The role of cities in climate governance

The role of cities in climate governance

Global Risks Insight goes into the problematics of the present-day urban built environment and finds out that the role of cities in climate governance is of paramount importance.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Doha, Qatar.

The role of cities in climate governance

By Einat ElazariJuly 1, 2021

The role of cities in climate governance 

Cohesive populations, proximity to their citizens, and data capabilities offer cities a pivotal role in climate action alongside national and international actors. If clear goals are set, local circumstances accounted for, and other governance partners effectively collaborated with, cities could lead in the fight against climate change.

The city

Cities and municipalities can be the most effective policy executors. Being closer to their citizens and having more cohesive populations than nation-states helps them rally residents for challenging endeavors. Cities also adapt more easily to new digital tools, utilising data to monitor public sentiment and sharpen outreach efforts.These attributes allow cities and municipalities to act swiftly in normal times and in crises.

Climate change and the city

Cities address climate change individually and as part of a governance ecosystem. They work with national governments and international institutions to affect climate goals, but above all, cities strive for ensuring livability for their residents against climate impacts. One report on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals lauds smart cities—which use data to enhance public service provision—as key drivers for achieving net-zero emissions by maximising energy efficiency, streamlining public transport, and monitoring air quality.

Areas where cities can enhance sustainability include:

Mobility: Cities may promote bicycle and scooter use by building segregated bike paths. They might also offer bike rentals, increase shuttles to transport hubs and initiate walkability programmes. Moreover, cities could electrify urban vehicle fleets by subsidizing car purchases through deals with car companies.

Energy efficiency: Cities can curtail energy consumption through smart building programmes. They may provide tax breaks and subsidies for building renovations and incentivise domestic generation sources like solar panels and geothermal pumps. Cities might also implement green building codes, exemplified by Brussel’s Passive House Standard.

Green growth: The urban green transition could bolster growth and provide payoffs at the national level. According to the OECD, green urban growth could lower the costs associated with national environmental targets through improved transportation and land-use. A World Economic Forum report suggests such initiatives can attract multinational firms committed to net-zero targets.

How cities go green

Certain conditions are required for cities to flourish within the climate governance ecosystem:

Clear objectives: Each city must consider its unique set of circumstances, factoring demographics, geography, development level, culture, and national climate objectives when setting sustainability goals. Only with clear and feasible goals will meaningful climate progress be measured. 

Political will: Lacking political will, complex and costly sustainability programmes are impossible. Cities will therefore seek to make the climate agenda a recurring theme of public discourse by integrating green programmes into daily urban life, becoming part of the culture of a city.

Budgeting: Sustainability objectives require adequate funding. Cities will therefore cultivate partners at higher levels of governance to ensure the resources at their disposal match their climate ambitions.

Obstacles to urban sustainability

report by the World Economic Forum suggests the rosy picture of urban climate mitigation is incomplete—confined to a few large, wealthy cities in North America, Europe, and China—overlooking failures particularly among the cities of South and Southeast Asia. Another study warns a lack of coordination between national authorities and other stakeholders will cause urban sustainability initiatives to fail in Malaysia, Indonesia, and India, risking that these cities “will lock in more fully to high-cost, high-carbon development paths.”

A success story

One Southeast Asian city which bucked the trend through the adroit application of the above prerequisites was Bandar Lampung in Indonesia. Bandar Lampung leveraged a cities network to inform its sustainability plans by conducting a series of learning dialogues with officials from other cities, NGOs, and universities. This process secured the political will to form a multi-stakeholder team responsible for assessing climate risks and prioritising adaptation strategies.

Being within the governance ecosystem

How cities cooperate with other governing actors will be critical to combating climate change. What cities can offer the governance ecosystem are its data capabilities, deft policy execution, and responsiveness to change.

Cities rely on national governments for funding and must execute sustainability initiatives in line with national goals. But cities often have the leeway to go further than national governments, especially where national climate action is lacking.

