The top five cities leading on climate disclosure
Sydney has established itself as an exemplar of the low-carbon transition, putting energy efficiency at the heart of its approach to sustainability. That has meant refining a data-driven approach to emissions, says Chris Derksema, Sustainability Director at the City of Sydney. Here Derksema, talks about how the city has progressed and why disclosure is vital.
The City of Sydney's sustainability aims are among the most ambitious in the world. It has set an interim target to reduce its carbon emissions by 70% by 2030 — and to become net-zero by 2050. It's a bold plan. But Derksema is confident the city can make it. He says, "by 2030 we expect to see many leading organisations and institutions within our city already achieving that net-zero outcome".
The City of Sydney's vision is a city of "superefficient buildings running on renewable energy." It's that combination that will prove vital to achieving its goals.
What's already being done? City of Sydney's Energy Efficiency Master Plan is a city wide program to cut energy consumption. Some existing buildings are now performing close to the levels of new builds, Derksema explains.
But he warns against complacency. As technology leaps forward, so more opportunities to reduce energy consumption present themselves. "You can't as a city government think that one pass through has fixed the problem."
Information is key
For cities starting out on their sustainability mission, the advice is clear: "Set a science-based target, gather data to help prioritise, learn as quickly and as much as possible from other cities, and accelerate implementation".
That's been vital to the City of Sydney's efficiency drive. "To influence other government agencies that may control relevant legislation or funding, we've focused on using information as our power base" he says.
And reporting to CDP has pushed the city to hone its data gathering techniques. It's "a vital part of the city's overall strategy".
For example, city officials use a pioneering internal management system, allowing them to easily map their emissions inventory from across various utility
service providers into one centralised place. This allows them to immediately see their data, identify which action will have the most impact on their emissions, and make the right decisions based on this.
With the knowledge built from their CDP disclosure, the City of Sydney has been able to use data to make better decisions and focus resources where
they have the best chance of success.
"Disclosure helps not only to drive action internally within the city organisation,
but also to build trust with external stakeholders," Derksema says.
And it's not stopping there. The City of Sydney aims to share best practice with other cities, and so is sharing the management system the city has built to support its own transition with other cities in a bid to share best practice across the globe.
The business case for efficiency
The City of Sydney is using data to get to grips on the nitty-gritty of building standards and retrofits. And it's already seeing the economic benefits.
The city's property sector is globally recognised for improving its environmental impact. "That has also allowed money to flow into our city to invest in property that would not have otherwise come into Sydney".
The city's green buildings have higher than average occupancy rates, which in turn drive up their rental values. "It's an aspect of why going green can contribute to a prosperous city".
At a former industrial site to the south of Sydney's city centre, the City of Sydney and developers are hard at work on Green Square, a new residential precinct that draws on the city's expertise in sustainable town planning.
The project involved driving some hard bargains. For instance, the city government pushed the developers to accept higher sustainability standards in exchange for an increase in floorspace. "It hasn't been easy. However the city sees the need to use all the instruments available to them" to embed sustainable goals into new building projects right from the get-go.
Energy efficiency is crucial to increasing the city's resilience to climate change. The electric grid is particularly vulnerable to a surge in demand – as people switch on their air conditioning to cope with rising summer temperatures.
Planting street trees, in addition to the Green Roofs and Walls Policy, are part of the solution. Beyond adding a spot of natural beauty to the urban vista, green infrastructure can help "reduce the local temperature and therefore the air conditioning load".
It's a win for public health campaigns too, he says. "There are many studies that show the link between better mental wellbeing, exercise and being close to greenery and nature". Integrating renewables The rise of renewable power has been a global success story.
But at a city-level, there are still barriers to the widespread adoption of clean technology. In a high-density city like Sydney, Derksema says, "while roof space for solar PV may not be sufficient to meet 100% of the building's needs, it's still a vital action towards Net Zero by 2050".
But that hasn't stopped the city government from adopting big plans to clean up its electricity supply. Locally generated solar does have a role to play – particularly in easing pressure on the grid during the day.
For the city, it sees "a good match between solar output and peak energy demand". The city is developing a voluntary scheme to aggregate demand for renewable power generated outside the city limits. "That is really the next frontier".
Disclosure and democracy
Public reporting has helped put Sydney on a path towards a more sustainable future. But it goes deeper than simply optimising the city's sustainability policies. It strengthens "the social licence to operate".
