Local leaders undaunted by tough greenhouse goals

by Eric Johnston

KYOTO — Think globally and act locally may be a cliche. But as the ambitious goals set by participants of the Kyoto Conference on Climate Change demonstrated, local governments worldwide are feeling the effects of global warming and believe they can no longer wait on national leaders to do something about it.

The conference, which concluded Sunday, brought together nearly 109 mayors and city council members from 26 countries, as well as environmental NGOs, academics and representatives from industries involved in environmental technologies to discuss ways in which practical, effective and financially viable public policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be introduced at the local level.

The conference was sponsored by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives — Local Governments for Sustainability, a network of 500 local governments worldwide committed to sustainable development.

Under the Kyoto Climate Action Declaration released Saturday, all nations are urged to begin negotiating a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty that would mandate a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

The Kyoto Protocol, which went into affect in February 2005, expires in 2012.

The declaration was described variously as aggressive, idealistic and extremely difficult to achieve, especially in developing countries. But those present said it reflects a common consensus that local governments worldwide have to act quickly and drastically to combat global warming because they are on the frontline of the problems associated with it.

“It’s local governments that have to respond first with local resources when hurricanes, floods and droughts damage cities, towns and villages. Therefore, local governments have a very direct interest in doing everything they can to reduce the effects of global warming,” said David Cadman, president of the organization and a councilman from Vancouver, British Columbia.

The timing of the conference was auspicious, taking place just as world legislators from the Group of Eight countries, along with China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, met in Washington to discuss climate change and the need for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

“The evidence that man is changing the climate is now beyond doubt, and it is clear the cost of inaction will be greater than the cost of action. We suggest elements for a post-2012 framework include long-term (greenhouse gas reduction) targets for developed countries and appropriate targets for developing countries,” said a statement released Friday by the Washington conference.

The Kyoto Protocol called on developed countries to make numerical cuts in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels but did not commit developing countries to specific goals.

This was the reason that, even before the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in 1997, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution saying it would not ratify any treaty that did not include developing countries.