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The smartest cities on climate: What can we learn?

More cities must ramp up their climate ambition and deliver urgent action, fast, says Kyra Appleby, Global Director of Cities, States and Regions at CDP.

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Despite covering just two per cent of the earth’s surface, cities are home to half the world’s population and produce approximately 70 per cent of global greenhouse gases.

 

With two-thirds of the world’s population set to live in cities by 2050, cities will play an ever-more crucial role in mitigating dangerous climate change.

 

In fact, to give us a 50 per cent chance of staying within safe climate limits, cities need to reduce emissions 45 per cent by 2030. Cities have a dual role to play: to ensure their cities remain resilient, healthy and prosperous places to live and work and to rapidly cut emissions.

 

Which cities are taking it seriously?

 

The 2019 CDP Cities A List shows that cities are taking the climate crisis more seriously than ever. Since the first A List was published last year, the number of cities leading the transition to a climate-safe future has grown from 43 to 105. Representing a combined global population of 170 million, they are setting an example for others to follow.

 

Among the cities on the A List are Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Greater Manchester, UK; Hermosillo, Mexico; Petaling Jaya, Malaysia; and Boston, USA, and they are demonstrating the level of transparency and action we need from all cities.

 

So what lessons can others learn?

 

Understand the hazards your city is facing

 

To secure a place on the A List, a city must conduct a vulnerability assessment to understand climate hazards and how to address them. CDP research shows that over half of cities haven’t taken this vital first step to climate action.

 

Vulnerability assessments result in action – cities with such assessments are more than twice (2.7x) as likely to report long-term climate hazards and are taking almost six times (5.7x) the amount of adaptation actions than cities without such assessments.

 

To give us a 50 per cent chance of staying within safe climate limits, cities need to reduce emissions 45 per cent by 2030.

 

For Hermosillo, Mexico the threat of reaching ’day zero’, the point at which the city no longer has enough water reserves to meet citizen demand is mounting. At the same time, the Economist Intelligence Unit foresees that by 2030, Hermosillo will become the city with the second-greatest amount of economic development in Latin America, benefiting from an increase of 133 per cent in GDP per capita. Around 66.6 per cent of its population is expected to earn over US$15,000 per annum. This is why building adaptation into the city’s bricks and mortar is crucial.

 

A new wastewater treatment plant, designed to treat 100 per cent of wastewater produced by the population, demonstrates how this burgeoning economic hub is delivering action at speed and scale.

 

Plan to mitigate risks and make your city more resilient

 

Cities are vulnerable to climate impacts through floods, droughts and extreme heat and with 70 million people moving to urban areas every year, the risks are rising.

 

Once a city understands the hazards its citizens and businesses face it is better-placed to plan for the future. Belo Horizonte, Brazil, is in the process of creating a new master plan for the city and is integrating all its adaption measures into the strategy.

 

The New Master Plan incorporates modern concepts of urbanism, related to reversing the dispersion of urban occupation in the territory, replacing it with a “compact city” model, where the available urban structure is used more efficiently and rationally.

 

Especially in its centre, Belo Horizonte’s new Master Plan foresees the prioritisation of non-motorised modes of transport, by creating and qualifying pedestrian and bicycle paths in places to meet the needs of the population, preventing people from becoming dependent on the use of cars to carry out their activities and contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Get smart on carbon

 

To accelerate the low-carbon transition, cities need an accurate picture of their current emissions, a target for reduction and a clear plan to achieve it.

Greater Manchester has become one of the first places in the UK to set a science-based emissions target, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2038, 12 years ahead of the UK Government goal. It has upgraded low-carbon public transport by expanding its Metrolink tram network, seeing annual passenger journeys increase four-fold over the past five years.

 

This will be bolstered by the completion of a £350 million extension of the network this year, as well as the addition of 23 electrics buses and charging infrastructure to Manchester’s fleet, with estimated savings of 1000 tonnes CO2e per year.

 

Learn from the leaders

 

South Africa’s eThekwini is the first African city to complete a Paris-aligned Climate Action Plan, which sets out ambitious emissions reduction targets of 40 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. eThekwini has launched solar energy and energy-efficiency programs to meet 70 per cent of private electricity demand with self-generated renewables by 2050.

 

The city is also developing a smart electricity grid that will enable bidirectional power flow, allowing residents’ homes to contribute to the wider electricity grid.

 

To sustain future economic growth and continue to be safe, secure places to live and work, more cities must ramp up their climate ambition and deliver urgent action, fast.

 

In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, energy use in buildings is the largest (63 per cent) contributor to the city’s emissions. The city has set the target to reduce energy use by 25 per cent by 2025 and a further 25 per cent by 2030.

 

To achieve these reductions, the city has set up a certification scheme – the Green Building Index. The city also offers rebates on utility bills to homeowners running their properties sustainably, for example using solar panels, LED lighting, roof insulation, rainwater-harvesting and composting systems.

 

Collaboration is key

 

No one can lead the transition to a climate-safe future alone, so city leadership must work with other levels of government and the private sector to increase resilience and reduce emissions.

 

In London, Mayor, Sadiq Khan embarked on a partnership with 11 leading businesses including Sky and Tesco to deliver London’s ambitious zero-carbon goal. The London Business Climate Leaders initiative sparked the launch of the City-Business Climate Alliance, a blueprint for others seeking to establish such a partnership to achieve climate targets.

 

Another example of success is the Boston Green Ribbon Commission. With commercial and industrial sector buildings accounting for 50 per cent of the city’s emissions, and almost one-third of total citywide greenhouse gas emissions coming from 50 large property-owners, engaging these parties is key to driving down emissions and meeting the city’s goal to become carbon-neutral by 2050.

 

No one can lead the transition to a climate-safe future alone, so city leadership must work with other levels of government and the private sector to increase resilience and reduce emissions.

 

So far, the commission’s Commercial Real Estate working group has driven significant efficiency-based GHG reductions (16 per cent since 2009) through its Challenge for Sustainability programme; developing resiliency strategies for individual buildings and, in concert, infrastructure management agencies.

 

Cities are vibrant melting pots of commerce and culture they have been the backdrop to many of humanity’s greatest advances. And they are at the forefront of the climate crisis – seeing the current impacts and working to reduce emissions in line with the science. To sustain future economic growth and continue to be safe, secure places to live and work, more cities must ramp up their climate ambition and deliver urgent action, fast.

 

Every year, hundreds of cities report their climate data through the CDP-ICLEI Unified Reporting System. In doing so they demonstrate ambition, transparency and good governance. All publicly disclosed data is made available for free public use on CDP’s Open Data Portal.

 

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