dcsimg Call for action: Cities stepping up - Ramboll Group

Call for action: Cities stepping up

The UN and nation states are taking the lead in tackling climate change and resource scarcity, but they cannot carry the burden alone. Cities are stepping up to support the cross-national efforts as the pivotal COP21 in Paris approaches. 

By Morten Lund & Jesper Toft Madsen

"There is no way around becoming more resource efficient in minimising the damages of climate change as well as being more competitive in a world with a growing population and increased pressure on resources."

Connie Hedegaard, EU’s outgoing Climate Action Commissioner, nails the issue. But who can step up to the challenge? The battle against climate change and resource scarcity is a struggle that no country can overcome on its own.

By 2030 six out of every ten people on earth will be living in urban areas. This makes the world's major cities, each dealing with different challenges, a good place to start.

The Copenhagen Bicyckle Snake. Photo: Dissing+Weitling

Cities: part of the problem - and the solution

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), cities accounted for 32% of global final energy use and 19% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. This makes cities a big part of the problem – but also a potentially vital part of the solution.

“Cities are home to the more than half of all people on the planet, and account for 70% of global CO2 emissions, so it is impossible to tackle climate change without changing the way that cities function,” says Mark Watts, Executive Director for C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The best city leaders have seen that the things that cut emissions also improve quality of life. For example: compact, dense city design where people can live near to the major amenities rather than suburban sprawl; making it easier, cheaper and safer to walk, cycle and take public transport rather than drive; more parks and green spaces; reducing waste, or providing better insulated buildings,” he explains.

More energy-efficient technologies, system infrastructure efficiency and better use of renewable energy could help to stabilise or even reduce energy use in buildings by 2050, according to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) from 2013.

Spurring optimism

In the wake of the AR5 report, next year’s climate summit, the COP21 in Paris, is currently generating more optimistic buzz than previous summits. The UN member countries are signalling that COP21 could be the birthplace of a genuinely binding international climate agreement.

The good vibrations are reinforced by the fact that many of the world’s major cities already seem to be stepping up to the challenge, clearly demonstrating that cities could be the main drivers behind the green transition.

“Cities often actually seem to have more drive than nation states. The City of Copenhagen collaborates with a number of other cities around the world, and we frequently see them setting more ambitious climate goals than their nation states do. This is important, because we really consider these cities as drivers for change,” says Lykke Leonardsen, Head of Climate Unit in Copenhagen, the European Green Capital 2014 and a member of the prestigious climate club Delta Cities.

Mobilising joint effort

City networks like Delta Cities and the C40 network are examples of urban alliances created to fight climate

Another is the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities challenge, an initiative launched in 2013 to enable 100 chosen cities around the globe to better address the increasing “shocks and stresses of the 21st century.”
Cities like Bristol in the UK, Bangkok in Thailand and New Orleans in the US are among the urban areas enlisted for first-round participation.

On the local city level, New York City recently announced a USD 20-billion plan to better prepare the megacity for rising sea levels and hotter summers.

Bristol: Green economy innovator

Traffic-free Sundays and a city centre bustling with street performers and artists. A higher number of cyclists than Birmingham and Manchester combined. And among the first in the UK to invest in wind energy.

Bristol, England’s sixth most populous urban area, has already gone to great lengths to become an exemplary medium-sized city. Acclaimed for injecting a sense of fun into environmental causes and being a green economy innovator, the city has been named the European Green Capital 2015.

In return, the city government has committed to investing GBP 400 million in transport schemes by 2015 and up to GBP 300 million on energy efficiency and renewables by 2020. In turn, these heavy investments are expected to create 17,000 new jobs by 2030.

Local resilience officer

Similarly, Bristol was one of only five European cities invited to join the first wave of 32 cities in the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, a programme aimed at future-proofing a variety of cities against climate change and resource scarcity.

Each city government appointed to the programme will receive direct support, most notably via a chief resilience officer employed by the foundation to carry out local resilience strategies and initiatives.

Bristol's Mayor George Ferguson, one of the few elected mayors in the country, has already supported 20-mph speed limits and residential parking restrictions. Now he wants to make better infrastructure and fewer cars on the roads a key focus of Bristol’s efforts to be even greener.

Hamburg: Turning almost half the city green

Hamburg, the 2011 European Green Capital, has embarked on an ambitious journey to supply its 1.8 million citizens with 70 square kilometres of interlinked green spaces. Twenty years from now, cars should have ceased to be a must-have in Germany’s second-largest city.

Imagine 70 square kilometres of uninterrupted parkland winding through the old Hanseatic city of Hamburg, stretching from the city centre to its outskirts and connecting parks, playgrounds, gardens and cemeteries with a network of green paths. The icing on this green cake will be a three-kilometre-long, 30-metre-wide pedestrian and bike boulevard, replacing what is currently one of the city’s major freeways and traffic hubs.

This vision could very well become reality in 20 years, if Hamburg’s ambitious plan for a green, cross-city network covering 40% of the cityscape gains momentum. Add that to an already comprehensive list of urban development projects, and the recipe for improving transport, climate resilience and the quality of life is close to complete.

Largest urban development project in Europe

A partnership programme named ‘Enterprise for Resource Protection’ encourages businesses to voluntarily invest in energy and resource efficiency. For each €1 local government invests, participating firms contribute with €10. More than 1000 projects have been completed, and the programme has generated €146 million in private investments, saving 134,000 tonnes of CO2 every year.

Hamburg’s urban landscape has been undergoing massive changes. This includes HafenCity Hamburg, Europe’s largest city development project, which will transform 2.2 square kilometres of former industrial land into offices, hotels and residential buildings.

Across the river from HafenCity, the residential area of Wilhemsburg with its 50,000 residents from 27 countries is also getting the green treatment. The construction of socially conscious buildings and a more efficient infrastructure are among the key initiatives aimed at improving the quality of life.

Hamburg’s proximity to the Elbe River makes the city one of Europe’s busiest ports, and port pollution is therefore a major issue. To address this problem, the city is now deploying so-called container taxis to run between the city’s terminals, each trip of which eliminates the need for 60 truck runs from point to point on land.


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