The key to solving the challenge of climate change is international collaboration: in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 10, 15 cities from four continents signed a pact in a joint decision to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The cities have come together for the common cause of eliminating the environmental risks to healthy communities.

Entrepreneurs take note: these cities, spread across the globe, are working together to solve a problem that affects everyone. There’s a learning here on this collaborative approach to solving a grand problem. In addition, cleantech innovators may see opportunities as policy drives technology choices.

Looking at the signatories on the pact, it’s hard to imagine a more diverse group of jurisdictions – Birmingham, Budapest, Cairo, Deuil-la-Barre, Dubai, Granada (Nicaragua), Guangzhou, Krakow, Leipzig, Lyon, Milan, Prague, Tel Aviv, Toronto and the City of Yokohama. Cities large and small, ancient and modern, religious and secular, rich and poor.

Looking at the language of the agreement, the mix of partners takes on added significance. The declaration involved:

  • acknowledging the reality and implications of climate change;
  • accepting the special obligation of cities to play a central role in a low carbon future;
  • recognizing the uneven impact of climate changes on different world regions;
  • accepting that the world’s cities face different realities with regard to their contribution to the problem and their capacity to solve it; and
  • agreeing to make climate change a priority, integrate predicted climate conditions into planning policies, share know-how and engage their communities in the partnership effort.

In short, there was consent to key principles for international cooperation among vastly different players.

The participants had a sophisticated understanding about how action on climate change is bound up with issues of development and underdevelopment, poverty and abundance and geopolitical division. Yet, they took their  shared leadership commitment seriously. Municipal dignitaries solemnly penned their names to the joint framework in Frankfurt’s historic city hall under the stern likenesses of nine centuries of Holy Roman Emperors.

Aside from offering an inspiring sense of occasion, the event had a deeper meaning for the host city. In Europe, the weight of history is palpable. International collaboration is very important to Germany as a country acutely aware of  its past. This became clear in a heartfelt keynote address by a former head of the European Union, a native German. He pointed out that in the post-World War II period, Germans saw partnerships as essential pathways to global citizenship and peaceful co-existence. Hardly a trivial sentiment. It’s no surprise then that the Lord Mayor of Frankfurt, four Deputy Mayors and the Chairman of the City Parliament were there to add gravitas to the proceedings.  And their special guest was the Mayor of Lyon whose city has partnered with Frankfurt for five decades.

The accord itself invites criticism — it is aspirational and well-meaning but hard to enforce. That’s true. A pragmatist would argue that the climate change problem is far too serious to dismiss civic partnerships that try to do something about it.

What’s significant is that Frankfurt and its twin cities are part of a growing movement of world municipalities who are formalizing  arrangements to address issues of environmental management and sustainability. Since cities are the centres where people and infrastructure must be mobilized in response to climate change, that’s a good sign.

For information on initiatives by cities to address climate change, see the following:

Earl Miller

Earl Miller was the Director, Global Initiatives at MaRS. He led international partnering activities designed to open strategic markets for MaRS technology ventures. See more…