During the closing plenary, participants were invited to share their experiences from Global Learning Forum 2017: what were their key takeaways? What was most surprising? Across cities of all sizes, many underscored that local governments can and should do this work in the absence of support from higher levels of government. Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t do—and get creative, was the message.
Several participants, particularly from smaller communities and/or those traditionally sustained by extractive industries, noted the importance of positive framing in building support for renewable energy (RE). Transitioning to RE is an opportunity, they argued, to ensure economic and social resilience in the face of change. It can help to capitalize on co-benefits and contribute to a better community. “Economy and environment are now much more aligned. And we can make economic arguments, and make arguments about vibrant communities that don’t have anything to do with the word ‘environment’, and that’s really powerful…” This was echoed by another participant who was drafting a 100% renewable motion to their city, who suggested, “the messaging doesn’t have to be about opposing refineries and building pipelines, but instead shift it around, and say we’re actually just going to build a renewable city.”
A moral imperative to transition to a renewably-powered future was a common theme heard across a diversity of participants. Beyond the critical role in mitigating climate change, a transition was also seen as necessary in order to “bring cities into the future”, and to ensure social and economic resiliency in the face of change.
Participants also had recommendations on how to best engage the business community. Many cited the role of innovative financing, and encouraged cities to better understand capital markets and how they can serve cities’ goals. By building a strong brand, it was argued, cities make themselves more appealing and secure better rates on public markets. It was also suggested that cities could look for ways to work together with other municipalities in their region on development projects. A representative from a the financial industry emphasized that the most important aspect of a public private partnership is the partnership: cities must focus on demonstrating value to businesses. The role of innovation was also raised, with one participant cautioning that most people associate this concept with technology, rather than with much-needed innovation in thinking and operating.
Equity and citizen engagement was another theme that emerged, with advice to involve communities, particularly those who stand to be impacted by decisions, for meaningful and enduring solutions. “Communities overwhelming choose to build what’s right for [them],” stated one participant, “Get communities involved, and get [them] at the front and centre.” Many also pointed to examples of the positive impact of renewables in remote communities, and the opportunities that exist to better service those areas.
Throughout this plenary, participants heard that an energy transition requires leadership and vision—but were reminded to never lose sight of adoption and implementation.