French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been lauded in the past years as one of the driving forces behind the EU’s increasing goals to combat climate change. He has also championed talks to try to align former French colonies in Africa in the climate change mitigation and adaptation debate. Yet, the real changes to how “business as usual” is conducted within France itself may spring from initiatives by local governments and groups.
This phenomenon has been seen to some extent in other countries, such as the United States, where local movements in states like California, have sought to surpass national-level governmental regulations. Such local initiatives are becoming more common the world over.
On a world scale this was demonstrated on 21 November, when mayors from over 135 global cities signed the Mexico City Pact, which established a monitoring and verification mechanism for cities to address climate change. Along with Mexico City Mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, Paris Mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, also the current president of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), opened the mayoral gathering.
The Mexico City Pact will be presented to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the Conference of Parties 16 later this month in Cancun, Mexico. Ay the gather, Michel Delebarre, mayor of Dunkerque, France, and vice-president of the EU’s Committee of the Regions, stated that though the Copenhagen negotiations were disappointing last year, for the first time, local authorities were acknowledged and able to make themselves heard.
The Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is known for his green outlook. In his first inaugural address he summed up the opinion of many Parisians when he said << L’air de Paris est si mauvais que je le fais toujours bouillir avant de respirer>> – “the air in Paris is so bad that I always boil it before breathing.” In the near decade of his tenure as mayor, his efforts have served to drastically improve this situation.
Delanoë’s major efforts included reserved bus corridors on major streets and a new tramway around the periphery of Paris. His most well-known green achievement is the Vélib’ public bicycle system. Since its inauguration in 2007, the system has grown and now is the largest of its kind in the world. Delanoë has been working to make the Autolib’, an electric car sharing plan a reality in Paris. Earlier this year he unveiled a plan to close the Pompidou Expressway to car permanently and convert it into a pedestrian zone. Additionally, the proposal includes converting the expressway across the Seine on the right bank to a boulevard designed for both pedestrians and automobiles. Though, the project requires 50 million $US, development of 35 acres, and approval from the National Assembly.
One of Delanoë’s main arguments for these green initiatives has been that such improvements “are about giving Parisians more opportunities for happiness.” The initiation of the Paris Agency for Climate recently, brings citizens more information about climate issues and seeks to obtain popular support for further initiatives. The catch-phrase of this initiative, which provides updates on climate issues and to assist in combatting climate change, is “opening a unique window to information and expertise for fighting against climate change.” Thus, local Paris government is encouraging further direct engagement by its citizens and visitors.
Following the Copenhagen climate negotiations last year there was a call for increased bi-lateral agreements. But through the efforts of specific local governments and with the support of documentations, such as the Mexico City Pact, perhaps many more large-scale national and international climate schemes will find their naissance in local ones.