Very committed to environmental issues and elected on an environmental program, the mayor of Poitiers, Léonore Moncond’huy, is preparing to join Glasgow in Scotland to attend the next COP26.
If the event takes place from October 31 to November 12, the mayor of Poitiers, who goes there by train, will be present there for three days (from November 9 to 12), first as vice-president of climate. Cités Unies France, the association that represents French communities engaged internationally, today chaired by the mayor of Dijon, François Rebsamen. The idea, she explains in an interview she gave us on Wednesday October 27, is “to bring a common plea to French communities”.
Léonore Moncond’huy will also be one of the spokespersons for the UCLG association (United Cities of Local Governments), the largest association representing local authorities internationally.
You are going to Glasgow with a mandate from United Cities France and UCLG (United Cities Local Governments). How was the mandate to be defended decided?
Léonore Moncond’huy: We worked on advocacy with representatives of different organizations to defend the place of communities. We agree that this is the first COP after the new IPCC report and it must be decisive. The first objective is to raise the NDCs, that is to say the national commitments of the States which date from the Paris agreement of 2015, so that they allow us to reach the objective of 1.5 degrees (maximum warming) although that of 2.7 degrees warming by the end of the century is more likely. This is already almost twice as much as what we had committed to in the Paris agreement. The first issue is that of the urgency to act in favor of additional commitments from States.
When there are crises like we had this summer (heat bubbles in Canada), it is the local elected officials who manage. As such, we are entitled to be taken into account in global climate governance and we are asking for human and financial resources.
We always talk about communities as being on the front line facing the challenges of mitigating global warming, to reduce the carbon impact of our territories. We, the mayors, are also more and more on the front line when it comes to adapting our territories and managing crises due to climate change. Today, there is a stake in making this change. Mitigating the effects remains a priority. But moving towards adaptation is a question of realism today.
For example, the idea of a Mediterranean-wide crisis management fund is a project led by Cités Unies France to train teams in the management of giant fires.
We need a form of international organization that allows the least vulnerable areas to support the most fragile areas in the face of the effects of global warming.
We must also consider that communities around the world are not all equally vulnerable to climate change. The most vulnerable countries are also often the least responsible for global warming. The countries of the South are asking, for example, for the recognition of what is called in English the Loss and Damage, that is to say the consequences of the damage caused by global warming. They ask for their recognition by the rich countries which are historically responsible for climate change. At the community level, we believe that solidarity must also go through this, through a form of international organization that allows the least vulnerable territories to support more fragile territories in the face of the expected effects of global warming.
Let us return to the question of adaptation to climate change. What projects will you concretely bring to Glasgow?
The question of adaptation is totally absent from the debates! We must take this theoretical step towards adaptation. Going from the stage of alert to something of the order of the present is really a political leap that has not yet been taken in international bodies, at least not massively. To be honest, that’s also why I was chosen to be the spokesperson in this delegation, because I represent the new political generation which does not have the same challenges as the one before us. I am obviously not going to surf on this but there is a question of lucidity on the present situation and therefore of projection towards the future which is long for us, young political generation.
Poitiers will be the first city in France to join the UN initiative, Cities Race to Resilience, towards a dynamic of adaptation.
Concretely, the United Nations has launched the Cities Race to Zero initiative, which commits communities to engage in the zero carbon race. The city of Poitiers is a signatory (since December 2020), which means that, every year, we will be part of an international framework to measure our action and have areas for improvement given to us. A new initiative has just been launched (still by the UN): Cities Race to Resilience. Likewise, it is a global initiative that encourages cities to be part of the dynamic of resilience, that is to say of adaptation. Poitiers will be the first city in France to follow this approach with a given framework: building food self-sufficiency, energy self-sufficiency, protecting resources essential to life such as water, for example. These UN initiatives do not necessarily provide direct resources but a framework for analysis and evaluation of global policies, on a global scale, to enable us to move forward in a coherent manner within the standards defined by the UN. A priori, we do not do better.
In 2009, the COP pledged to give 100 billion euros per year for the poorest countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is estimated that there is a shortfall of 20 billion per year today and that a tiny part of these funds is dedicated to adaptation. However, these funds would make it possible to finance the concrete adaptation of territories to climate change. For example, how we adapt the urban planning of coastal territories to the future level of the oceans, or how we encourage changes in agricultural practices. Poitiers has a twin city in Chad which is Moundou. When we exchange with them, they talk to us about desertification issues due to climate change, issues of population displacement and, for all that, they are helpless in the face of the means to be implemented to adapt.
Today, ecology is no longer a question of opinion, it is a question of reality. All communities feel that they have an interest in tackling this issue resolutely and not just in speeches.
We can see that in France and in the world, no one has the same priorities in terms of environmental policy. How do we reach a consensus on the message and on the action to be taken in a gathering such as COP26?