The relationship between cities and national governments goes both ways, with cities providing governments with data on climate policy implementation. When national policy encounters difficulties, local data can uncover causes and suggest policy modifications.

International organizations furnish cities with policy guidance and facilitate information networks that disseminate models of successful policy implementation. Examples include the OECD’s Green Cities Programme, which measures green economic growth in cities; the UN Environment Programme’s Climate Neutral Network, which convenes local and national governments for discussions on climate change; and the EU’s Urban Agenda, which develops cities’ capabilities for addressing climate impacts. 

International institutions also provide fora for cities to advance climate initiatives. Independent of national governments, such organisations can push cities to act unilaterally against climate change. For example, the city of Haifa joined the Paris Climate Accord in response to Israel’s slow implementation of that agreement. Working closely with the mayor of Paris, Haifa’s mayor declared “cities have the power to lead change, without waiting for it to come from the central government.”

Looking ahead

Cities will be major players in climate action because of their ability to rapidly execute policy, craft effective public outreach, and employ data. To further advance their role in climate mitigation, they must also articulate clear objectives, account for local circumstances, and identify potential challenges.

To improve climate action, cities will seek to broaden their network of partners at the local, national and international levels, looking for data-based feedback from all governance levels as a guide.

By leveraging their place in the governance ecosystem to maximise policy options, cities could play an outsized role in achieving global sustainability objectives and turning the climate challenge into a growth opportunity. Understanding their limitations, however, will dramatically enhance those prospects. 

Einat Elazari

With over a decade of cross-sector experience as an analyst, Einat possesses a holistic understanding of Foreign Affairs alongside Knowledge and Data Analytics. She both lived and worked in the Middle East, Europe and the US, and among other roles, she has been a Middle East Adviser at the UN and a Business Analyst in a Technology Startup. Einat holds a Master’s degree in “European Studies” and wrote her Thesis on Conflict Resolution.

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

Originally published on RMI.org, this article by John Matson is a hot topic in the MENA region where all concerned understood some time back why High-Efficiency Cooling is a Climate Priority. 

In addition, in extreme conditions, such as those in the Gulf area, cooling is as necessary as lighting power or potable water for each and everyone; life, contrary to earlier times, cannot be sustained without it.  

Lately, District Cooling or air conditioning communal systems have become critically vital to all facilities.  The repercussions are sadly multiple and varied because of the rapid increase in urban developments throughout the region.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Utilities News.

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

The world leaders of the Group of Seven, better known as G7, released a long communique following their recent meeting in Cornwall, detailing their plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic and “build back better.” In a departure from the previous G7 meeting in 2019, which ended with a briefer list of agreements, this year’s G7 summit yielded more alignment, particularly in the areas of climate change and the energy transition.

Although the final list did not include all the measures needed to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the environmental and climate agreements did include some overlooked and significant measures to prioritize efficiency. These include doubling the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030.

The Cold Crunch

Developing much more efficient cooling technologies will be critical to keeping 1.5°C within reach. Appliances for space cooling already account for about 10 percent of global electricity use, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). And without efficiency improvements, the energy consumed for cooling could more than triple by 2050. Inefficient cooling systems also contribute to large peaks in electricity demand, which can overwhelm electric grids during hot spells.

The challenge of increasing the average efficiency of cooling systems is at least twofold, driven by both technological and policy changes. But the recent Global Cooling Prize has demonstrated that superefficient ACs are technologically feasible, and policy changes can now catalyze the commercialization and adoption of more efficient units.

Between now and 2050, an estimated 3.3 billion room air-conditioning units will be installed globally as heat waves become more common, populations grow, and urbanization increases. As of 2016, the IEA estimated, more than half of all air conditioners in service were in China and the United States. But over the coming decades, air conditioning use is expected to increase rapidly countries such as India and Indonesia, where residential AC is relatively rare today.

