LSE-Sciences Po Masters Double Degree in Affaires Internationales alumnus (2019) Casimir Legrand now works at C40 Cities, supporting mayors and cities to engage in global, regional, and national political discussions with the aim of enhancing their climate leadership, championing ambitious and equitable climate action, and removing barriers to city-level action.
In the article below he attempts to unpack the relatively young concept of city diplomacy and highlights how it can be leveraged as a mechanism to elevate the role and voices of cities on the global climate stage.
Moving away from traditional notions of diplomacy
Diplomacy is broadly defined as a set of activities and tactics initiated to shape global policies and frameworks in international relations. Traditionally, this function has been uniquely within the purview of nation states. The aftermath of the Cold War, however, encouraged the removal of cross-national barriers ushering in an era of globalisation. States began to interact differently and non-state actors and individuals moved into the transactional space that was freed up. The relatively unimpeded movements of goods, money, and people quickly resulted in a fundamental and irreversible interdependency and interconnectedness for the sharing of new technology, trade, and international security among states never before witnessed throughout human history.
But, globalisation also highlights the emergence of what Kofi Annan has famously dubbed “problems without passports”, a series of transnational threats that don’t respect state borders and that fundamentally require global responses to solve – climate change, transnational organised crime, pandemics, asymmetric warfare to name a few. These forces are driving a paradigm shift that is eroding the deeply enshrined principle of state sovereignty in international relations, and consequently challenging the primacy and exclusivity of the role of the state in international politics.
Cities… are playing an increasingly important role in global governance, not surprisingly because every city around the world faces serious consequences for its dense urban population due to the climate emergency.
The rise of non-state actors and the emergence of city diplomacy
It is common with paradigm shifts to see new actors emerge. Cities, for example, are playing an increasingly important role in global governance, not surprisingly because every city around the world faces serious consequences for its dense urban population due to the climate emergency. It is in this context that cities, together with transnational municipal actors, are capturing the attention of national governments in the fight against climate change. Mayors around the world feel compelled to engage in global climate discussions and are increasingly engaging in the practice of city diplomacy. Like lots of non-state actors, cities are doing their part to sustain multilateral cooperation by defending a vision of multilateralism in which cities have a vital role to play in raising ambition at the global level to tackle the climate crisis.
Cities are doing their part to sustain multilateral cooperation by defending a vision of multilateralism in which cities have a vital role to play in raising ambition at the global level to tackle the climate crisis.
City diplomacy can help shape global and national agendas that advance local interests
By engaging in city diplomacy, cities can make sure that their legal and social importance is recognised and that the actions they are taking are reflected in national and global policymaking. Policy circles cognisant of the needs of cities can unlock critical financial flows, technical assistance, and other technical support, as well as bring about vital regulatory and policy changes that can accelerate ambitious city climate action and influence the actions of other public and private actors.
When cities work together, especially through city networks like C40, they can build their collective voice to engage in and typically achieve greater impact in the global policy arena than by acting alone. In fact, research published in October 2020 highlighted evidence that city networks are beginning to replace nation states as the primary movers and shakers and defenders of climate policy internationally, be it in parallel to or even sometimes in defiance of their national government.
City diplomacy provides unparalleled access to knowledge, expertise, and resources of peers that can deliver mutual benefits for climate action
The ability to engage in peer-to-peer municipal networks that champion city diplomacy offers cities unique opportunities to learn from and support each other and inspire other non-state actors in achieving local climate goals and objectives. Moreover, cities are able to gain access to a community of peers from across different geographies and even sometimes across competing political factions to share best practices, lessons, and practical solutions. This can be especially useful for cities of similar size and opportunity who share similar challenges. Often, city diplomacy can enable direct city-to-city collaboration either through independent partnerships or third parties.
Cities are leading the way
Now in the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, cities continue to lead the way, making bold commitments to achieve ambitious sectoral targets for 2030 on renewable energy, zero-emission transportation, buildings, and waste to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. By setting interim targets, cities are doing their fair share to collectively reduce global CO2 emission levels by 50% by 2030 in line with the findings of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.
Individual cities, collective advocacy platforms, and transnational municipal networks like C40 and by extension the Urban 20 (official G20 engagement group to raise the profile of urban issues to G20 Leaders) and ICLEI, the Local Governments and Municipalities Association (LGMA) among many, now regularly participate in high-level discussions, such as in the G20, the IPCC, and the 2030 Agenda. The input of cities was instrumental in influencing the intergovernmental process in the lead up to COP21 – the signing of the Paris Agreement – as well as the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action in 2016, which continues to incorporate the voice of non-state actors and helps drive the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
This acclaim is definitely not being overlooked. In 2021, cities were officially reflected in the G20 Leaders’ Summit Declaration and for the first time were recognised in the outcomes of the G7 Summit in 2022. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN authoritative body on climate science, has called for an explicit focus on cities in its Sixth Assessment Report. This focus will continue into AR7 starting in 2023, as the IPCC is set to release a Special Report on Cities and Climate Change as part of this assessment cycle.
Cities must take their rightful seats at the global policymaking table to be able to exert pressure on national governments to recognise the importance of unlocking barriers – financial, regulatory, and policy – to city climate action.
But cities can’t do it alone…
But at this critical juncture, as we face the threat of irreversible “tipping points” and a “code red for humanity”, cities and city networks must engage more than ever before in city diplomacy to continue pushing for urgency, hope, ambition, and collaboration in the lead up to COP27 and beyond for the preservation and prosperity of all citizens on our shared planet. Cities must take their rightful seats at the global policymaking table to be able to exert pressure on national governments to recognise the importance of unlocking barriers – financial, regulatory, and policy – to city climate action. It is vital that all actors, from national to municipal governments, move away from mere rhetoric of ambition to focus on implementation for which they can be held accountable to ensure we stay on track for a safer 1.5°C world.
This article represents the views of the author, and not the position of the Department of International Relations, nor of the London School of Economics, nor C40 Cities.
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