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Explainer: What is the Paris Agreement on climate change and what does it mean for cities? | Citiscope

The Paris climate change accord is one of several global agreements forged among nations in 2015-16 that will have implications for city leaders for years to come. But what exactly is the Paris Agreement, and how does it relate to the quest for building more sustainable cities?

Here’s an overview of the major questions and issues.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement on climate change is a voluntary accord among 197 countries to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions. Specifically, the Paris Agreement aims to keep the world’s mean temperature from rising by more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100 — and ideally, contain rising temperatures to 1.5ºC. Scientists believe that keeping planetary warming below this level is necessary to avert the worst effects of global climate change, such as a rising sea level and more frequent extreme-weather events. (See the text of the Paris Agreement here.)

Article: Explainer: What is the Paris Agreement on climate change and what does it mean for cities? | Citiscope By Gregory Scruggs March 30, 2017

Diplomats brokered the deal in December 2015 at the Paris Climate Conference, known in United Nations parlance as COP 21. To achieve the agreement’s long-term goals, countries prepared emissions-reduction plans that negotiators brought with them to Paris. Those plans go into effect in 2020. Every five years, nations are expected to “ratchet up” their plans with more ambitious pledges. That’s because the plans presented in 2015 were not sufficient to hit the 2ºC target. The U. N. Environmental Programme has estimated that if countries make do on their 2015 pledges — and it’s not clear that they will — it would still lead to a global mean temperature rise of 2.9°C to 3.4 °C.

When did the agreement take effect?

Once the agreement was reached, U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon went on a major diplomatic charm offensive to convince countries to ratify it. Under the terms of the agreement, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions had to approve the deal in their national legislatures. At least one of the “big four” emitters — China, the European Union, Russia and the United States — had to sign on.

A special ceremony was held on Earth Day 2016 for countries to submit their so-called “instruments of ratification”. Less than six months later, the U. N. reached the magic number, making this ratification process one of the fastest in diplomatic history. The Paris Agreement formally “entered into force” on 4 November 2016. By that time, 73 countries had joined the agreement, including the U. S., China and the European Union. Today, just three countries have not signed it: Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Why are cities important to the Paris Agreement?

In many ways, cities are both the problem and the solution when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions. And they have a lot to lose from flooding, drought and disease if climate change spirals out of control.

Cities are responsible for the bulk of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Private automobiles on city streets are a big culprit. So are buildings, and the energy consumed by lighting, heating and cooling them. According to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, cities consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for more than 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

At the same time, some of the most promising low-carbon innovations are happening in cities. From efforts aimed at boosting walking, biking and transit to promoting energy efficiency, many mayors have been aggressive about finding ways to squeeze carbon out of their cities.

What role did cities play in bringing the deal together?

None directly — the diplomats hashing out the details were all representatives of national governments. Cities had no formal “seat at the table” during the feverish two weeks of negotiations in Paris.

Indirectly, however, cities had a major impact. Mayors showed up in force in Paris, and were among the loudest voices in a global outcry demanding action. What made the Paris deal successful — after two decades of failed efforts to reach an agreement — was intense global pressure from every corner of the world. From indigenous communities to multinational corporations, some 10,000 players from 180 countries also made pledges to reduce their carbon emissions. They did so in an effort to show national governments that there is a global consensus on the need to halt climate change once and for all.

Mayors argued that cities are well positioned to act immediately — well before national commitments take effect in 2020. According to a U. N. database, cities have made more than 2,500 commitments to slash their greenhouse-gas emissions. That’s more than the number of commitments from the private sector.

So now that we have an agreement, what are cities actually doing?

Cities around the world are taking steps to promote renewable energy, support electric vehicles, change streetlights to energy-saving LEDs, increase transit use, slash emissions from buildings and a host of other measures. Just within the more than 80 megacities that make up the C40 cities, members have taken more than 10,000 climate actions, the organization reported in 2015.

Generally, there are three steps involved on the road to making measurable progress at the local level. First, to create an inventory of the jurisdiction’s emissions. Second, to set a reduction target. Third, to make a plan to get there.

More than 7,000 cities have publicly pledged to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in the wake of the Paris Agreement. Their commitments are consolidated through a platform called the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. As of March 2017, 7,436 cities around the world, representing 678 million people — nearly 10 percent of the world’s population — were part of the Global Covenant.

