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Policy brief: Leadership, what leadership?

By Claire Roumet on 7 December 2017


by Claire Roumet, Executive Director of Energy Cities

During the COP23 in Bonn, one of the most frequently heard expressions in the corridors was “it is of paramount importance”, a phrase that places hyperbole above content and which perfectly sums up my feelings about these few days of conferences organised in parallel to the negotiations. Despite the multitude of events, despite the inspiring and hope-restoring examples presented by mayors from all over the world, from small towns and megacities, all committed to taking action, the idea of making and turning this local vitality into a show has run its course.

For twenty years, until COP 21, the actors of civil society gradually made their mark on the UN process. In 2015, the idea of the French presidency was to make them fully-fledged partners in the negotiations by showing through the climate action agenda that the players were united against climate change. They are now recognised as such, with local authority representatives being almost an institution. This new role, however, now means that they should be able to take an active part in the process and bring forward their own policy proposals.

But here is our great weakness: city networks do not have the same agenda, the same vision of a desirable transition, and I do not believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger, (Keynote speaker at the local leader summit on 12th November 2017, Bonn) however committed and legitimate he may be as former governor of California, will set out the next step for us.

Another word was everywhere in Bonn, and also in Brussels and Paris: Leadership. Since the United-States unilaterally withdrew from the Paris agreement, everybody has been looking for or wants to be the next leader….

The European Commission is one of them, when touting the capacity of the Union to meet the commitments it has made collectively (a real achievement in itself), although it is finding it quite hard to get agreement on ambitious targets from the 27 Member States for the next round.
There is also France, with the organisation by the French President of the “OnePlanetSummit” on 12th December to celebrate the second anniversary of the Paris agreement. Preparation of this summit involves a rush of announcements and is another major media event that will only have an impact if France changes its energy and climate agenda; but it is hard to believe that this summit will be enough to provide new leadership.

What puzzles me is the old-fashioned, outmoded definition of leadership that all these declarations imply. This is leadership which shows the way ahead and decides on behalf of those who do not know, whereas in tomorrow’s multipolar world, leadership will be about connecting people. Geopolitical considerations aside, the ecological and social transition will be based on a multitude of players, levels, territories and sectors able to create synergies and invent new partnerships as well as a new economic ecosystem based on using local resources and establishing multiple connections with neighbouring and more distant territories. Leadership in the future will be the ability to create and maintain collaborative co-management spaces and weave a close-knit fabric with all the players involved.

Quite a long way from what I heard at the COP 23….

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