A new report from the World Bank released today outlines how residents of cities are responsible for as much as 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time facing significant impacts from climate change. The report, Cities and Climate Change: An Urgent Agenda, says that up to 80 percent of the expected $80 billion to $100 billion per year in climate change adaptation costs will likely be borne by urban areas. Nevertheless, says the report, climate change offers cities opportunities to alter course, implement smart policies, and develop sustainable communities. Well managed, dense cities are also shown to be the most important pre-requisite to mitigation of GHG emissions and overall sustainable development.
“Many world cities, such as New York , Mexico City, Amman, or Sao Paulo are not waiting for a comprehensive and global climate deal to emerge, they are already acting on climate change,” said Andrew Steer, World Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change. “They are showing how to address mitigation, adaptation, the delivery of basic urban services, and poverty reduction through smart ideas and local initiatives.They need the support of their national governments and the international community at large.”
Cities and Climate Change: An Urgent Agenda conveys a need to act now— massive investments in buildings and infrastructure that cities in developing countries are undertaking today will lock in urban form and lifestyles for many decades to come, foretelling GHG emissions and vulnerability to climate events like wind storms, flooding, heat waves, and sea level rise. The report provides stark evidence on how city form and lifestyles have an impact on GHG emissions. Barcelona’s per capita residential GHG emissions, for example, are less than one-quarter those of Denver. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro also provide hope as their per capita emissions are less than 2.1 tonnes CO2e per capita.
The report says that aggregate size of cities is driving their contributions to GHG emissions and how they will be affected by climate change. More than half of the people in the world now live in urban areas, a proportion that is growing fast. The world’s 50 largest cities alone have a combined population (500 million people) larger than the United States. They are also estimated to emit about 2,606 million tones of GHGs (third leading source, after the U.S. and China). And, they have a combined GDP of $9.55 billion (larger than China).
The report outlines a climate-smart way forward for cities, as long as they work together. For instance, cooperative efforts like the recent Mexico City Pact and the C40 large cities association, highlight how, by working together, cities are able to move more quickly and more comprehensively as they address climate change. Organizations like the World Bank are responding, providing targeted assistance in urban areas such as Mexico City, Cairo, and Bangkok and detailed vulnerability assessments for several coastal cities.
New partnerships are emerging: UNEP, UN-Habitat, and the World Bank have developed a joint work plan expressly to provide faster and more coordinated assistance to cities. City organizations like C40 and The Climate Group have recently emerged, adding to already established groups like ICLEI and UCLG.
New tools, such as a common GHG emissions standard for cities, an Urban Risk Assessment tool, and agencies like the Global City Indicator Facility, are being launched in an effort to coordinate and focus the energy of cities toward problem solving. New financing options such as ‘green bonds’, a city-wide approach to carbon finance (now proposed in Amman), and emissions trading systems such as the one recently launched in Tokyo, are also being studied.
The report says that cities are well advised to act on climate change as soon as possible. Costs of delaying action are high, particularly in rapidly growing cities. The co-benefits of action are substantial: e.g. improved public health, cost savings, energy security.
The report adds that low-carbon economy and low-pollution cities are essential to a high quality of urban life. Cities are also seen as have a unique advantage in confronting climate change since they are the optimum scale for action: large enough to enact meaningful pilots and introduce “first responder” programs, yet sufficiently close to the community to be faster and more effective than larger national governments in implementing public aspirations.