Cooling is not just a matter of comfort and convenience. More than a billion people today are at high risk to their health and safety due to lack of access to cooling, according to a report from Sustainable Energy for All. And those risks will increase as climate change drives greater temperature extremes.

Building Better ACs

RMI launched the Global Cooling Prize in 2018 with Mission Innovation and the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India. The $1 million Prize set out an ambitious challenge for innovators to develop affordable cooling solutions with at least 80 percent lower climate impacts than a baseline unit.

In April 2021, the Prize was awarded to two teams — both representing large industry players — that successfully developed and tested prototype units that met the Prize criteria. Both winning teams met the threshold of 80 percent lower climate impact by reducing electricity demands and using refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP) than traditional refrigerant gases.

The Global Cooling Prize team estimated that, if the winning technologies could be scaled, they would mitigate more than 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century.

Accelerating Progress

The Global Cooling Prize proved that superefficient ACs running on low-GWP refrigerants are technologically feasible today. But policy changes would help accelerate the commercialization and adoption of efficient cooling units. As noted in a previous blog post, policymakers have two main levers to drive AC efficiency advancements: improving performance-rating systems for cooling products and creating testing standards that are technology-agnostic.

First, performance standards should recognize what is already possible and encourage manufacturers to continually push for more efficient products that consume less energy and cost less to operate. Today’s performance standards tend to focus on minimum acceptable efficiency levels. These ratings systems gradually raise the floor of efficiency to improve the performance of the laggards but do little to recognize or encourage the adoption of the best performers, which often surpass the highest defined efficiency level altogether. Japan, in contrast, has done just the opposite — identifying the best-performing products and setting the efficiency baseline based on those performance levels.

Second, the winners and finalists in the Global Cooling Prize showed that a variety of technologies can be incorporated into efficient cooling solutions. Some of the finalist prototypes incorporated solar photovoltaics, evaporative cooling, enhanced dehumidification capabilities, and other approaches. However, testing standards that assess an air conditioner’s capacity and efficiency are generally not designed with this variety of solutions in mind. Technology-agnostic testing standards would allow manufacturers to innovate more freely and combine multiple technologies to provide efficient and affordable cooling.

Looking Ahead

With the G7 summit concluded and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) coming up in the fall, we look forward to additional conversations and commitments that advance the goal of sustainable cooling. Specifically, a “Race to Zero” Breakthrough challenge aims to enlist AC manufacturers representing 20 percent of the market by COP26. The goal of the challenge is for those manufacturers to bring AC units to market by 2025 that have 80 percent lower climate impact.

If manufacturers and policymakers can take these superefficient ACs from prototype to production, they can significantly limit the climate impact of cooling as billions of new air conditioners hit the market over the coming decades. For a rapidly warming world, this is a matter of survival.

Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.

Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.

By Sarah Cafasso, Stanford Natural Capital Project

New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.

By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.

The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.

To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.

Running the numbers

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.

Targeting inequities

A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)

Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.

In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.

Planning for a greener future

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.

Healthy city ecosystems

Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

The World Bank in an introduction to its recently published paper on the world urban development as it presently stands and where it could potentially be going. It covers 10,000 cities by showing how the shape of urban growth is underpinned by livability and sustainable growth. Here are some excerpts that best resume the report titled Pancakes to Pyramids : City Form to Promote Sustainable Growth.

Here is:

Urban Growth underpinned by Livability and Sustainable Growth

What drives the shape of cities, and what actions can policymakers take to guide their growth? The authors of Pancakes to Pyramids set out to find out. I am pleased to say that they have succeeded in increasing our understanding of the economic variables that drive urban expansion while challenging conventional wisdom about sprawl. Most importantly, they have opened up a field of inquiry that will be central to the World Bank’s mission of poverty reduction and sustainable and inclusive development in the years ahead as leaders strive to create green, resilient, and inclusive cities that attract people and businesses. As low- and middle-income countries urbanize in the decades ahead, this report provides new evidence for city leaders interested in managing spatial growth. It also provides a theoretical model to test assumptions about compactness and public transport that will be crucial to rein in commuting time, fuel use, and greenhouse gas emissions.


