30 Years of Local Climate Action

Gerda Stuchlik and Tine Heyse take stock of the state of local climate action

2020 was a decisive year. From the start it was clear that 2020 was a turning point: 30 years of Climate Alliance, 30 years of local climate action and another 30 years until 2050, another milestone year for the global climate crisis. And then came COVID-19, a pandemic that has changed everyone’s lives. As this historic year comes to an end, it is time to take stock. Together, with two instrumental Climate Alliance companions, we reflect and also peer into the future of Climate Alliance and local climate action: Gerda Stuchlik, the network’s first Executive Director and current Mayor of Freiburg im Breisgau (DE), who is preparing to retire after three terms of office, and Tine Heyse, President of Climate Alliance and Mayor for Environment, Climate, Energy and North-South of the City of Ghent (BE).

“30 years ago, the basic constellation of Climate Alliance already initiated a change of perspective,” Gerda Stuchlik recalls of the association’s early days. She is referring to the inclusion of the indigenous peoples of Amazonia in European climate action efforts. “This global perspective is particularly important for climate action, as the effects of climate change affect everyone without exception,” Stuchlik stresses. Climate Alliance has also succeeded in defining climate action as a municipal issue. According to Gerda Stuchlik, this approach was trendsetting. Tine Heyse agrees, “The biggest success of the past 30 years is the simple fact that municipalities have become major players in climate change policy. Local governments around the world have developed their own effective climate strategies.” This local approach to climate action strategy yields surprising results. Taking Ghent as an example, Heyse points to examples such as the city’s food strategy. Ghent built on existing structures, initiating a local food council that integrates local stakeholders.

Despite all the successes of the last three decades, there is still a long way to go to achieve global climate targets. “I am very concerned, not only about rising CO2 emissions, but also about the state of the tropical rainforests, which has deteriorated dramatically over the past 30 years. Under the current government in Brazil, deforestation rates have increased again. We must therefore continue to fight to save the rainforests and the climate,” Gerda Stuchlik demands. Throughout 2019, movements such as climate emergency or Fridays for Future significantly increased attention on climate issues worldwide. “We have experienced that these movements around Fridays for Future have strongly catalysed the discussion in our city, right up to concrete decisions of the city council, for example on the budget for climate action measures and projects,” Stuchlik reports in regards to Freiburg. She also welcomes the signs from Brussels and the strategic direction set by the EU Green Deal last year. Yet then came Corona – a crisis that attracts public attention, distracting from other crises. “In the long term, the impact of the climate crisis will without a doubt be much larger than the current COVID crisis – also on the economy,” Tine Heyse points out. “It is a message that we need to repeat over and over again. We need the public to know that global warming is already having an effect on our daily lives.” In 2020, COVID overshadowed all areas of life and deepened many existing problems, such as the housing crisis. However, COVID also required solutions that could simultaneously help take on the climate crisis. “With creative policy measures, we can tackle both the climate and the housing crisis at once. As municipalities, we have to facilitate deep retrofits of homes and buildings. This way we will create jobs, cut emissions and make sure people will live in healthier, more comfortable spaces,“ Heyse explains.

Looking ahead, Tine Heyse also emphasises the EU Green Deal and the recovery efforts after COVID-19. In addition, she highlights the upcoming challenges to local climate action. “Climate Alliance must work on new and more effective ways of mobilising those funds so that municipal leaders, municipal authorities and citizens get more involved. The local level must shape policy on climate, energy, buildings, zero pollution, circular economy, biodiversity, mobility and food.” In order to continue to represent the needs of the local level at European and international level, both Stuchlik and Heyse believe that Climate Alliance must strengthen its lobbying activities at national and international level and should further promote partnerships with other networks. “Municipalities are and will remain the drivers of climate action worldwide, “Gerda Stuchlik concludes. Therefore, I hope that Climate Alliance can continue to work successfully, with the ‘one world idea’ in its DNA. In this sense – here’s to the next 30 years!“  

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