C40: Cities are the World Leaders in Climate Innovation

Upward View of City Skyscrapers

By James Noble

February 13, 2014

An international climate agreement may be on life support, but that hasn’t stopped sixty-three of the world’s biggest cities from doubling the measures they’re taking to combat climate change.

new study produced by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group shows a clear trend of megacities expanding and accelerating their climate action. Climate actions – like implementing energy efficiency standards for buildings or launching bikeshare programs – aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve urban resilience to climate change. Since 2011, the cities have reported more than 8,000 climate actions that have been implemented, with 41 percent of these taking place citywide.

The report shows that mayors across C40 cities have jurisdiction over many sectors of the local economy and it’s this power that allows them to enact real change. The C40 mayors, many of whom preside over coastal cities, report with near unanimity that climate change represents significant risks to their populations and infrastructure.

Learning between cities is truly global. It’s a commonly held belief that ideas drift from wealthier cities to poorer cities because wealthier cities can access more capital and advanced technology, but that turns out to not always be true. Latin America has been a rapid bus transit pioneer and these systems are now being implemented in places like Chicago and New York.

There are, however, some regional differences in how cities choose to approach the climate challenge. In North America projects and programs dominate climate actions, whereas in Asia climate actions are heavily dominated by policy measures. Nonetheless, while approaches may differ the focus of the cities is almost uniform: waste, transportation, energy efficiency and water are among the leading sectors that all C40 concentrate their focus on.

Canadian cities that identified a climate plan to C40 include Vancouver and Toronto. While all Canadian cities with populations greater than 500,000 have climate plans, 65 percent of small towns (5,000 or less) have no climate change plan – even though roughly half have experienced damage from flooding or extreme rainfall in the last decade. The highest proportion of communities without climate action plans are in the Prairie provinces, with BC communities leading the way in planning for climate change, followed by Ontario and Quebec.