What city leaders need to know Pyramids are generally better than pancakes at meeting three key urban planning objectives: driving prosperity, ensuring livability, and respecting planetary boundaries.

Compared with a pancake city, a pyramid city will drive more growth in urban productivity and incomes because it is more economically dense and efficient—its inward and vertical expansion reduce the distances between firms, jobs, and workers.

A pyramid is also better at achieving livable urban population densities, accompanied not by crawling traffic and crowded slums but by efficient transport connections and decent formal housing.

And while a sprawling pancake is likely to impose steep burdens on the climate through unmanaged vehicle emissions, a pyramid allows leaders to plan for the city’s future population growth and spatial expansion in ways that will limit or reduce its carbon footprint. But not every pancake can become a pyramid.

When a city with low productivity and low incomes adds to its population, it cannot accommodate this growth through a costly vertical layering of built-up area. Instead, such an inadequate and economically inefficient city can absorb newcomers only by crowding them into low-built quarters and by spreading outward where land is cheapest.

Such a city will remain a pancake—and it will continue to expand in two dimensions, rather than three, as long as its economy remains sluggish and its average resident household remains poor.

As chapters 1, 2, and 3 have shown, pyramidal expansion flows from economic transformation. Based on specialization and tradables production, only agglomeration economies can be counted on to set a city’s productivity and incomes on an upward path.

And only a city that is economically on the rise will generate increasing economic demand for floor space— the prerequisite for land developers to invest in multistory construction around business districts and elevate the urban skyline. How can city leaders and decision-makers act to shift urban expansion to a pyramidal trajectory?

Read more in the full report, download it here.

Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

The spaces created, the air quality and biodiversity must meet the requirements in a post-pandemic building ecosystem, says Michael Long in his article on how developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability. Here it is.

The picture above is for iullustration and is of Sustainable Futures

Developers can shape urban environments to achieve sustainability

BT_20210601_MDEV_4589203.jpg
Projects like Paya Lebar Quarter ensure that the public area includes more trees, incorporates flood-resilient design elements and connects people to nature. PHOTO: LENDLEASE

With World Environment Day round the corner, there has never been a more poignant time than now amid the Covid-19 pandemic to appreciate what this means to corporates and individuals globally.

This year’s theme on ‘Ecosystem Restoration’ coincides with the launch of the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It extends from planting trees and greening cities, to plant-based diets and regenerating degraded rivers, coasts and lands.

As our cities and communities grapple with the lockdown impacts, many of us find the inherent need to reconnect with nature even as we were confined to our own homes or neighbourhoods over the last year.

The pandemic has offered a glimpse into what cities could look like if we pursued an alternative growth model – one that actively reduces waste and carbon emissions, while concurrently creating space for nature.

The UN has forecast that by 2050, over 68 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities. Combined with population growth, this could add another 2.5 billion people to these already densely populated areas.

The clock is ticking on collective action on climate change, failing which we may face more natural and man-made catastrophes that threaten human life and the economic sustainability of our communities globally.

The time is now to collectively work towards bridging the gap between nature and us.

Everyone has a part to play in making real change to the environment

The public and private sectors have the opportunity to collaborate on making transformative change.

The Singapore government recognises the need for green infrastructure and has set clear goals to address it in the Singapore Green Plan 2030 launched earlier this year, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated during the recent Asia Regional Commonwealth Leaders’ Roundtable calling for regional collaboration.

The “80-80-80” plan – setting tangible goals for the greening of 80 per cent of all buildings by 2030 and 80 per cent of new buildings to be ‘Super Low Energy’ from 2030 as well as an 80 per cent energy efficiency improvement (compared with 2005) for best-in-class buildings – is a great start.

