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.

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.

Transforming small cities into smart cities

Transforming small cities into smart cities

Media India Group of New Delhi elaborates on Transforming small cities into smart cities, as seen by the SRMIST and TERRE Policy Centre. Here is the story that could well be of interest to our readers in the MENA region of the Gulf, where Indian Nationals residents make up the great majority of inhabitants.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Economic Times.

Transforming small cities into smart cities: SRMIST & TERRE Policy

Collaboration to conserve environment

Transforming small cities into smart cities
Dr S Ponnusamy, Registrar, SRM-IST (left); Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre (right)

In order to promote on-campus activities for environmental conservation and fulfil UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SRM institute collaborates with TERRE Policy Centre.

SRM (Sri Ramaswamy Memorial) Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST), Chennai, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TERRE Policy Centre which is a non-profit organisation dedicated to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Our campus in Chennai is like a small city and our aim is to transform that small city to a smart city”, said Professor C Muthamizhchelvan, Vice-Chancellor of SRMIST. While speaking about signing the MoU with TERRE Policy Centre, he also said that collaborating with TERRE they would fulfil their ambition of making all their students and faculty future-ready and SDG-Ready’. “That is what I mean by smart”, he added.

SRMIST is a deemed university as well as an active member of a network of Higher Educational Institutes, called   Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), launched by TERRE Policy Centre in 2017. The network is supported by UNESCO-Paris and India’s Ministry of Education through All India Council of Higher Technical Education (AICTE) and University Grant Commission (UGC).

This digital network of over 350 universities and colleges, including seven foreign universities, promotes the practical activities in the campus that contribute towards the United Nations SDGs. SCCN makes the campus a laboratory for SDGs. The network promotes ‘learning by doing’ within the campus.

In order to fulfil their objective, the network of universities encourages students as well as faculties to share the experiences of practical projects related to SDGs in the college campus. The projects deploy digital technologies like IoT (Internet of Thing), AI (Artificial Intelligence), cloud-networking, Machine-to-machine learning and BlockChain technology.

Apart from these, projects like energy efficiency, harnessing of renewable energy, waste to energy, zero-waste, green buildings, smart-grid, healthy sanitation, e-waste management, air pollution, zero-emission transport, conservation of biodiversity, ban on single-use plastic, water conservation, carbon neutrality, sustainable farming, digital agriculture are among other practices undertaken in the campus. Ideation and research on SDGs are also encouraged on the campus. The results of the practical work on the campus are shared across the universities globally through the digital cloud dashboard that TERRE has developed.

Apart from UNESCO other partners of SCCN are GORD (Gulf Organisation of Research and Development) in Qatar as well as several NGOs. TERRE also works closely with ECOSOC, UNEP, IUCN and UNFCCC.

“Through SCCN we aim to mainstream United Nations Global Goals (SDGs) in the education system where young minds are moulded”, Dr Rajendra Shende, Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former director of UNEP, tells Media India Group.

“The MoU has the overarching objective of skill development of the students for implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including making the campus Carbon Neutral,” he adds.

In addition to being a leading higher education and research, the institution has gained an international reputation in various fields and has evolved a comprehensive student-centric learning approach, SRM-IST has also signed carbon neutrality ledge, ‘Not Zero-Net Zero Pledge’ designed and monitored by TERRE under SCCN.

At present, SRM-IST aims to be South India’s regional hub of Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN). TERRE Policy Centre, through Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN), plans to provide overall guidance and mentoring to SRM-IST on United Nations SDGs and climate change issues

In order to inspire more institutions and organisations across the world, the success stories will be showcased on a number of network platforms including Discussion Fora on its website sccnhub.com. The progress of the activities would be monitored using smart technologies and will be visualised using a cloud platform and a real-time dashboard. The partnership with business, government and civil society would be the key axis around which this network will flourish. ‘Learning by Doing’ and ‘Accelerating by Sharing’ would be the key mantras that TERRE and SRMIST would be practising to train the students for the carbon-neutral future.

Egypt’s new capital – a smart city in the making

Egypt’s new capital – a smart city in the making

GLOBALFLEET‘s article authored by Alison Pittaway argues that Egypt’s new capital is a smart city in the making. So it will but some people are not happy. Let us see what’s it all about.

The image above is for illustration and is of Reuters.

Egypt’s new capital – a smart city in the making

18 May 21

Aside from the recent troubles in Gaza threatening war in the Middle East, decades of population growth and unplanned urban sprawl have taken their tole on Egypt’s economy.

The Government is building several cities, including a new capital, one million low-cost homes, plus an infrastructure of highways and bridges.

Egypt’s new capital - a smart city in the making
*Image courtesy of Shutterstock

This bustling regeneration has helped Egypt remain in growth in 2020, despite the economic shock of the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, some people are not happy. Citizens have been displaced and lost their homes to the building work. Others have seen their neighbourhoods transform too quickly. Analysts wonder how much of a difference the infrastructure boom will make while economic problems persist.

A new capital city

Under construction in the desert, east of Cairo (due to open later this year) is a a futuristic-looking city that many are calling “the new capital city”. Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi recently referred to it as “Hope city”. It’s officially referred to simply as the “New Administrative Capital”. It will be Egypt’s first smart city and is expected to house 6.5 million people. Covering 700 square kilometres of desert, it’s the size of Singapore.

Some people worry that the pace of change in Egypt is too fast and that the “old ways”, such as selling tomatoes from a donkey cart or driving a rickshaw, are being bulldozed and the people who rely on them forgotten.

Investing in the future

On the positive side, in Eastern Cairo and beyond, 1.1 trillion Egyptian pounds ($70 billion) (€53.7 billion) will be spent on transport between now and 2024. A third of that is for the new road network, which will connect many more citizens to transport networks, basic services and create the foundations for a raft of mobility services.

While being interviewed on television recently, Sisi was emphatic about the new developments: “We need to do this so we can make people’s lives easier, so we can reduce the amount of lost time, reduce people’s stress and stop the fuel being used causing more pollution.”

A 2014 World Bank Study put the cost of congestion in greater Cairo at 3.6% of gross domestic product. But while new roads are being built, old ones are poorly maintained.

Middle East’s first mobile natural gas fuel station opens in Egypt

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources has launched the first mobile facility to supply cars with compressed natural gas as part of the sector’s efforts to increase the supply of the fuel across the country.

The new station can transport and store up to 5,000 cubic meters of gas and supply up to 1,000 cars every 24 hours to public, industrial and commercial facilities.

The Ministry has plans for 10 new mobile stations across the country, especially in areas of seasonal consumption, such as tourist spots and resorts.

It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Will Egypt’s smart city be a step too far or will it become a shining example to the rest of the world? Time will tell.

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