From the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 to the Rio+20 anniversary summit in 2012: what a way we’ve come! In 1992, States still appeared as the great public players: those able to think, regulate and manage, those able to assume long-term responsibility. The popular slogan of the time, “think globally, act locally”, reduced local authorities to the status of executants, supposed to implement strategies defined at a higher level.

Twenty years later, the scene has changed radically. The final declaration of the Rio+20 summit, pompously and inaccurately entitled “The Future We Want”, which was quickly re-titled by civil society "The Future We Do Not Want", is insistent on the role of local authorities. And with good reason! Over the last twenty years, States have proved themselves generally incapable of conducting the necessary transition to sustainable societies; the so-called “international community” has become bogged down in unanimity rules that are the best recipe for inaction; and, as we see with the climate crisis, the global common good continues to be managed through balancing power-based intergovernmental relations that have more to do with the redistribution of power in Europe and the Treaty of Vienna in 1815 than with the need to safeguard the integrity of our planet and the survival of humanity.

On the other hand, cities and regions, which in 1992 had been invited to develop a “local Agenda 21” as mere contextualized transpositions of the national-level Agenda 21, have become increasingly aware of their role. Indeed, it is at the local scale, and only at this scale, that it is possible to jointly consider economic, social, and environmental issues. Cities and regions have, almost against their will, come to the realization that complexity, i.e., the relationships between things and people, requires thinking with the feet rather than with the head. Which has gradually led to the emergence of truly multidimensional transition strategies, although they are still few and far between.

Cities and regions have also proved better than States in initiating partnerships between different local players around a common vision and strategy. Let’s not be naive: in many cases, these strategies are still just more sector-based policies; “pilot projects” sometimes conceal a reality that overall remains unchanged (it's all very well to design eco-neighbourhoods while urban sprawl and relentless dependence on individual cars continues...). But the movement exists.

The big question for COP21 is therefore whether it presents an opportunity for cities and regions to take a new step forward, or not. There are two conflicting visions. According to the first vision, local authorities need to ensure that the governments that meet in Paris in December reassert their importance; and endeavour to use this context to enable cities and regions direct access to the “green fund”, which over the last twenty years has been more talked of than actually seen.

The other argument, which I favour, is that cities and regions seek greater freedom from the tutelage of States – a psychological tutelage that is the legacy of centuries of diminishment of the role and autonomy of regions, up to the emergence, in the last twenty years, of what I call “the revenge of regions”.

More and more people understand that we cannot save the climate without a quota system, and that, as I explained in a previous blog post, the only quota system that would be sufficiently fair and effective is – apologies to Americans and Russians, who would be disadvantaged – one based on equal quotas per inhabitants. These quotas could easily be distributed into territorial quotas, and the creation of such an “energy currency” at local level would constitute a decisive lever for transition strategies to achieve a breakthrough.

In this scenario, the time is ripe for recognition of the need for long-term and comprehensive multi-stakeholder strategies – which brings us to the idea of a co-responsibility pact.

At the annual EU-China summit held in Brussels on 29 June 2015, the China-Europa Forum organized a Euro-China meeting on the theme of sustainable cities. It was an opportunity to present and begin discussion on the outline of a multi-stakeholder co-responsibility pact. This outline is attached to this message. It has drawn inspiration from the many reflections on this topic carried out within different networks of cities. Note that the last section of this draft pact deals with challenging states. For if cities and regions are becoming increasingly autonomous in defining their own transition strategies, they remain nevertheless dependent on States, which are both the only subjects of international law – and, as such, have a monopoly on the representation of alleged national interests in international negotiations, sign international treaties, including trade-related treaties, and are responsible for devising legal and judicial systems.

Consequently, the demand to national public authorities included in the draft Pact focuses on four points: - the possibility for cities and territories to freely and comprehensively manage territorial quotas of fossil energy; - a commitment to promote sustainable production chains, including through the WTO and bilateral treaties on trade and the protection of foreign investments; - promoting responsibility and co-responsibility; - the generalization of multi-level governance.

I'm not convinced that by COP21, networks of cities will already be able to initiate such a change of attitude, from begging to challenging. But I'm certain that the day will eventually come. The more cities and regions that demonstrate their willingness and their ability to fulfil their own responsibilities, the better they will be able to demand that States fulfil theirs.