How do city commitments fit into national commitments?

According to a study by UN-Habitat, 110 of the 163 national climate plans presented in Paris “show clear urban references and content”. The study reported that the role of cities in fighting climate change was highest priority in emerging economies and somewhat neglected in the plans by high-income countries. Most references to cities relate to how places will plan ahead to avoid suffering the worst impacts of climate change, rather than citing the role of cities in reducing emissions.

That emphasis on “adaptation” over “mitigation” may be a gross oversight. A C40 Cities report issued in late 2016 argued that the world’s megacities must see their emissions peak and begin declining by 2020, otherwise the planet will miss the 1.5ºC mark.

What are the next steps?

The Paris conference was called COP 21 because it was the 21st in an annual series of climate talks. Those will continue — COP 22 took place in Marrakech and COP 23 will take place in Bonn in November. Meanwhile, the Paris Agreement set out a timeline of what future COPs are to accomplish. At COPs in 2020, 2025 and 2030, countries will present their new climate pledges. In 2023 and 2028, they will also engage in “stocktakes”, or reviews of how progress on the agreement is coming along. The details of what, exactly, countries will take stock of was not defined in the agreement itself and is subject to ongoing follow-up negotiations.

Meanwhile, cities continue to meet at annual gatherings of mayors who tout their climate leadership. But they will also have a formal role within the U.N climate system for the first time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body that advises national governments on the issue, agreed to incorporate a specific urban lens into its research and reports after a successful lobbying campaign called #CitiesIPCC. In 2018, scientists will convene for the first #CitiesIPCC conference to prepare a research agenda for the panel.

What are the biggest outstanding issues?

Money is a big one — or rather a lack of money. Buying municipal electric vehicle fleets, building “green infrastructure” and opening new mass transit lines as an alternative to private automobiles all costs money.  C40 estimates that cities will have to invest USD 375 billion to hit the target of peaking their emissions by 2020.

They might have gotten some of fiscal help from the Green Climate Fund, a financial instrument set up in 2010 that many countries pledged to fund during the Paris talks. But U. S. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would zero out contributions to the fund, and other countries may follow. Moreover, existing Green Climate Fund projects don’t have much of an urban focus.

Trump’s election raises other questions. Trump campaigned on a promise to pull the U. S. out of the Paris Agreement — something the U. S. cannot technically do for four years. Whether Trump tries to scuttle the deal or not, he has taken steps to reverse the climate-change policies of former President Barack Obama. That makes it less likely that the U. S. will meet its Paris pledges, and could encourage other countries to backtrack as well.

Article: Explainer: What is the Paris Agreement on climate change and what does it mean for cities? | Citiscope By Gregory Scruggs March 30, 2017


Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”

Yes, ‘govtech’ can change the way cities function | Citiscope

In recent years, Paris has distinguished itself as a leader in experimenting with digital tools for citizen participation — what have come to be known as “civic tech” or “govtech”. In 2014, the city went so far as to commit to bring together digital technologies and citizen participation in a new vision of how to build a city that will be both “smart” and “sustainable” by 2020.

Article: Yes, ‘govtech’ can change the way cities function | Citiscope by TATIANA DE FERAUDY APRIL 3, 2017

Indeed, the Paris initiative has emerged as a key opportunity to see how city officials can involve all stakeholders and multiple methodologies to find innovative solutions to challenges of sustainable urban development. And although the impacts of these projects on citizens are often questioned, how they affect the municipality itself is rarely addressed.

Through a case study on urban crowdsourcing and citizen participation strategies and tools, we explored how Paris’s political commitment to support open innovation processes and the choice to develop digital citizen participation tools in-house have transformed the way the municipality works. As it turns out, those decisions have had deep impact in this regard.

In the past few years, Paris developed and launched several digital citizen-participation tools: Dans Ma Rue, a citizen-reporting app; Imaginons Paris Demain, a consultation platform on urban projects; Madame la Maire J’ai une Idée, a “digital suggestion box”. This list also includes Budget Participatif, which last year became the largest participatory budgeting initiative worldwide in number of voters, as almost 160,000 Parisians voted to allocate over EUR 100 million of the city’s investment budget.

