climate pledges in the party manifestos 

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

The UK is in the midst of a general election campaign, with parties setting out their pledges on a host of policy areas. Here we outline somef key pledges that the parties have on tackling climate change and improving sustainability. 

Conservatives: The party, which has been in government since 2010 – initially in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and then on its own since 2015 – has made a number of pledges on sustainability, including legislating to reach net zero by 2050. 

An ‘affordable and pragmatic transition’: However, current prime minister Rishi Sunak set out a new approach last year, which he said would reach net zero without imposing “unacceptable costs on hard-pressed British families”. 

The manifesto continues this approach by setting out what the party calls its plan for “an affordable and pragmatic transition to net zero”.  

Pledges include: Guaranteeing a vote in the next Parliament on the next stage of the UK’s pathway to net zero, intended to ensure that “adoption of any new target is accompanied by proper consideration of the plans and policies required to meet the target”. 

Reform the Climate Change Committee: The Conservative manifesto says that the body that currently advises the government on its progress on net zero plans should be given an explicit mandate to consider the cost to households and UK energy security in its future climate advice, while it also pledges to lower green levies on household bills.

Labour: The Labour Party – which is on course to form the next government, according to opinion polls – has not published its manifesto at the time of writing. But the party has previously set out a “long-term Green Prosperity Plan” with the aim of helping to tackle climate change through investment in clean energy and home insulation – although the ambition to annually invest £28bn in green industries has been replaced by a costed commitment to spend around £24bn over the whole Parliament, meaning these aims may take longer to reach. 

Keep an eye on the Global Government Forum website for more information on Labour’s pledges once the manifesto is launched. 

Liberal Democrats: The Lib Dems – traditionally the UK’s third party – acknowledge that the world faces a climate emergency, and propose new government structures to address it. Nancy Johnson has compiled the party’s plans for GGF. 

Citizen assemblies and joint committees: The Lib Dems have pledged to establish national and local citizens’ assemblies to develop policies to meet the country’s biggest challenges – including the drive to net zero. Alongside this, there is a pledge to create a joint climate council of the UK’s nations to encourage collaborative action and foster innovation. 

Chief sec for sustainability: Other Lib Dem pledges include creating a new UK government ministerial post of Chief Secretary for Sustainability in the Treasury to ensure that the plans for the economy are “sustainable, resource-efficient and zero-carbon”. There is also a pledge to create a new Net Zero Delivery Authority to coordinate action across government departments and work with devolved administrations on net zero action. 

Global leadership: The Lib Dems also pledge to “restore the UK’s role as a global leader on climate change” through greater international collaboration and returning international aid spending to 0.7% of gross domestic product. 

Government advisors cast doubt on Germany meeting its 2030 climate target

Image: by Tom from Pixabay

Germany is likely to miss its 2030 greenhouse gas targets, government climate advisors have said. This contradicts comments from Germany’s climate minister in March that the country was on track to meet the goal.

2030 target: In a new report, the Expert Council on Climate Issues, which is appointed by the German government and has independent authority to assess the country’s climate performance, said Germany is unlikely to meet its goal to cut 65% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.

A few weeks earlier: The findings contradict a statement from Robert Habeck, federal minister for economic affairs and climate action, who said in March that 2023 data and projections from the Federal Environment Agency showed emissions were falling and Germany was on course to meet its 2030 goal.

What’s the disconnect?: The council’s analysis found that the Federal Environment Agency’s projections across all sectors were too optimistic and that sectors such as transport and construction were particularly struggling to decarbonise. Developments that were not taken into account when the projection data was compiled – including cuts in the Climate and Transformation Fund and changes in market expectations for gas prices – as well as methodological limitations were also cited as contributing to possible underestimations. 

The Council warned that according to the projection data, the targets would be missed in the period from 2031 to 2040 and greenhouse gas neutrality would “not be achieved by 2045 and not even 2050”.

No delay: “Against this background, we recommend not waiting for the target to be missed again, but rather examining the timely implementation of additional measures,” said the council’s deputy chair Brigitte Knopf.

ICYMI: More recent sustainability stories from GGF

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