The EU's Assembly of Regional and Local Representatives
Brussels, 7 October 2009
Green partnership: EU and US mayors pledge to work together on climate change
Mayors from both sides of the Atlantic have pledged to work together to highlight the key role played by the local and regional level in adapting to the effects of climate change in a bid to ensure recognition of this role in the conclusions of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next December, where the CoR will represent the regions and cities of Europe within the official EU delegation led by the Swedish Presidency.
Invited by the Committee of the Regions (CoR) to take part in high-level debate on climate change during its October Plenary Session, the vice-president of the US Conference of Mayors, representing cities of populations of 30,000 or more, Elizabeth B. Kautz , also took the opportunity to meet with CoR President Luc Van den Brande and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs to discuss ways in which her organisation can work more effectively with its EU equivalent, the Covenant of Mayors.
"US mayors stand solidly with mayors across the globe who believe that climate disruption is an urgent threat to the environmental and economic health of our communities. Although our national government did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, almost 1,000 US mayors have subsequently signed the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to meet or beat Kyoto Protocol targets. Mayors continue to devise successful, effective strategies for climate protection and to push national leaders to support these efforts," said Kautz.
Luc Van den Brande added: "I am delighted that our colleagues from across the Atlantic have agreed to look at ways in which we can all work more closely together towards the shared goal of adapting to climate change at the local and regional level. The Covenant of Mayors, which is strongly supported by the Committee of the Regions, now has more than 700 signatories from across the EU, and its message to Copenhagen – that regions and cities are already working tirelessly to tackle climate change at the local level, in many cases going further than their national governments – will be all the more clearly heard and understood if it is combined with that of the US Conference of Mayors."
Commissioner Piebalgs said: "If the battle against climate change is to be won, it will have to be fought in the cities. I'm very proud that the mayors of America and Europe are willing to work together in this endeavour, and I am convinced that the administration which is closest to the citizen, the municipalities, will play a major role in mobilising efforts to reach an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen ."
Among the possible collaboration opportunities discussed by the three politicians were 'green' twinning programmes that would allow cities in the US and Europe to share best practice on climate change adaptation and mitigation, as well as combining their efforts to raise awareness among citizens of the need to save energy and reduce emissions.
Ahead of their meeting with the Commissioner, Mayor Kautz and President Van den Brande joined members of the CoR and other regional and local representatives on the Esplanade in front of the European Commission headquarters to take part in a media event designed to highlight the issue of local and regional authorities and climate change. A three-metre high inflatable globe printed with a map of European regions will be sent from Brussels to Copenhagen as a visible reminder to negotiators of the commitment of the local and regional level to tackling climate change. Leaders marked that commitment by signing their name across their region on the map.
Also speaking at the CoR Plenary Session in Brussels was the deputy mayor of Copenhagen, Mona Heiberg , herself a member of the Committee. Commenting on the particular challenge facing her city as the host of the UN talks, she said: "In less than 60 days the world’s leaders will gather in Copenhagen in an attempt to find the way to a new global climate agreement. We must send them a message that we are ready to take responsibility and play our part in solving the challenges of climate change. I believe that we are facing a window of opportunity to create a path towards a sustainable green economy. Our response in the city of Copenhagen is to strive to become a carbon neutral capital by 2025. We believe that the communities of the future are based on smart economic growth.”
Henning Jensen (PES/DK), CoR rapporteur on European Commission proposals on adapting to climate change, welcomed the adoption of his by the CoR plenary and underlined the need for a multi-level governance approach to tackling global warming. "It is clear that we need to work together across every level of government. Although climate change is a global issue, the consequences are always local: flooded basements, fewer tourists or poor harvests caused by drought and extreme temperatures. Sub-national authorities can contribute to the fight against climate change by bringing their hands-on knowledge of the everyday challenges, and their solutions to them. It is up to the national and European authorities to create the necessary framework in which this sharing of knowledge can take place."
One vital area where this exchange of best practice and coordination of efforts at the local level is particularly important is that of civil protection, the subject of an by CoR member Helmut Jahn (EPP/DE) that was also adopted at the Plenary Session on Wednesday. "The effects of climate change can often be disastrous, and they are rarely if ever confined to one particular country or region. In many cases, it is the local and regional authorities that are directly responsible for tackling disasters such as forest fires or floods, but even if they are not, they must always bear the economic and social consequences. That is why it is so important to ensure that all those involved on the front line are as well-prepared and as quick to respond as possible, by making it easier for them to work together not only to tackle the disaster but also to better manage its consequences."
The Committee of the Regions
Around two-thirds of EU legislation is implemented by local and regional authorities in the Member States. The Committee of the Regions was created in 1994 to give representatives of local government a say over the content of these laws. The CoR organises five plenary sessions a year, where its 344 members vote on opinions issued in response to proposed legislation. The European Commission, which initiates EU laws, and the Council of Ministers, which determines the final content of the legislation (usually in tandem with the European Parliament), are obliged to consult the CoR on a wide range of policy areas including the environment, employment and transport. The Lisbon Treaty will strengthen the position of the Committee of the Regions further. In future, the Committee must be consulted by the European Parliament on all issues that are important for regions and municipalities. The Committee can also appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law violates the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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