Whether Climate Change, Migration, or Terrorism, Global Challenges Require Local Leadership
Photo by Johnny Crawford of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
PARIS—The recent terrorist attacks in Paris and that city’s hosting of world leaders for the historic United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21) mean that terrorism and climate change have dominated the global headlines. But addressing global challenges — whether climate change, immigration, terrorism, or a range of other crucial issues — will be next to impossible without subnational leadership. Mayors, governors, local legislators, and other regional, state, and city officials are bearing increasing responsibility for forging ties between regions and implementing policies enacted at national levels.
One area in which subnational leadership is evident is sustainability. Under the leadership of Mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta committed to reducing carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2040 from 2009 levels. Leaders are also capitalizing on opportunities opened by federal policies. Through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to conserve water and energy use by 20 percent, Atlanta leads the nation with 100 million square feet of building space allocated toward this conservation goal. Under Reed, the city has reduced water consumption by 20 percent, demonstrating the value of local leaders partnering with federal departments.
The unfolding challenge with refugees has also underscored the importance of globally engaged local leadership. In the United States, 62 mayors from 28 states have urged Congress not to shut the door on refugees. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore said that “welcoming immigrants is a critical part of her strategy to grow Baltimore.” On the other side of the Atlantic, Munich has accepted around 39,000 asylum seekers since September, with the city administration opening temporary medical and reception centers. Mayor Dieter Reiter has said that refugees’ safety is a bigger priority for him than any concern about numbers. The city council is implementing a long-term integration plan to foster a “welcome culture” for all immigrants.
No one is more conscious of the power of local leadership than these leaders themselves. Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City, has argued that local communities are where real innovation, real action, and real decisions are made. Dr. Hande Özsan Bozatli, president of the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the largest independent network of regions in Europe, stresses that “regions have an important role to play in finding solutions. This is why AER — along with the German Marshall Fund and National League of Cities — brought subnational leaders together this past weekend at COP 21 to share best practices on climate change and emissions reduction.”
The reverberations of the recent coordinated terrorist attacks could be felt throughout the climate-related gatherings in Paris this week. The leadership of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo proved pivotal to ensuring that the climate negotiations took place as planned while the people of France continue to grieve the tragedy. Last week’s killings in San Bernadino, California, now elevated to an FBI investigation of an “act of terror,” only further underscored the need for local leaders to collaborate, innovate, and develop sustainable programs to counter extremism and radicalization. The Strong Cities Network, a U.S. initiative that connects international cities to share best practices and ideas for how to build cohesion and bolster community resilience, offers a concrete example of how city leaders can be engaged. Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver has observed that “it has never been more important to create engagement at every level of government to ensure that preparations for such situations — from preemption to response — are well coordinated.” From Paris to California, subnational leaders stand at the front lines of defending peace and advancing prosperity — be it related to climate change, migration, or security.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.