Digital tools initially were chosen for their perceived capacity to facilitate, broaden and structure citizen participation, a central objective for Anne Hidalgo’s mayoral term. City officials were keen to use these tools not only to strengthen public engagement but also to simplify that engagement. In addition, digital tools would allow for the gathering of precise, timely data that could be automatically analyzed.

[See: Tel Aviv’s DigiTel: an e-government app and smart card, all in one]

In retrospect it is clear that some of those hopes were overly idealistic. After a few years of experimentation, city representatives no longer see these tools as “magical instruments” that can automatically increase the number of participants or make it easier for citizens to contribute. Digital tools did not, by themselves, allow for an increase in the representation of disadvantaged communities or of citizens that did not traditionally participate.

Further, the use of digital tools for citizen participation demanded important changes in how city officials worked, including the need for new skills to understand and use the digital language and functionalities. The collection and processing of citizen input became more complex, as officials were asked to compile and draw on a larger number of individual contributions. And the use of digital tools created an injunction toward speed and simplicity.

However, experimentation with digital tools for citizen participation also served to demonstrate their potential to support the work of municipal officials, by renewing how citizens are involved in urban management and planning. Within the municipality, these experiments led to a stronger collaboration between operational and strategic divisions, while the initial dissemination of a “digital culture” reinforced the perception that public policies should be designed through a “user-centric” approach.

[See: What cities hope to do in the Open Government Partnership]

In addition, city officials were forced to rethink citizen engagement. It’s true that the tools themselves did not prove to be a revolution. But the role attributed to the citizen as a contributor of precise data and of innovative solutions to public policy problems underscored an understanding of citizens as holding a specific type of expertise — thus making them into associates rather than adversaries for the urban management and planning work of city officials.

Expanding the effort

In December, Paris renewed its commitment to using digital tools to draw on the city’s collective intelligence and improve management and planning, reinforcing its pledge to implement open government policies. As part of the global Open Government Partnership, Paris is one of 15 municipalities to develop an action plan to pilot open government objectives and methods at the local level.

“The most interesting result of these experiments has been much more discrete: These tools seem to have transformed how city officials perceive and address citizen expertise.”

Over the next 12 months, students and NGOs will be mobilized to better involve low-income communities in the development of projects for participatory budgeting. In addition, citizenship workshops will be organized to encourage the emergence of new ideas and their discussion with city officials. And citizen will be called upon to identify data sets that should be included on the city’s open-data platform to improve transparency and encourage the development of new urban services.

[See: Habitat III can set the urban-tech vision for years to come]

As the city seeks to move forward on this plan, however, it faces two major challenges. The first is related to data processing: Paris officials now sit on an enormous amount of data collected through different means, including sensors, citizen reporting tools, social media, online and offline consultations, private sector data and more. One of the main questions going forward will be how to combine these sources to better understand the city and analyze different types of data to support urban management.

This is especially relevant as city officials are still hesitant to open collected data for reuse, as they face both technical and political challenges (for instance, fear of evaluation or of privacy infringements). In addition, the new crowdsourcing and citizen participation tools were often developed in a compartmentalized manner, and the municipality is working on how to increase cooperation and share lessons learned between teams.

A second challenge relates to mobilizing broader citizen communities. Many efforts were made to link digital engagement to real-life experiences and events. City officials have developed on-the-ground projects to engage citizens at the community and city levels, while partnering with local NGOs to develop new mediation procedures to address inequalities in access to and use of digital tools. To include new communities in the participatory budgeting initiative in 2016, workshops were organized in associative or public social community centers, and mobile units allowing to vote via paper or the website toured the city, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Municipal teams are still examining ways to improve citizens’ experience with digital participation. They are exploring how to improve the user experience through the digital tools themselves, using “gamification” (taking inspiration from videogames to make participation more fun) or diversifying contribution formats (using pictures and video, for instance).

[See: Digital vs. analogue at Habitat III meeting on civic engagement]

However, one of the key lessons learned was the need to always provide feedback on citizen contributions, and then to explain how it was taken into account in the decision-making process. Project teams are therefore working on increasing the transparency of the tools and the visibility of citizens’ impact.

Moving forward, it will also be necessary to collect more-detailed data on who participates (or not), how and why. Doing so will enrich understanding of how to ensure broader representation and inclusion.