The built environment sector itself is responsible for consuming over a third of the world’s natural resources and producing around 40 per cent of global emissions.

Even a miniscule reduction in emissions and waste produced by the sector can have a multiplier effect, making it critical for industry-wide engagement in sustainable practices.

Corporates alike have to acknowledge environmental risks and take that leap of faith to arrest the degradation of our environment. This is also why at Lendlease, we have set Mission Zero to pledge ourselves to achieve net-zero emissions by 2025 and absolute-zero emissions, without offsets, by 2040.

Ultimately, it is about translating these real environmental risks into a core business strategy and operationalising this into meaningful action.

Moving the needle by building smartly through the design process

For a start, the built environment should consider undertaking detailed Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience assessments.

Over the past few years, we have combined local meteorological and geographical information to evaluate developments’ vulnerability to heatwaves, extreme weather, flooding and various climate scenarios.

These assessments are crucial in mitigating environmental risks. Across the projects we have planned and built, elements of sustainability and design go hand-in-hand in mitigating environmental risks.

At the same time, marrying these design qualities improves the wellbeing of shoppers, tenants and residents.

Precinct-wide local projects such as Paya Lebar Quarter (PLQ) have made significant strides in ensuring that the public area includes over 300 per cent more trees, incorporates flood-resilient design elements to mitigate flooding and connects people to nature through natural landscapes.

Greening the supply chain through digitalisation

Incorporating sustainability through sourcing practices is also an important step as 90 per cent of a company’s impact on the environment originates from its supply chain.

On the construction front, gradually weaning off the reliance on fossil fuels will become more important than before.

While we are using biodiesel and working with construction plant and equipment manufacturers to make these options more widely available, we are also ensuring that the source of biofuel feedstock does not create unintentional environmental consequences.

Moving towards 100 per cent electrification of site-based construction activities, together with the purchasing of green power are some tactics that developers can incorporate as part of their strategy.

Doing so is a great opportunity to combine battery storage technology, digital solutions and smarter processes in constructing in a more efficient and cleaner way.

In Asia’s construction sector, 49 per cent of respondents surveyed by McKinsey shared that transparent end-to-end supply chains would help to mitigate risks in the long term.

About 11 per cent of the building and construction sectors’ global carbon emissions are associated with materials and construction processes throughout the whole building lifecycle.

Integrated supply chains can contribute to greener, more efficient supply chains translating into reduced carbon footprint, and ultimately a cleaner planet.

A multi-stakeholder approach across the supply chain is essential to transform the way materials are used, alongside cascading efforts that extend the adoption of circular economic and other waste reduction practices.

Smart building management to adapt and respond to occupants’ needs

Autonomous buildings – the sustainable buildings of the future – will represent an evolution from static physical spaces to self-aware and self-governing environments that can anticipate and adapt to human needs.

In the future, we can also look forward to autonomous cities which can leverage data insights into the needs of the urban population and carry out predictive maintenance using artificial intelligence.

As we move towards the digitalisation of the built environment sector, developers should look at utilising digital twin technology as an intelligence interface for autonomous adaptive control.

For example, PLQ utilises an Open Building System Integration (OBSI) programme to streamline all building management functionalities including air-conditioning and ventilation.

The OBSI system led to significant savings in water and costs, presenting a use case for how the construction sector can leverage technology to support smart building management.

As we commemorate World Environment Day (on June 5), we need to call attention to the important role the built environment sector plays in helping us safeguard the sustainability of our living environment.

The journey towards decarbonisation is not an easy one, and the post-pandemic world will accelerate the demand for better buildings.

The spaces that we create, the air quality that we circulate and the biodiversity that we introduced have to all work in synergy to meet the requirements in a post-pandemic building ecosystem.

Establishing a safe and trusted corridor for shoppers, tenants and residents will become the new reality in the future of city planning and everyone has a part to play as they embark in this transformation.

  • The writer is head of sustainability, Asia at Lendlease
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