Hundreds of cities commit to combating emissions

Photovoltaics from Westmill Solar Park, UK
Photovoltaics from Westmill Solar Park, UK

More than 200 cities have set sustainability goals, including greenhouse gas reduction goals or targets.

The latest edition of the annual State of the World series from the Worldwatch Institute reveals more and more of the world’s cities are working towards global climate action goals.

Can a City Be Sustainable? co-directorsMichael Renner and Tom Prugh said globally, challenges in the next several decades to combat emissions are enormous.

“This requires not change around the edges, but a fundamental restructuring of how cities operate, how much they consume in resources and how much waste they produce, what they look like, and how they are structured,” Mr Renner said.

The research reveals growing numbers of cities have pledged themselves to climate commitments and sustainability goals. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, for example, has expanded to more than 80 cities. The Compact of Mayors, launched at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, is the largest coalition of city leaders addressing climate change, and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability works with more than 1000 cities around the world.

Cities represent about 70 per cent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. If trends continue, urban populations are expected to increase to 6 billion by 2045, at which point two-thirds of all people will live in urban environments, according to the research.

“If current trends in urbanisation continue unabated, urban energy use will more than triple, compared to 2005 levels, by 2050,” Mr Renner said.

“It is no surprise that cities collectively account for a large share of greenhouse gas emissions, because they concentrate economic activity. But cities vary widely in their per capita emissions. Rotterdam in the Netherlands, for example, emitted 29.8 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent per capita in 2005, whereas Paris emitted just 5.2 tons per capita.

“Many variables, such as climate, urban form, and primary energy source, affect a city’s level of emissions. Economic factors, such as the wealth and income of residents and the level and structure of economic activity, also play a major role.

Mr Renner said only demand-side policies that succeed in sharply reducing energy consumption in transport, buildings, waste handling, and agriculture can address the urgent need to decarbonize energy.

“It is cities that must step up to the front lines of that battle,” he said.