Cities around the world are taking action on climate change, improving water stewardship and creating better places to live and work.
A global financial hub, the Greater London Authority is reaping the benefits of going zero-carbon, while protecting its growing population from the impacts of climate change and water scarcity.
Sat on the winding banks of the River Thames, London is home to over eight and a half million people. It has the highest population density in the UK and another three million are expected to call the city home by 2050.
Faced with this growing population, London has a looming crisis. The city sits in the region with the lowest rainfall in the UK, and is vulnerable to both drought and flooding as climate impacts worsen.
By 2050, London could see a daily water deficit of 520 million liters.
In a bid to build resilience, London is taking action with a citywide water security strategy aimed at reducing pressure on supply, while preparing for future disruption.
London’s strategy includes:
Zero carbon action plan
Water is not the only challenge London is tackling; the city also has ambitious plans to combat climate change. London is going beyond the UK’s national target to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 (on 1990 levels), and in line with what climate science shows is necessary, London has pledged to go zero-carbon by 2050.
This lofty ambition will need action in all key sectors; buildings, transport, energy and finance, and the work has already begun.
Through the Mayor’s Business Energy Challenge, London is inviting its large business to report their carbon emissions – awarding those with the highest reductions – while the RE:NEW program aims to upgrade the city’s housing stock with energy efficiency measures and insulation. The ongoing scheme has already retrofitted 100,000 homes.
Meanwhile, the London Green Fund has been set up to invest in schemes that will cut the city’s emissions, with all repaid investments being channeled back into new ‘green’ initiatives. The £110 million invested in the fund is expected to leverage up to £1 billion of investment in carbon reduction programs.
With increasing investment, London’s sustainable economy is booming. In the two years to 2014, the Low Carbon and Environmental Goods grew 6% year on year, with this growth expected to continue to the end of the century, showing that, for London, protecting a growing population and securing economic opportunities go hand in hand.
Extremely vulnerable to climate change and water insecurity, Singapore innovating its way to being a leader in sustainable water solutions.
Singapore is one of the most densely populated city-states in the world. Set on a low-lying island in tropical South Asia, it has limited land-area, dominated by urban landscapes. This unique set of circumstances makes the sovereign-city extremely vulnerable to climate change, and poses significant challenges for adaptation.
Singapore is also extremely dependant on imported fossil fuels, but in the wake of the Paris Agreement, and its pledge to cut emissions intensity – emissions per dollar of GDP – by 35% by 2030 (on 2005 levels), the city-state is shifting its focus towards decarbonisation.
Most notable are the city’s plans to boost solar from 2% to 5% by 2020 and to introduce a carbon tax from 2019.
And while the city-state looks to reduce its own carbon impact, it’s also examining how it can adapt to the impacts of climate change, most notably by innovating its water sector.
A water secure Singapore
For 40 years, Singapore’s “Four National Taps” water strategy has allowed the city-state to build a robust, diversified and sustainable water supply. The city-state has harnessed recycled water and desalinated seawater in addition to local catchments and imported water. With these new sources of water unaffected by changes in weather, Singapore has been able to become a water-secure city, despite increasing droughts due to climate change.
Recycled and desalinated water now meet up to 65% of the city’s water demand, and with three more desalination plants planned for construction by 2020, it could reach 85% of demand by 2060.
Through this innovation, Singapore has also become a global ‘hydrohub’, housing a thriving cluster of 180 water companies and over 20 research centres, including national companies Hyflux and Sembcorp, and international firms like Veolia and Nitto Denko.
Such companies have taken the know-how gained from building recycling and desalination plants in Singapore to implement sustainable water solutions on a global scale. For example, Hyflux’s projects include the largest seawater desalination plant in the world, in Algeria, and the largest in China.With the importance of the water sector only set to grow as global demographic, economic and environmental trends continue, Singapore has set itself as a pioneer and will find itself in a good position to tap into the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon, water secure future
A relatively young city, Brazil’s capital Brasilia is playing to its strengths and building a low-carbon transport sector to support citizens and cut emissions.
