Report on ICLEI conference – Mission Bonn

The battle over global warming policy is often viewed as taking place in Washington, D.C. and the UN. But another front that receives scant attention, though is no less important, is in city halls around the globe.

Time and again we hear from people who are shocked to learn that radical policies that would never pass Congress, have somehow crept into their hometown costing jobs and restricting people’s freedom to manage their own property with little or no benefit to the environment.

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) is an outfit founded in 1990 whose mission is to carry the UN’s sustainable development agenda down to the local level. This week it held a “Resilient Cities” conference in Bonn, Germany that drew perhaps a couple hundred local officials, academics, policy experts and NGO’s to discuss how to carry its program forward to the public. CFACT was also in attendance, though only of course on a fact finding mission. What we found was definitely disturbing.

ICLEI clearly has deep ties to the UN. Not only does it share in its mission to advance the far reaching Agenda 21, a document drawing fire from grassroots activists for its assault on property rights, but it also taps that association to put it in the good graces of local officials around the globe. Although it operates in stealth mode out of the public spotlight, the organization wields some hefty influence. Presently there are over 1,200 cities that belong to the ICLEI network, with most (if not all) bona fide dues paying members. When it holds conferences like “Resilient Cities” in Bonn, or its World Congress last year in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the local governing officials of the hosting city seem to spare no expense entertaining it – whether granting ICLEI access to the municipal art museum for socials or rolling out the red carpet for a luxurious banquet.

The actual reason for such meetings, as might be expected, is to share strategies, exchange information, and network with governmental leaders implementing environmental policy. In Bonn, no less than eleven mayors were present, along with a representative from the US EPA. The mayors – from leading cities including Vancouver, Seoul, and Bonn, among others – dropped in to participate in a signing ceremony of the “Durban Adaptation Charter for Local Governments.” This UN–inspired document pledges cities to make infrastructure and other adaptations in anticipation of so–called dangerous man-made climate change. So far there are roughly 980 mayors from around the globe who have signed on board – with backers saying it will likely top 1000 by the end of summer.

So what is ICLEI’s vision of “Resilient Cities?” Clearly it is not one that gives a premium to economic development. Judging from the workshops at Bonn, a resilient city in ICLEI’s view is one that gets people out of cars, plants grass on top of buildings (Green architecture), and uses vacant lot spaces and apartment balconies to grow vegetables (urban farming). While these may seem like odd priorities to most folks, to the ICLEI faithful they’re all part of creating “dynamic urban environments.”

The idea of creating farms inside of cities is a particularly popular one with this crowd. At one workshop on day two, participants were urged to come up with ideas where such farms could be situated in their city (parks, balconies, vacant lots, etc.), and what “benefits” they might create for their residents. The ideas were, to put it mildly, amusing.

For some, urban farming provided psychological and health benefits, for others it was employment opportunities, and for yet others it was a source of empowerment and social justice. While it would be easy to dismiss such nonsense as the type of quackery you’d see in college a classroom discussion – this was taking place with people many of whom have positions of responsibility in their city government. Last year at ICLEI’s World Congress, there actually was a presentation showing that such farming existed in Cuba – a discovery that seemed to excite the speaker who felt Havana could serve as a role model for the rest of the world. The person facilitating the workshop this year in Bonn didn’t go that far, but did maintain that cities should make it a priority to grow 20 percent of the food they need for sustainability. Ummm, we’ll see.

Outside of the bizarre discussion of urban farming, much of the rest of discussion in Bonn centered around climate change. ICLEI’s president, David Cadman, recklessly kicked off the conference making a pointed (and scientifically illiterate) connection between Hurricane Sandy, the tornadoes which recently devastated Texas and Oklahoma, and global warming. This outrageous link was reinforced somewhat shamelessly by other speakers throughout the day (as seen in CFACT’s video here). The backdrop of cataclysmic climate change colored virtually all presentations and drove much of the discussion, with the notion that cities had to be prepared for an obvious coming apocalypse. The fact that there has been no global warming for the past 16 years, and that virtually all climate models have proven poor indicators of present trends, received no mention whatsoever. To raise such a point, of course, would have been akin to blasphemy at this conference.

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About the Author: Craig Rucker

Craig Rucker is the executive director and co-founder of CFACT.