The city has seen that disclosure through CDP helps build public trust. It shows how public funds have been invested and how the city government is progressing towards standardized sustainability goals.
Mexico City is facing a delicate balancing act: growing its economy while tackling the environmental risks that come with rapid urbanization and climate change. Speaking to CDP, Beatriz Cardenas-Gonzalez, Mexico City’s Director of Air Quality Control, shares her vision for a city driven by green growth.
As climate change increasingly makes itself felt in Central America, Mexico City is pushing forward on a strategy for sustainable growth.
The city has ambitious aims to reduce emissions on a trajectory consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5°C, while also managing the pressures of a growing economy and population. As Cardenas Gonzalez puts it, “we’re all working towards a city that is cleaner, more sustainable, with lower emissions and better air quality.”
Green growth will be vital to this, she claims. It’s a question of boosting economic activity while considering environmental and social impacts. “If you don’t have green growth, you will have more poverty in the medium term”, she says. “And you will definitely have an even greater difference between the poor and the not-so-poor.”
The task is to communicate this vision to other policymakers. And there are reasons to be optimistic. By linking environmental issues to public health, quality of life and security, Mexico City’s government has helped push the green agenda to the forefront.
For example, under the city’s Climate Action Program (2014-2020) it has developed a tracking tool that allows for coordinated and integrated actions that reduce the environmental, social and economic risks associated with climate change.
And it has established ways of working across departments to seek win-win solutions to these intertwined problems: “the Ministry of Environment has a lot of interaction with the Ministry of Mobility and the Ministry of Public Health,” Cardenas-Gonzalez says.
Collaboration is key
“There are many issues that Mexico City shares with other states,” she continues. Problems like deforestation, water security and air pollution cross administrative boundaries. That’s why the city is working to strengthen the environmental capacities of its neighbors.
“We’ve seen that while many of the policies implemented in Mexico City have an impact, this is amplified if all of the regions take action.”
Gathering information — and using it effectively — is a case in point. Disclosing to CDP has helped the city refine what Cardenas-Gonzalez describes as “information-based decision making”. It’s leading Mexico in using data to inform policies. And the city is happy to share expertise with other states and municipalities.
“We review parts of their documents,” explains Cardenas-Gonzalez, “for instance emissions inventories or environmental plans for climate action programs that they design.”
Disclosing to CDP has helped Mexico City reach this position of national leadership. At an institutional level, external reporting “gives us more certainty that our estimations are well done.” The city government also benefits from the experience of its counterparts across the world.
“Reporting data to CDP allows you to find out about the experiences in other cities — and to adapt them to your own”, she says. “It's a very rich experience to be part of this reporting project.”
By using CDP’s platform, Mexico City has been able to accelerate its sustainability projects: “you reduce the learning curve by joining and sharing information from the best cities.”
Power of information
Why does Cardenas-Gonzalez see data as key to the city’s sustainability agenda? It’s about informing better decision making. “If you have better information, you have more ways to consider the potential for success that your actions will have.”
Simply put, good environmental data allows Mexico City to put in place better policies – and gives it a basis to see what success looks like.
For example, by understanding the role of speed limits in decreasing car emissions, the city has been able to enforce stricter limits on its own roads, improving air quality and reducing emissions from transport. Combined with limits on the number of days the most polluting cars can operate, and improved efficiency and availability of public transport, Mexico City has been able to find a collaborative approach to tackling both climate change and public health.
This data-led approach has also helped the city find investment for its green development projects. It was the first city in Latin America to issue a green bond, raising one billion pesos (US$50 million) for projects including water security, energy efficiency in public lighting and subway infrastructure. “We have to be a more energy efficient city”, she says.
The city’s climate action plan sets out concrete policies to address all of these issues. And it’s already having an impact on the ground. Cardenas Gonzalez points to local renewable energy projects ranging from bio-digesters to solar cell installations.
While many of the changes have been incremental, Mexico City has now accelerated plans to boost its resilience — particularly in the wake of the 2017 earthquake.
“It was a tragedy,” Cardenas-Gonzalez says. But dealing with the aftermath has offered the city administration “an opportunity to implement policies to build resilience and environmental protection” right into the urban fabric.
The administration’s information-driven approach means it’s well placed to encourage the development of a more resilient city, countering the threats from earthquakes, climate change and social inequality through policies to promote green growth.