The Cités Unies France office is very diverse in terms of the political horizons of its members. I was supported by the entire office to carry this very committed word on the climate issue, which testifies to a maturity on the advocacy to be carried out, when we come out of political periods such as campaigns. The climate mission that I carry within Cités Unies France was rolled out through national meetings last year, the International Action Meetings of Local Authorities (RAICT), dedicated solely to the climate issue. There was a really notable success compared to other years in the sense that we felt that it aroused interest! Today, ecology is no longer a question of opinion, it is a question of reality. All communities feel that they have an interest in tackling this issue resolutely and not just in speeches.
How strong can the voice of the mayor of Poitiers, a medium-sized city, have in a COP26, even if you have this mandate?
The mandate given to me is to represent all the cities and not just to go and represent Poitiers. But it is true that we are often asked to rely on concrete examples. Obviously, I will be keen to promote what is being done well in Poitiers and Grand Poitiers. I’m going to talk about biogas buses. We are a region that is on the way to closing the loop on biogas buses. We are really going to get out of diesel and have mainly local biogas production. This is a virtuous example which can illustrate the words that I am going to make: both the mitigation of emissions, but also adaptation, that is to say that we will no longer be dependent on resources which depend on the environment. international context. We will be dependent on local resources only. I could also talk about the heating network, also dependent on local resources, and which allows for a social justice approach. This year we will finish connecting all ‘city policy’ districts to the heating network. I can also talk about the commitment to the territorial food plan.
Intermediate cities, like Poitiers, have a voice to carry. They are more solid than the metropolises because they are less dependent on international circuits.
I have been invited to seminars several times to talk about the role of intermediate cities in climate change. In the analyzes, it is really interesting, the metropolises, with regard to the criteria of resilience, are much more fragile than the intermediate cities. Since food and energy autonomy, dependence on international circuits (for example for Paris or Bordeaux), are stronger than for Poitiers or other intermediate cities which have more resources nearby and which have more capacity to be agile in the face of crises. Intermediate cities have a particular voice to carry; they are stronger than others.
We are there three days. At the COP, there are two zones: the green, where associations representing civil society are present (side events, events on the sidelines of COP26) and, the blue zone, which is the negotiation zone accessible by accreditation. UN. And, me, I’ll be in that area. I will have the opportunity to participate in round tables with representatives of government, organizations … On the plenary speech, I do not know yet. It is very timed and there are a great many of us who wish to speak.
How do you see this kind of meeting where there will be negotiations, where some will agree to invest in exchange for what could be in their interest? Are you ready to take on this type of negotiation?
Yes, the reality, I suspect. (…) I will not be able to participate directly in negotiations since the COPs primarily concern the commitments of States. What may emerge from a COP contract is a Paris agreement type agreement which commits the States. What we, communities, can do is have a discourse that influences the positions ultimately taken by the States.
In Kyoto, we were talking about future generations. Today, I represent a generational change in terms of political responsibility.
The space for negotiations will not be confined to the three days when I will be present at COP26. It will continue in the long run. The COP is above all a gathering of all those involved in climate issues. Much of the negotiations are taking place elsewhere and the COP serves as a venue to announce them. I am not at all naive about the content of the negotiations taking place at a COP. On the other hand, I am proactive, proactive, on the issue of expressing a strong voice at this COP26. There is also the “new political generation” side. If I think of Kyoto, we were talking about future generations. Today, I also represent a generational change in terms of political responsibility. That is not all, I do not want to fall into youthism. Nevertheless, there is really a story of handing over responsibilities that are ours today, the climate situation that we inherit and that deserves our word to be heard in high-level bodies like the COP. So I hope that words like mine will be able to change, if not decisions, at least be heard on the spot, have the greatest possible impact, and broaden the awareness of Poitevins and Poitevines of climate issues.
There will also be the words of governments, of the French State, at this COP26. Has the organization you represent had any contact with the state? Will there be a common discourse?
There is a French delegation which has been working on advocacy for France for a long time and independently on that of associations of communities. We, UCLG, really represent the communities. I see it as a strength since we are fortunate to have a discourse that may be different from that of the French State, insofar as UCLG is truly a transnational organization. There are contacts with the French delegation and we will probably meet at events but we have a strategy and a freedom of speech independent of each other.
I do not yet have the content of the French position. I know that President Macron’s positions are perceived as rather committed at the international level but a priori, I will be the bearer of proposals that will go further than his in terms of raising France’s climate commitments. And then, the message that we carry which is to trust communities to be on the front line on the transitions to be initiated, France could go further in terms of internal practices! The stimulus we received, for example, was not at all conditional on environmental commitments. When we want to speak out loudly on the climate at the international level, we must align our national practices and I am not the only one to deplore that the recovery has not at all led to a reorientation towards more virtuous practices.
I think that France must take the lead in actions in favor of climate change.
Many fear that this COP will be disappointing because, for example, China and Russia have already announced that they will not be present. Rather than deploring this as a harbinger of the failure of this COP, I think that France must take the leadership, not just speech, but actions in favor of climate change. President Macron must take the leadership in announcing measures that will go much further than the others and which will allow France to regain a form of universalist ambition on an international scale. Take the place left by countries that are not present. France is 1 to 2% of greenhouse gas emissions internationally, China and Russia are much more. And yet France is present at the COP and it must make commitments that go further than the others. It is a way of giving it back its place on the international scene.
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