Set within the country’s green highlands, and with high levels of inequality and a dependence on hydropower Brazil’s young capital, Brasilia, is extremely vulnerable to climate hazards, including drought, forest fires and rainstorms.
In the wake of these risks and in a bid to drive progress, Brasilia is in the process of developing a new strategy for climate adaptation and mitigation. Central to this, is the city’s climate target to reduce emissions 40% by 2020 (on 2005 levels) – in line with Brazil’s national target of 37% emissions reductions by 2025.
On top of this, the city is also internalising the country’s target to reduce emissions from deforestation by 40% by 2020, with ambitious aims to reduce forest destruction in the city’s surrounding area and to improve its natural carbon sinks.
Greening the transport sector
Known for its modern urban planning and artistic architecture, Brasilia is using these strengths to respond to the threat of climate change in the heart of the city; the transport sector.
By 2020, all buses within the city will be run entirely on renewable energy, and five extra subway stations will further reduce the city’s dependence on cars.
The low carbon transition has quickly been identified as a way to attracted increased public and private funding into Brasilia, especially in the transport sector as well as renewable energy, with the city is currently seeking investors for its new Brasilia Solar Program.
Such moves will bring significant social benefits for Brasilia’s citizens, while also bring economic opportunities to the city.
Faced with three years of serious drought, the South African capital is ramping up its efforts to conserve and diversify its water supply.
Despite its coastal location, Cape Town is under severe water pressure. Facing its third year of serious drought, the city had to ramp up water conservation measures.
While effective to date, these measures will not be enough to stave off the worsening drought, and the city’s population – already marked with inequality and poverty – will be left vulnerable.
The city has already begun investigation into the possibility of using the Table Mountain Region aquifer and options to recycle water and desalinate seawater; all of which could be crucial to build a climate resilient city.
Cape Town is already experiencing climate vulnerability. It is hit with rainstorms, extreme hot days and drought, flash floods and extreme wind. And as the rest of South Africa also suffer, the city’s four million population is expected to expand rapidly as climate change drives rural to urban migration, with these communities often ending up in parts of the city at risk of flooding.
Such shifts could push Cape Town’s economy to the brink, including in the fishing, agriculture, infrastructure and insurance industries. In the longer term, tourism could also be impacted.
As Cape Town’s population grows, so will the demand for energy.
South Africa is hugely reliant on coal for its energy and in the capital the average carbon footprint is 5.6 tonnes per person. However, with a draft carbon tax bill, carbon offset regulations and plans to invest in 20,000MW of new renewable energy infrastructure by 2030, the shift away from fossil fuels has begun.
Such moves are expected to incentivise energy efficiency and simulate the low-carbon economy, and Cape Town is already making moves to ensure it benefits from these developments.
The city is currently negotiating with the national government to install large-scale renewable energy supply, and has a plan for a Green Industrial Zone to attract renewable energy manufacturers and maintenance companies into the city. It has a target to boost the proportion of renewable energy from zero in 2012 to 10% by 2022; with 2% currently coming from wind, solar and hydro.With plans to reduce the city’s dependence on the national grid by 10% by 2019, diversifying its energy supply, improving energy efficiency and securing the city's water supply are all steps in the right direction, which will boost economic development and jobs in the city.
In the face of growing climate change impacts, South Australia’s key city is moving ahead of both national and state targets to go zero-carbon by 2025.
One of Australia’s major cities, Adelaide has the ambitious goal of becoming a net zero-carbon city by 2025, by revolutionising its transport sector and moving to renewables. This target goes further than the South Australia state’s target to be zero-carbon by 2050, and far out-strips the country’s national commitment to reduce emissions by 26-28% by 2030 (on 2005 levels) under the Paris Agreement.
The city is highly climate vulnerable. It is at risk from heatwaves, extreme hot days, drought and flash floods, posing health risks to the city’s population, particularly vulnerable groups, reduced economic activity and increased costs from air conditioning and cooling.