And by disclosing to CDP, Mexico City has been able to hone its expertise in gathering the information it needs to make this vision a reality.
Durban’s commitment to sustainability is paying off: this year the city was CDP’s top-disclosing city in Africa and has won praise for innovative projects that combine environmental action with a broader development agenda. In an interview with CDP, three members of the city’s climate change team, Musa Mbhele, Linda Somazembe and Nongcebo Hlongwa, discuss the progress Durban has made — and how external reporting helps drive its aim of becoming Africa’s most liveable city.
Durban is a city with bold ambitions. By 2030, it aims to be Africa’s most liveable city. Getting there will involve considering the environment, the economy and human wellbeing together.
“It will be a space where people will have access to affordable green transport,” he says, “with solar panels on the rooftops, more urban gardens, protection of green spaces, which will act as flood defence,” says Musa Mbhele, the Head of Development Planning, Environment and Management.
City officials are dealing with a range of competing priorities, Mbhele claims, “the delivery of basic services to communities, such as running water, electricity and proper healthcare are pressing issues for local government".
But he stresses that sustainability is integral to the broader development plan.
The message is getting through. After recent flooding in the South Durban Basin, an industrial area originally constructed on former wetlands, the city government embarked on a rehabilitation project that will use natural infrastructure to boost the area’s resilience to future extreme weather. It’s good for the businesses operating there too, as many were considering relocating due to the frequent flooding.
“It’s going to be redesigned with climate change adaption and mitigation principles built into the urban design,” Mbhele says. “We will be able to share with the world how negatively transformed urban centres can be rebuilt with climate change in mind.”
The project is part of Durban’s strategy to integrate water management and sustainable drainage into its urban planning. But alongside flooding risk, Durban must tackle the growing threat of droughts.
With Cape Town and Durban experiencing periods of exceptionally low rainfall, the issue of drought is at the forefront of many South Africans’ minds. “We have embarked on a number of transformative programs,” says Mbhele, “namely the Umgeni Ecological Infrastructure Partnership, which is upgrading water infrastructure and ensuring a heightened protection of our ecological infrastructure, namely wetlands, so that we deal with the problem of drought”.
Sustainability has multiple benefits, including ecosocial wellbeing. And nowhere more so than in the Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project. On the fringes of a landfill site, a verdant native forest now grows: almost 600,000 trees of over 51 species planted since 2010 occupy an area of 787 hectares. Not only has it improved the quality of life for the community living nearby, which includes some of Durban’s poorest citizens, it has boosted the local economy, bolstered community pride and encouraged an increased respect for the environment.
“We have flipped the ideology of ‘the environment for the environment’s sake’ to focusing on the environment for the community’s sake,” explains Nongcebo Hlongwa, Climate Protection Scientist.
The project created 43 permanent jobs and numerous part-time and temporary jobs, she says, while the seedlings are sourced from 540 local ‘treepreneurs’: “They’re basically feeding the reforestation system so we don’t buy trees from outside of the city.”
Celebrating climate actions
Strong climate change governance is at the centre of this progress. When it comes to implementing the Durban Climate Change Strategy, the city’s elected officials are involved at the highest level of decision making. The city brings together administrative and political leaders to discuss how they will move forward on climate action.
With Durban’s mayor serving as the C40 African Regional Vice-Chair, the climate team is capitalising on this momentum to drive its agenda of climate change, sustainability and climate resilience in the city.
Teams from across city departments regularly meet to discuss how they will meet Durban’s climate ambitions. “We are on the right path in terms of popularising climate change work and we feel we are going to have immediate impact on that front,” says Mbhele.
Reporting environmental performance is key here, says Linda Somazembe, Durban’s Climate Change Monitoring and Reporting Advisor. “It gives us zeal to know that our climate actions within the municipality are making a difference and that they’re being noticed.”
That’s true at an international level, too, she notes. “We have the opportunity to be ranked among other international cities.” CDP’s global reporting platform gives the city a wider platform to showcase its achievements – and to seek funding opportunities for future projects.
Durban is using its expertise in environmental reporting and planning to take a leadership position regionally. Mbhele tells us that city officials were inspired by a city in the US to share lessons with other municipalities. “Because environmental problems, particularly climate change, have an impact beyond political and national boundaries, we felt that we needed to be able to extend our knowledge and lessons learnt – and to share them broadly.”
