Opinion - 02/October/2019

Ambitious climate action needs to become the norm

Cities are increasing their levels of ambition when taking climate action, and obtaining significant reductions in carbon emissions. But if cities want to drive the change needed to keep warming below the 1.5°C threshold, truly ambitious plans should be the norm not a novelty, writes Pernille Jægerfelt Mouritsen, Project Manager at Nordic Sustainability and Editor of the Cities100 report

Only a handful of cities are going the extra mile and creating comprehensive and holistic climate action plans aligned with a 1.5°C trajectory, including science-based targets for how to get there


Cities have been facing the brunt of the impacts of climate change for decades and are not waiting for sign off from central government before they act. They increasingly have to deal with extreme weather, severe flooding, wildfires, droughts and sea level rise and simply cannot afford to continue driving in first gear, the preferred speed of most national administrations in recent years.

Instead, comprehensive and urgent adaptive measures are needed, such as those detailed in the new Cities100 report, which showcases 100 leading climate projects from cities across the globe. The report is a collaboration between the network of mega cities, C40 Cities, and the consultancy Nordic Sustainability, with funding from the Danish philanthropic association Realdania.

Climate adaptation projects showcased in the report include recreational parks that can handle extreme weather and regenerated open spaces to help cities deal with 100-year flooding events and rising sea levels. Others detail how existing water infrastructure is being used to manage extreme rain in city centres. Adaptive measures implemented by cities are aimed at managing the impacts of climate change, but also at creating a resilient, safe and equal future. Cities recognise that actions to solve a pressing climate challenge can also increase citizens’ quality of life.

The heyday of car-centric and concrete-based city planning is over. Instead, cities are growing around holistic, collaborative, human-focused projects, with increasing use of nature-based solutions with the premise of adaptation and resilience at their centre.

A handful of cities featured in the report are going the extra mile and creating comprehensive and holistic climate action plans aligned with a 1.5°C trajectory, including science-based targets for how to get there. Uppsala in Sweden has established a Climate Protocol, a cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary collaboration between the city, private companies, public organisations, academia, civil associations and environmental organisations aimed at moving the city towards its long-term goal to be a fossil fuel-free by 2030 and carbon neutral by 2050.

In the US, New York City was the first city to develop an action plan aligned with the Paris climate agreement. Its 1.5°C: Aligning New York City with the Paris Climate Agreement project sets an agenda towards an 80% emission reduction below 2005 levels and net-zero emissions by 2050.

In Denmark, the city of Aarhus is well on its way to reaching its goal of becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030, having already halved its emissions in the last ten years. Its Climate Action Plan and Strategic Energy Planning programme set out the next steps towards carbon neutrality and a future run on 100% renewable energy in all sectors. The plan is the result of a process involving more than 250 stakeholders.

Meanwhile in Spain, Barcelona has created a comprehensive Climate Action Plan that puts the city on track for carbon neutrality by 2050, co-produced by hundreds of the city’s organisations and its citizens. The plan includes 242 concrete actions and more than 100 monitoring indicators.



Catalysing the green transition

None of these plans are simple, they are the result of exhaustive work by hundreds of stakeholders, collaborating with almost every conceivable company, organisation, and association, public and private, and the scientific community to ensure actions that will achieve the set goals.

Irrespective of the tremendous effort this entails, the 59 cities featured in the report are diligently undertaking work to develop their plans. They are proving that cities can be part of the solution, and spearheading a green transition movement attempting to limit warming to 1.5oC. Until 1.5oC aligned plans become the norm for all cities, however, progress will fall well short of what is needed to avoid climate collapse.


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