To combat this, and to boost the city’s response to climate change, Adelaide is collaborating with businesses and developers to boost the transition to a cleaner, greener city. They are providing up to 50% rebates to developers, businesses and community groups that plant street trees, green roofs and invest in green walls and community gardens. This naturally cools the city by reducing the urban heat island effect, while also making Adelaide a healthier, more biodiverse and more enjoyable place to live and work.
A renewable revolution
Adelaide is also using financial incentives to encourage companies and citizens to improve their energy efficiency, boost renewables and cut emissions. The Solar Savers Adelaide program, for example, encourages the uptake of solar PV on home rooftops, providing the up-front funding for installation on low-income and rental homes.
Similarly, the Sustainability Incentives Scheme provides rebates for investment in the installation of water and energy saving systems for both owners and tenants of businesses, homes, schools and community buildings across the city, while the CitySwitch Green Office Program provides funding, information and support for office tenants to reduce energy use. The city is currently seeking private sector investment to expand this scheme to other areas.
With an ambitious aim to run their whole public transport network on renewable energy by 2025, Adelaide plans to upgrade and electrify another of the city’s major train lines by 2018, and is seeking private sector investment for electric vehicle charging stations to boost electric vehicle take-up. With help from the Siemens City Performance Tool the city has identified the opportunity to invest AUD1.4 billion in its public transit and electric vehicle infrastructure over the next decade. This could cut emissions by 31% and create 5,600 new jobs, showing that climate action creates jobs and economic opportunities.
In the aftermath of record-breaking drought and faced with crippling water shortages, cities, companies and citizens are joining forces in California to protect supplies.
The American state of California, located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, is a thriving region known for culture, technology and agriculture. It houses Silicon Valley and Hollywood and its economy - and its carbon emissions - matches that of many sovereign nations.
In recent years, California has become an epicentre for climate change impacts in the US. From 2012 to 2014, low rainfall and unusually high-temperatures brought about the state’s worst drought in 1,200 years, which led to severe water stress, losses in agricultural produce and economic losses to the tune of US$2 billion in 2014 alone and wildfires that blew through the fire services budget and further hit the agricultural sector.
In January 2014, Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in California.
In the wake of continued drought, an Executive Order by the State of California called for a 25% reduction in portable urban water usage to relieve pressure on dwindling water resources.
With water stress expected to increase in the years to come, due to climate change and population growth, the cities of California have joined forces with the business community to conserve water and build resilience. No one body is fully in charge of water governance at the water basin level; working together is crucial.
A collaborative approach
Californian cities are responding to increased water stress in a number of creative ways:
Large companies are also getting in on the action:
And through working together with companies, cities have been able to go even further. For example, between April and August 2015, the city of Benicia worked with a leak detection contractor, Utility Services Association to search for water leaks on 125 miles of pipeline throughout the city. They found 49 water leaks and were able to repair the 41 leaks on public city pipes by February 2016.
But company and city action will only go so far without citizen engagement and many Californian cities are also looking to engage their local populations. Benicia, for example, took a very citizen-inclusive and democratic approach to water governance, using public meetings, direct mail and online pledges to engage communities. Coupled with Benicia’s other actions this approach saw Benicia’s water use reduced by 46% by December 2015 compared to 2013 with residents using record low 43 gallons per person per day.
California’s response to the record-breaking drought has built up the state’s resilience to water stress, and has raised awareness of the risks and solutions. As climate change advances, we will see more frequent and more severe droughts and other water risks. The lessons of California show that water resilience can be achieved only by regional cities, companies and citizens working together with shared goals within a holistic strategy.
With the 2015 floods still in the memories of Chennai, the coastal Indian city is working to become a water secure and resilient city.
Chennai is home to 7,600,000 people and counting. Located in the Bay of Bengal on the east coast of India, the city is no stranger to climate risks. In December 2015, Chennai faced the worst flooding in over 100 years. Hundreds of people were killed; millions were left without clean water, and business operations ground to a halt.