As the secretariat of the Durban Adaptation Charter, the city has hosted a series of knowledge exchanges and master classes with municipalities in neighbouring regions and countries, including the cities of Pemba and Quelimane in Mozambique. Both these cities had issues relating to sea level rise and flooding. Through this process, both cities have been able to develop infrastructure and management strategies and are now implementing this knowledge sharing approach with their neighbours.
Durban is on track to meet its vision for 2030, says Mbhele. “And we are already that kind of city in many respects. We are already making international headlines. It’s because of the efforts we have made to realise this vision.”
Lying on the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland is one the major cities in the Midwest, with a legacy of manufacturing and heavy industry that continues to this day. Sitting at the heart of the US’ Great Lakes basin — home to 30 million Americans and 84% of the country’s surface fresh water — Cleveland is dependent on a body of water that is under increasing stress from climate change, especially rising temperatures and heavier rain events.
The city has made great environmental progress since the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969 towards developing a thriving and resilient future. It is combining its efforts to improve water quality, air quality, and public health with its aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city has been disclosing to CDP since 2013. Matthew Gray, Chief of Sustainability and Erika Meschkat, Sustainability Manager in the Mayor's Office of Sustainability for the City of Cleveland, discuss the city’s journey from big polluter to “a thriving green city on a blue lake”.
For the city’s sustainability team, climate action is integral to building a more inclusive and resilient community. That means working with different neighborhoods to develop a shared vision for a more sustainable city.
“Addressing climate change in Ohio is also about addressing matters of social justice”, Meschkat tells us. “People of color in low income communities are disproportionately impacted by the burdens of climate change”, particularly so in Cleveland where they have historically borne the brunt of the city’s industrial pollution.
“We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years about what real engagement looks like with the community”, Gray says. The city government is holding a dozen workshops with citizens to incorporate their views into its updated climate action plan, “but it’s also to really support neighborhood-based climate action projects”.
The city is pioneering ways to get these projects off the ground, even on a limited budget. Through the Cleveland Climate Action Fund, a crowdfunding platform, it has empowered people from different neighborhoods to seek funding for their own projects. “It’s great to be able to make their ideas tangible”, says Gray. In 2018, neighborhood climate workshops led to more than 40 projects, with the Cleveland Climate Action Fund providing matching dollars for more than half of those projects.
Driving climate action locally and regionally
The city has made community engagement a key pillar of its climate action efforts. It is working to ensure that a diversity of ideas, voices and visions for the future are reflected in its plans.
Cleveland is also taking a lead in engaging other cities on environmental issues in the Ohio region. Gray tells us the city is “thinking regionally on the resilience front with other cities on the Great Lakes”. It co-leads the Great Lakes Climate Adaptation Network of around 20 cities that share approaches to adapting to the impacts of climate change, which are already making themselves felt in the region in the form of
heatwaves, intense rainfall flooding, and more.
Disclosing to CDP has been invaluable to drive this forward. “Having that common platform and methodology is critical”, says Gray. Through CDP’s disclosure platform, Cleveland has been able to track its performance over the past five years – and expects to see emissions to continue to decrease – while “comparing ourselves to other cities, including best practices in all these areas of climate action”.
“The process is worth it”, he continues, “even if it can be challenging”. It has helped Cleveland understand where its emissions are coming from, and “engage with people who have the data — they’re your natural partners in actually reducing those emissions”.
Overall, the city has worked with 80 different organizations to gather its data and input. That in turn has generated momentum to boost climate action. “Now we’re really focusing more on how you integrate all these actions on energy efficiency, renewable energy, transportation, and more”.
Cleveland’s 2030 vision
Working with local neighborhoods and collecting data on emissions is helping Cleveland to refine its vision for the future. “We certainly imagine a much cleaner city: cleaner air, cleaner energy and even cleaner water”, Gray says. “We imagine a thriving environment supporting a sustainable economy in 2030 and beyond”.
The city is spearheading projects to make that vision a reality. As part of its nine action areas, the administration is working with foundations, community organizations, businesses, and tree experts to help Cleveland live up to its moniker as ‘the Forest City’. The Cleveland Tree Plan lays out how the city will restore its canopy cover from 19 percent to 30 percent by 2040. This would reduce the urban heat island effect, slow storm water runoff, and improve quality of life in the process. At the same time, the additional trees would add approximately $15 million of value to the community.
