The battle against global warming will be either won or lost in cities. To introduce our briefing on cities and climate change we look at why they will have to collaborate with the private sector to meet steep cuts in emissions

The historic Paris Agreement to curb climate change may have been signed by 175 heads of state and ministers more than a year ago, but it will be mayors across the globe who will have to make it happen – or face the consequences if they fail.

Research released last month by Arup for C40 Cities, a group of 91 of the world’s cities collaborating on climate action, found that 40% of emissions reductions needed to comply with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping temperature rises to 1.5C by the end of the century could be made by city governments working with their partners.

But “could” is the key word here, considering the size of the emissions reduction required. Mark Watts, executive director of the 12-year-old organisation, told an event on financing sustainable cities in London last month that the carbon budget for its 91 cities to keep within the 1.5C agreed in Paris for the rest of the century is 22 gigatonnes of CO2, yet they are emitting 2.4GT of CO2 each year. C40 cities represent 25% of the world’s GDP and 650 million people.

“If they carry on at that pace, they will have used their entire budget for the rest of the century in under a decade. In fact by 2060, just those 91 cities will have consumed the entire world’s carbon budget for the rest of the century.”

Echoing the Mission 2020 campaign, spearheaded by Christiana Figueres, which is urging collaborative action to “bend the curve” on rising emissions by the end of the decade, Watts said: “Mayors need to be leaders and they need to move very fast. They are also going to have to create conditions for increased investment in low-carbon infrastructure.”

Mark Watts of C40 cities

The sense of urgency is captured in the title of the Deadline 2020 report, Watts said. Arup estimates that $375bn will have to be spent on low-carbon infrastructure in C40 cities alone by 2020, $110bn of it in European cities.
He pointed out that the $375bn the cities will have to spend on transport, buildings, waste, and water supply over the next four years do not necessarily represent extra investment, “but investing more wisely in a low-carbon future.” And there were other incentives for cities besides saving the world, he said.

“There is accumulating evidence that the most successful cities will be the ones that move most quickly on a low carbon development pathway. They will be healthier, wealthier and more inclusive cities. …. They will be the places where people - the most talented and creative people – want to live because they offer the highest quality of living.”

The cost of failure to grasp this nettle is already seen when it comes to transport. As Andrew Steer of the World Resources Institute points out, referencing research from the New Climate Economy, congestion problems are already a serious drag on cities’ economies, depressing city income by 10% a year in some cities, with associated pollution costing another 5%-10%. In the US, the cost of congestion is estimated to have topped $1tr per year.

However, cities face big challenges getting access to the flow of finance they will need, Watts said. For one thing, cities lack expertise in making projects “finance-ready”, since over the last decade 75% of low-carbon projects in the C40 have been funded through public coffers.

The C40 is working with Citi Foundation and the World Resources Institute’s Ross Center on a Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative to try to overcome some of those barriers. “We know we need to have a big shift from public to private capital,” says Watts. The initiative will try to unlock delivery mechanisms for investment. “We are trying to build a shared understanding between the cities and investors.”

This is part of our briefing on cities and climate change. See also:

Mexico City places bets on green bonds

Vancouver pushes green growth

Shenzhen: China’s pearl of carbon finance

Cape Town asks business to help pull it back from the brink

#Mission2020  C40 Cities  CDP  World Resources Institute  climate change  sustainable cities 

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