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Last week, 195 nations took an important step towards avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change when laying out a framework to cut global greenhouse gas emissions at the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. While the biggest challenges lie still ahead, many observers see the agreement as a clear signal for change in how the world produces and consumes wealth.

To show that inspiring action for reducing emissions and vulnerability is already underway, the UN Climate Change Secretariat (UNFCCC) honored 16 initiatives with its Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activity Award at COP21—among them our very own Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) in the category “Urban Poor”.

 momentum for change 2ESCI team and partners receiving UNFCCC’s Momentum for Change Award at COP21 in Paris.

Photo: NDF

We were of course very excited when we received the news that we would be honored with this award, alongside innovative initiatives like Fairphone and Microsoft’s internal carbon fee. Together with Lucia Frausto from our civil society partner organization La Paz Cómo Vamos and Rogelio Álvarez, member of the City Council of our partner city Xalapa, I traveled to Paris to attend the award ceremony and share our experience in this important forum.

So why did UNFCCC select us as one of their Lighthouse Activities? When asked in interviews what makes ESCI special in terms of climate action, I gave the following reply:

  1. While we are not a climate change initiative, I think we do a good job at mainstreaming climate change concerns across sectors without neglecting the other challenges that our partner cities face, from citizen security to fiscal management. As I wrote already last year, our methodology includes a variety of instruments that help cities assess urban emissions and vulnerability and come up with concrete proposals to reduce them.
  2. The potential leverage of our work is huge because we concentrate on cities that we expect to expand decisively in the decades to come, both in terms of population and economic activity. If we get things right today, we can prevent growth patterns that lock in carbon-intensive development and increased vulnerability.
  3. We always work in close collaboration with our partners, who range from local governments, to civil society and the private sector. We are particularly proud that our work has been deemed so useful by our client countries, that national financial institutions in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru are implementing our approach with their own resources.

momentum for change esci

With the Paris Agreement’s explicit recognition that cities can and shall contribute to ambitious climate action and UNFCCC’s acknowledgement of our initiative, we look forward to continue working with our local partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.

If you would like to learn more about this year’s Momentum for Change winners, check out UNFCCC’s website or take a look at this video of the high-level award ceremony with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.