When it comes to greening its energy supply, there’s no shortage of initiatives either. “We have unique assets here like offshore wind”, Gray says. “We think by 2021 we can install 20 megawatts in Lake Erie. And then expand it over time and bring down the costs.” The city and its partners have also made use of vacant land to build three major solar farms: “that’s an area we’re going to keep looking into”. As part of its community choice aggregation program, about 50,000 residents and small businesses also receive 100% clean power through the purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs).
By dovetailing climate action with economic and social development, Cleveland is working towards a better future for all its residents.
Paris is one of the cities leading the world in the transition to a sustainable economy. In recent years it has ramped up efforts to cut energy use and transport emissions, all while providing a better quality of life for its citizens. Yann Françoise, Head of Climate, Energy and Circular Economy at the city’s Directorate of Parks and Environment talks about the city's vision for a sustainable future.
The Paris of 2030 will be very different to the city we see today, says Françoise. In recent years, Paris' fight to improve air quality has made headlines around the world. By focusing on clean mobility, the city hopes to tackle pollution once and for all. “We will have fewer cars in our city, and more sustainable mobility: for pedestrians, for bicycles, for new ways to move with new systems”, Françoise explains.
That’s building off the considerable progress the city administration has already made: transport emissions have fallen by 40% in recent years, even without a rapid uptake in zero-emissions technology.
Paris has focused on sustainability projects that can directly improve quality of life for its citizens. Shifting to low-emissions transportation will leave the city a more peaceful place, says Françoise. Meanwhile creating more green spaces will help tackle the urban heat island effect, which is only expected to worsen over the coming decades.
Warm homes and low-carbon meals
Another big win-win opportunity is in energy efficiency. The city has embarked on a project of retrofitting its entire building stock, including homes for thousands of people. “It’s not only an environmental project, it’s a project for society — a new vision for the city of Paris” that has social justice at its heart.
This sustainable vision extends into all areas of the city’s operations, including the canteens it operates, like those in the school system. It has ambitious plans to cut emissions from food by 30% and encourage organic agriculture as part of its bid to improve quality of life.
“I think that we might be the only city disclosing to CDP to take into account CO2 emissions from food”, Françoise says. “Because we make 30 million meals every year, it’s very important for public procurement.”
The city is already halfway to meeting that target, thanks to the introduction of more vegetarian options and a decrease in the amount of beef it serves.
The power of data
For the city administration, collecting reliable data is crucial to meeting its sustainability goals. “Before you can have disclosure or communication, you need the data”, Françoise says.
Collecting this data helps Paris to assess which projects have been working well, and how it can improve. “It can be fruitful for the administration’s different services to recognise where they have made progress.” And the city’s decision-makers find it important in understanding where change needs to happen.
Green finance innovator
These large-scale sustainability projects come with a hefty price tag, however. It’s one of the reasons why Paris has led the way in raising capital through green bonds, which are used to fund projects tackling environmental issues or climate change.
The process helped the city raise €300 million to spend on green innovation. This was made easier by the administration’s data-driven approach. “If you follow the green bond principle, you have
to first be transparent and serious, with a lot of metrics and indicators”, says Françoise.
“And every year we have to show our investors how we are investing the money”. “It’s a very good opportunity”, he says. And it’s attracting ever more interest from the financial markets. Paris’ most recent green bond received €1.5 billion in demand less than 30 minutes after it was issued. “There is a lot of green money on the market. You have more and more pension funds, asset managers that need to decarbonise their funds”.
This shows that city sustainability projects, when backed with reliable data, have proven highly popular.
As well as driving innovation, Paris is pioneering a holistic approach to sustainability that encompasses human wellbeing as well as greenhouse gas emissions. But there’s always more work to do, Françoise stresses. “Never forget that there are still people we have to bring onboard” in the city’s quest for a sustainable future.
The city government regularly consults with citizens on the city’s environmental plans — keeping them informed about its progress. That’s important not only to fulfil its democratic duties, but also to encourage people to change their own behaviour.
The city is currently running a mobilization campaign to present its climate action plan to people across the city — and “to convince them of the easy wins they can do” to cut their own emissions.
Paris has shown how cities can find opportunities to improve their citizens’ quality of life as they tackle climate change. “We do it because we believe in carbon neutrality. We have to do it. And we try to prove that it can have very positive benefits and progress for the city, from health to economic activity”.