More than half the global population lives in urban areas, which produce around 70% of energy-related
emissions. Many large cities are highly vulnerable to climate impacts such as rising sea levels and storm
surges, given that they are located on or close to coastlines. At the same time, cities are drivers of
innovation. National governments and institutions increasingly recognize the successes of cities in the
climate arena and are increasingly turning to them for solutions to climate change. At the UN Climate Change
Conference in Bonn 4 -15 June, the issue of urban areas will receive a special focus in so-called
Meetings” given their key role in curbing emissions and building resilience. And there will be a
special forum on cities and Subnational Authorities.
Numerous cities from Rio de Janeiro to Seoul to Johannesburg have clear, practical plans to reduce emissions
and increase urban resilience. A recent report by the C40 Cities Climate
Leadership Group shows how the world’s megacities – roughly defined as cities with a total
population of more than 10 million – are fast expanding efforts to curb climate change, such as
implementing tough energy efficiency standards for buildings. Since 2011, the number of climate actions
collectively taken has doubled to more than 8,000. And there are many areas in which mayors have full power
to take climate action, for example in the area of mass transport and buildings.
A number of agencies and organizations are doing important coordination work on cities. For example, UN-Habitat as the United Nations programme is working towards a better urban
future by promoting socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements development and the
achievement of adequate shelter for all. ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability manages the
Carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR) is the leading global
reporting platform of local climate action. Via the registry, cities and Local Governments demonstrate their
power and potential to reduce climate risks and move towards global low-emissions and climate resilient
development through the reporting of energy and climate commitments, greenhouse gas emissions as well as
mitigation and adaptation actions.
As the Carbonn registry shows, the level of climate ambition of many cities is impressive. Cities like
Copenhagen, Antwerp, Seattle, the province of Sienna, Seattle and Shimonoseki are aiming for 100% emission
reductions by 2050 and many others with 80% plus targets. Copenhagen plans to become
carbon-neutral already by 2025. Importantly, leading developing country cities have emissions reduction
targets. For example, Cape Town, the winner of this year’s Earth Hour
city challenge, has pledged to reduce emissions in absolute terms by 10% by the end of this year over
2009 levels. And Lagos has set itself a renewable energy target of 60%.
Cities can set clean energy targets, and attract capital for investments by greening their finance. For
developing country cities, the issue of finance is particularly important. In total, only some four per cent
of leading cities around the world have international credit ratings. Cities with the best sustainability
planning have a clear advantage in attracting capital. Lima in Peru, the location of upcoming COP 20, spent
less than $1 million to attain domestic and international credit ratings, which resulted in $90 million
invested in a modernized transportation system.
Multilateral institutions such as the World Bank can assist cities achieve their climate goals by mobilizing
finance to community level projects.
A good source of inspiration regarding examples of urban climate action is the UNFCCC
Secretariat’s Momentum for Change Initiative. The “Urban Poor” pillar of the initiative
highlights activities that address climate change while improving livelihoods and living conditions in urban
areas of developing countries. In Ahmedabad, a city with a population of more than 5.5 million, commuting
options used to be limited. Commuters could either drive, take the over-crowded municipal bus or auto
rickshaws. The Ahmedabad bus rapid
transport system (BRTS) meanwhile provides affordable, climate-friendly public transport.
The Ahmedabad bus rapid transport system
Another great example of city action, supported by a variety of partners and highlighted by Momentum for
Change, is the ECOCASA project in Mexico.
The residential sector is essential in Mexico’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions 50% (below 2002
levels) by 2050. The expansion of Mexican cities over the past years has significantly increased their carbon
footprint. By increasing both the production of low-carbon housing and the supply of mortgages for low-carbon
housing, ECOCASA is helping Mexico to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The lessons learned from this
project will be applicable to similar countries in the region, as well as in other regions. As part of
technical cooperation activities, a South-South exchange with country experts is envisioned.
Building supported by the ECOCASA project in Mexico
Last but not least, there’s a lot to look forward to in terms of inspiring examples of urban
sustainability when attending COP 21 in Paris, where the new 2015 global climate change agreement is to be
concluded. The mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo is urging the world's major cities to unite in the fight
against climate change and to commit to sharing best practices as part of a dialogue to speed up the
ecological transition of their economies. Paris is leading the way with innovative ideas such as public
free of charge by energy generated by computer microprocessors performing calculations. The French
capital is also focusing on pushing green construction norms for new buildings and on non-polluting public
transportation. And with Musée du quai
Branly Greenwall, it certainly boasts one of the greenest museums in the world.