How global cities working together could become a major force for climate action

shanghai bodyThis week, world leaders meeting at the COP in Katowice are under pressure to act on the IPCC’s recent warning that to limit global warming to 1.5°C requires “rapid and far-reaching systems transitions occurring during the coming one to two decades, in energy, land, urban, and industrial systems.”

Cities are powerful and committed advocates
While everyone has a part to play in responding to the challenge, cities are emerging as powerful and committed advocates. The good news is, as our new analysis shows, they could address twice as many emissions as they currently do.

Policies have so far focused on greenhouse gas emissions produced inside cities, but the use of vast amounts of imported goods and services generates emissions far beyond the city boundaries (known as consumption-based emissions). Our analysis of 79 global cities in the C40 network shows that the consumption-based emissions generated beyond their borders are roughly the same amount as those produced within cities, meaning there is huge scope for cities to use their influence and increase their impact.

Similarities in consumption are a strength
Cities already have the powers to act, in local economic development, urban planning, regulation, procurement and transport. To address emissions from their consumption, they could use a combination of push measures, like supporting innovation, financing and brokering, and pull measures, creating demand for lower carbon products, through regulation, procurement and engagement with local businesses and communities.

But the really exciting potential is if cities were to use their combined strength to influence global supply chains. We’ve found that, despite variations in geography and wealth, there are more similarities between cities across the world than might be expected: in terms of consumption, Stockholm is more like Tokyo than its near neighbour Oslo, for instance.  By grouping cities based on consumption patterns we have identified the opportunities for them to team up to influence emissions in a number of high emitting sectors in a way that city leaders would normally consider beyond their reach.

Pooling cities’ powers to tackle emissions from beef
One area where cities could have a big impact if they collaborated is beef. Livestock production, of which cattle is the largest share, is responsible for nearly 15 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the same as global emissions from transport.

Some cities are taking the initiative alone already. For example, Paris has committed to cutting meat in its public procurement by a 20 per cent by 2020. But, while this is a good move, collaboration would greatly accelerate and magnify emission cutting strategies. For example, they could pool their purchasing power to stimulate a global market for plant-based meat alternatives (which can have 90 per cent lower emissions than beef). Deeper reductions (over 60 per cent) would be possible if they were also to use their joint buying power and collaboration between research bodies to help commercialise low carbon beef production, through measures like selective breeding and alternative feeds. Based on initial findings, it is estimated that these innovative measures could help to lower the methane emissions from cattle by up to 80 per cent.

Beef is not the only example. We have looked at the scope for collaboration in other high emitting sectors, like car manufacturing, rice production, electronics, shipping and aviation, and found similar opportunities to magnify climate action.

As efforts to keep global temperature rise below 1.5oC becomes ever more urgent, this study shows that cities have the collective power to exert leadership and influence over supply chains beyond the scope of current action by national governments. Given the scale of city consumption worldwide, they can become a global force in climate action to rival the major nations, like Japan and India.

See also our infographic highlighting the main findings of the report.

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