Beyond National Borders: How Cities are Taking the Lead in Fighting Climate Change

By Wiktoria Gorka

Without a doubt, climate change is one of the most pressing challenges that the global community is currently facing. The IPCC’s most recent report (2023) highlights the urgency of this problem and the need for a rapid response to it. Tackling climate change requires quick and well-organized coordination among various nations, organisations, communities, and individuals. However, as we could observe over the years this coordination is not easily achieved.

Climate change has a particularly devastating impact on cities, where populations are subjected to flooding, excessively high temperatures, and water and food shortages. All of these have a costly impact on the essential services, housing, livelihoods, and health of those living in cities. Moreover, due to their high population density and particular urban activities, which are important producers of greenhouse gas emissions, cities are major contributors to climate change.

More than 70% of the CO2 emissions in the world are produced in cities, primarily by motorised and industrial transportation systems that use a lot of fossil fuels. Making cities a vital component of the solution to combating climate change is therefore imperative. Individual involvement of cities in fighting climate change is crucial, especially in countries where the national government may not prioritize environmental issues. Local governments have a significant role to play in mitigating the impacts of climate change because they are responsible for many of the activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, such as transportation, waste management, and energy consumption.

The fight against climate change is already being waged in numerous cities. To reduce industrial emissions, policies have been implemented, as well as renewable energy sources. In 2020, one billion people resided in a city with a renewable energy goal or strategy. Oslo, Stockholm, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Berlin, London, Paris, San Francisco, and Amsterdam are the 10 cities with the best thriving urban landscapes while putting in place sustainable practices.

Recently more and more cities are making an effort to introduce sustainable practices. Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is one such city taking the initiative to combat climate change. As a result of climate change, Poland frequently experiences heat and frost waves, as well as more frequent and severe droughts and floods. Moreover, Poland ranks 10th in Europe for air pollution, according to a report evaluating CO2 emissions in 2019 published by the Swiss platform IQ Air. Yet the government of Poland frequently shows a lack of willingness to implement more sustainable practices. The authorities in Warsaw decided to defy this trend and make reforms in defiance of the government.

Warsaw is investing in public transport, cycling infrastructure, and pedestrian-friendly spaces to reduce the use of private cars. Warsaw is also a part of C40 a global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis. Moreover, in 2023 Warsaw has become the first capital city in Central Europe to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT). The FFNPT aims to end the production, trade, and use of fossil fuels worldwide and transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2050. This decision by Warsaw is the result of months of meetings, petitions, and actions by activists from youth movements such as Wschód, Fridays for Future, and Parents for Climate. The city’s participation in the FFNPT is a significant step towards reducing its carbon footprint and promoting sustainable practices.

In order to manage an equitable transition away from coal, oil, and gas in a way that leaves no worker, community, or country behind, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty aspires to improve international cooperation. The representatives of the project assert that The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is an idea, not an organisation, and it is supported by a vast international network of governments, civil society organisations, academics, scientists, youth activists, health professionals, religious organisations, Indigenous peoples, and hundreds of thousands of other people around the world. The significance of this project is that it is aimed not only at highly developed countries that can afford more sustainable resources without lowering living standards, but also at promoting debate, fair transition, and inclusivity.

When cities lead the way in putting climate-friendly laws and initiatives into practice, they can motivate others to do the same and start a chain reaction that could result in changes locally and globally. Cities can cooperate to share best practices, conduct joint research projects, and promote laws that support environmental sustainability and climate action. Moreover, the movement of global communities of cities fighting climate change represents the values of helpfulness, solidarity, and democracy in the global community.

“Climate change carries no passport and knows no national borders. Countries must work toward the common interest, beyond narrow national interests,” as stated Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during COP21 Conference

Poland’s experience offers valuable lessons for strengthening global governance on the issue of climate change. Firstly, it shows the importance of subnational and local governments in taking action against climate change that national governments often lack. Thus, it highlights the need for more decentralized approach to governance that will empower local communities all over the world. Participation of cities and subnational governments in international climate talks can lead to recognition of the unique perspective that cities can offer, and global governance can benefit from their on-the-ground knowledge and ability to mobilize locals. Secondly, global governance could introduce mechanism to encourage and support cities that demonstrate leadership in action against climate change. This could involve financial grants, knowledge sharing and technology transfers between most proactive cities. Creating a system that would reward climate leaders among cities can foster a healthy competition and encourage greater ambition in fighting climate change.

By working together, cities can leverage their collective resources and expertise to create a more sustainable future. This collaboration promotes a sense of global solidarity and demonstrates the importance of collective action in addressing global challenges. By taking these steps, Warsaw is setting an example for other Central European capitals to follow and contributing to a more sustainable future for all.