Why Cities Could Be The Key To Solving The Climate Crisis


Cities, already in the forefront of initiating actions to combat climate change, are poised to have an even greater impact in the coming years if they can overcome such barriers as financing and the misperception that tackling emissions is harmful to economic growth, according to research released this week.

The report, released by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) and Arup, its research partner, identified at least 27,000 actions that cities could undertake, and predicted that 2,300 of them — which the report called “high-impact’’ and “readily deliverable’’ — could save 450 megatons of CO2 emissions in the next five years — an amount equal to the annual emissions of the United Kingdom. According to the report, these actions would cost a total of $6.8 billion.

“It’s been amazing what city leaders around the world already have done, and it’s not because we have a bunch of mayors who are environmental activists,’’ Seth Schultz, C40’s director of research, measurement and planning, told ThinkProgress. “It’s because they are feeling the impacts of climate change, whether it’s heat waves, or floods or intense rainfall, or drought. They are taking action through the realization of what’s happening on the ground.’’

[Mayors] are taking action through the realization of what’s happening on the ground

Coming against the backdrop of the Paris climate talks, the report stressed that the practices that mayors and civic leaders are taking — and will take — will occur regardless of a global treaty on carbon emissions, and likely before any international agreement takes effect.


“Nobody realized how much of a dent cities could make,’’ Schultz said. “They have a significant role to play in global climate change.’’

Moreover, they are doing it without hurting population growth or their local economies, he said. “The economic engine of this century will be renewable energy,’’ Schultz said. “These cities are among the most desirable places to live in the world. They are creating vibrant, healthy, safe communities that people want to live in. Their populations are going up, and their emissions are going down.’’

However, cities that seek to embark on climate change projects still often face numerous challenges in implementing their ideas, among them attracting private sector investment to support their proposals. To that end, C40 has created the Cities Finance Facility, which will help cities prepare proposals and present them to potential investors. The program will be funded initially with $3.7 million from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, and $2 million from the Inter-American Development Bank.

“Cities don’t always have the capacity to know how to package projects [to attract private sector money], and in many cases, the private sector [doesn’t] understand these types of projects, ’’ Schultz said. “So we need to educate on both ends. Cities will submit to us projects that are do-able and have been done in other places, and we will help them package and pitch them.’’

Another barrier city officials often cite is the inability to plan for 20 to 30 years in the future when governments change on a regular cycle. Thus, the report urged greater collaboration between all levels of government and the economic sector to ensure continuity. Also, cities that already have successfully implemented emissions-lowering projects can share their expertise with other cities, which enables the adoption of similar projects elsewhere at a much faster pace.


For example, a C40 survey in 2011 found six cities had begun bike-share programs, Schultz said. By 2013, the number had grown to 36, and this year to 48, he said.

“Cities saw other cities doing it, and they were able to replicate their action at a much faster rate,’’ he said. “Cities worry about doing something that might fail, so it helps when another city says `these were the bumps in the road,’”

Since the U.N. climate meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, C40 member cities have initiated 10,000 climate actions — a doubling in those six years — and have pledged to reduce their CO2 emissions by 3 gigatons of CO2 by 2030, equal to the annual carbon output of India, according to the organization.

The report states that with increased financing and more support from national political leaders, the advances made by cities could increase threefold. “These mayors are really savvy about the things they need to do,’’ Schultz said. ‘’They are trying to protect their cities and their citizens. That’s why this collaboration is so important.’’

Marlene Cimons is a freelance writer who specializes in health, science and the environment.


A previous version of this story said efforts from cities could save 450 metric tons of CO2 emissions — the figure is actually 450 megatons of emissions. This post has been updated to reflect the change.