Global
The climate change debate

Cities' pivotal role in the climate change debate: CDP Cities 2011 progress report 

Climate change is widely recognised as one of the most serious challenges the world faces, with consequences that go far beyond its impact on the environment alone. It is no longer the question 'if' we have to move into a low-carbon energy future but 'how' we will get there.

Consuming more than 75 percent of the world's energy, and producing around 80 percent of its greenhouse gases, the role of cities is an important nexus in the climate change debate. Their populations and infrastructure are immensely vulnerable to the damaging effects of increasing temperatures, sea level rise and extreme weather events. Additionally, cities are well positioned to anticipate climate change due to their enhanced understanding of local conditions and needs.

Supporting collaboration between cities

Driven by a common belief that city governments play an important role in reducing global carbon emissions, a group of large cities (known as the C40 Cities) have come together to create an effective forum to support collaboration and information sharing between cities and demonstrate leadership. This year, the C40 Cities collaborated with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) on a research to measure the climate impact of each participating city as well as their plans for action. An impressive 72 percent of the C40 Cities responded to the survey, representing over 1,200 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent, a figure roughly equivalent to the total emissions of a country like Japan or Germany. The survey shows that a number of cities have pioneered extraordinary approaches to GHG reduction and climate resilience.

Taking a leadership role

Nearly every responding city reports the involvement of their senior leadership in taking responsibility for climate change; many also make special note of their efforts to engage local citizens, businesses and other stakeholders in climate change-related decisions. For most, the need is urgent. More than 90 percent of disclosing cities identified themselves as 'at risk' due to climate change and over forty percent reported that they are already dealing with the effects of climate change in their regions.


The survey also showed that - while cities have made a strong start - there are still a number of areas where more support is needed. Indeed, challenges remain for many city governments looking to build on the low carbon movement. National governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector can all work to help cities by:


  • Improving and standardizing GHG measurement methodologies. Cities are using many different methodologies to guide them in their GHG measurement activities. City governments will benefit from coordinated efforts to standardize these protocols to make measurement of emissions easier, more transparent, and more comparable between cities.
  • Enabling financial forecasting related to climate change investment. City governments, like many other entities, are struggling to put clear numbers on the investments needed to achieve their GHG reduction targets. Technical assistance and private sector input might help cities to improve their ROI on climate change projects.
  • Creating better tools for city-level risk assessment. City governments are leading the way in analyzing the risks from climate change in their regions. The international community can support these efforts by offering better tools, including specific risk assessment methodologies for urban areas.
  • Adding value through city emissions data validation. In the private sector, data validation and verification is becoming fundamental for establishing credibility with key stakeholders. An increasing number of cities indicate that all or part of their emissions data (city government operations and/or city-wide emissions) is verified to some degree.

Despite a complex array of challenges, it is encouraging to see that both C40 cities and non-C40 cities are (voluntarily) taking great strides towards shaping the global approach to climate change. Cities that measure and analyze their emissions will be in a better position to manage them and adapt to new circumstances. Each city can be a frontrunner in the combat against climate change in its own right.


Although it is encouraging to see that many cities have articulated a strategic vision around energy and climate and have developed GHG reduction emissions targets and innovative measures, it is only through a collective effort that climate change can be seriously contested.

Share this

Share this

Sign up now

Receive email alerts when new content is available

Tell us what you think

 Contents