Citizen expertise

Paris’s experimentation with digital participation tools has transformed work processes, professions and the use of data within the municipality. Including citizens in urban planning required new tools for collective decision and new professionals to lead and support project teams. Crowdsourced data, from measures of air pollution to preferences regarding cycling infrastructure and ideas for new public spaces, is now a source of information to define priorities for urban planning or to validate and reinforce policy choices.

“In Paris, digital citizen participation tools have shown that they could deliver specific results.”

However, the most interesting result of these experiments has been much more discrete: These tools seem to have transformed how city officials perceive and address citizen expertise.

[See: ‘Smart’ city report advises local leaders to plan ahead]

As project teams and managers come to define their expectations and objectives for citizen participation tools, they are now engaging citizens as stakeholders who can bring specific contributions to urban management and planning. This is especially interesting given that sustainable development challenges at the local level require the involvement of all stakeholders and methodologies to find innovative solutions.

In Paris, digital citizen participation tools also have shown that they could deliver specific results. They can allow for the crowdsourcing of new, more precise, geo-referenced and real-time data. The municipal division for environment used Dans Ma Rue to crowdsource potential locations for new green spaces before launching a revegetation campaign, which allowed citizens to apply for a revegetation permit and manage a new green area on their own (on a sidewalk for instance).

These tools also have shown that they can provide the means to enrich how information is presented, condensing complex issues in simple and dynamic visualizations, allowing for the highlighting of trade-offs underlying policy decisions. When asking for ideas on how to develop a new urban park in the north of Paris, the urbanism division chose an application inspired by videogames, allowing citizens to place different planning units on the field (an urban farm, say, or a sports field or flower garden). The user had to fulfill a revegetation objective and manage a budget to complete the park: Each unit had a different cost and a different impact on the share of green areas.

[See: How crowdsourcing helped organize aid during Chennai’s floods]

The Paris experience has shown that these tools also facilitate cooperation and the exchange of information between different stakeholders, as well as the emergence of new ideas and projects for the city. Refinements in the participatory-budget tools now allow citizens to identify projects based on their interests, work collectively to develop the project, and participate in co-construction workshops (online and offline) to exchange with city officials on the feasibility and costs of their proposal.

Finally, through their potential to bring together large numbers of citizens concerned by a specific issue, they can bring out clear expressions of citizens’ preferences and reinforce the legitimacy of specific public policies. When 150,000 people voted in 2016 on how to allocate a part of the city’s investment budget, it was a validation of their interest in this type of initiative. Likewise, when 7,000 citizens contributed to the city’s cycling plan in 2014, it validated both internally and externally that a broad community is concerned and willing to contribute to changing mobility patterns and policies.

Wise, wide crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is therefore becoming part of the municipality’s toolbox for developing local policies. In Paris, strategic and operational divisions are now implementing specific strategies to use citizen participation tools to support decision-making.

Two complementary approaches have emerged in the municipal team’s objectives. The first was for operational divisions to adopt a “wise” crowdsourcing approach to mobilize certain citizen communities identified as holding a specific set of skills or expertise, in order to collect new data and develop new solutions.

[See: How Boston gives youth control over part of the city budget]

Using this approach, citizens can be called upon, for instance, to map and evaluate city spaces and infrastructure, or to follow the implementation of a specific policy. In this way, citizen communities can become discussion partners and be involved in longer-term cooperation with the city, making use of digital tools that also support collaboration between a large number of stakeholders.

Second, a “wide” crowdsourcing approach is still preferred when it comes to involving citizens in decisions pertaining to the future of the city and requiring a representative contribution — for instance, choosing investment projects for the municipality. As access to and use of digital tools (and participation mechanisms) are not yet widely distributed, ensuring wide participation implies additional efforts to reach out and engage citizens.

In the long run, digital tools could allow for the combining of wise and wide crowdsourcing, involving a larger number of citizens in decision-making processes. Although tensions remain between experimenting with new decision-making approaches and controlling who participates and how, the city of Paris is a great example of how experiments in urban crowdsourcing and digital participation can pave the way for a broader transformation toward open government.

“Citiscope is a nonprofit news outlet that covers innovations in cities around the world. More at Citiscope. org.”