Such events are expected to get both more frequent and more severe in years to come.
The worsening flood risk – from both increased rainfall and potential sea level rise – will hit the city’s most vulnerable hardest, with the poorest people who live in informal settlements most a risk. And while flood continues to pose a risk, water scarcity has also become a daily concern for the city’s growing communities.
Intensive ground water extraction has reduced the level of the water table, while the old leaky water distribution infrastructure is wasting this precious resource.
Faced with these risks, the city has begun to invest in resilience. Through an awareness and education program, businesses and citizens are encouraged to save water, while the city is also investing in the construction of a new storm-water management system to collect and utilize storm-water run-off, and is investing in making periodic repairs to the water distribution network to minimize leakage.
These actions are the start of Chennai’s journey to becoming a water-secure and resilient city.
America’s largest navigable waterway is under threat from climate change. Up and down the Mississippi River, cities are collaborating to protect this vital resource for their citizens and industry.
The largest waterway in the United States of America, the Mississippi river winds through ten states across the US heartland. It acts as a vital source of drinking water for more than 20 million people. It is a major freight transport route, a natural habitat and the vital water source for one of the world's most productive agricultural regions.
The river is central to many million livelihoods and fundamental to the biggest economy on the planet.
When the Mississippi River is in trouble, the costs are huge. In August 2016, for example, over US$10 billion of damages were wrought around the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana due to backwater collecting from torrential rainfall.
Since 2005, the Mississippi River Valley has seen record floods, major droughts, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Isaac. Disasters have become persistent and systemic; and as climate change worsens, the will only increase.
Collaborating for shared resilience
To manage the bounty of the river and the risks that come with it, communities in the region are working together in collaboration, under the banner of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), an association of 80 Mississippi River Mayors from across all ten states bordering the river.
In the summer of 2017, mayors from 18 of the river’s key cities gathered in Washington DC to press Members of Congress and White House officials on the need to maintain and restore the infrastructure that manages America’s largest waterway. Their infrastructure proposal has the support of several businesses operating along the Mississippi River, as well as widespread community buy-in.
It is calling for investments totalling US$7.93 billion to restore the river’s floodplains and ecosystems and modernize its lock system.
Aware of the role of natural infrastructure in managing flood risk, the cities’ plans include options to add natural green space to reduce the costs of flood damage. For example, Davenport has adapted to flooding by creating a riverfront park, giving the river room to move and limiting the impact of flooding.
The full infrastructure proposal aims to sustain critical ecological assets, generate $24 billion in economic activity, create 100,000 new jobs, support eight sectors of industry, and mitigate hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster impacts.
This collaborative proposal, which is tailored to the needs and strengths of the region, shows how effective cities and towns can be when tackling water challenges together at the water basin level.
Faced with storm surges and intense rainfall, Rio de Janeiro is investing in innovative water management systems.
Tropical beaches and dramatic hillsides have helped turn Rio de Janeiro into a magnet for tourists. But the city’s geography also makes it vulnerable to climate change: more powerful storms, rising seas and longer heatwaves threaten businesses and citizens alike. With almost 6.5 million inhabitants and growing, the stakes are high.
With this in mind, Rio is taking action. It plans to build its climate resilience and cut emissions, while also making the city a better place to live and work.
With the aim to cut its carbon emissions 20% by 2020 (on 2005 levels), the city government is looking to its congested streets to reduce its impact.
It has installed 450km of cycle lanes to date, with the aim of pushing beyond 550km by 2020.* The city has also invested in 260 bike share stations and educational programs to encourage safe cycling.
Public transport is another important part of Rio’s environmental strategy. A rapid transit bus network now takes people from one end of the city to the other, with three lines in operation and a fourth under construction, all aimed at reducing transport emissions.
Floods and fires
With climate change increasing the frequency of both heatwaves and torrential, Rio is at risk of fires and flooding – so the city government and is responding with a new community alarm system. When rainfall reaches specific thresholds for each district, sirens alert residents to the risk of dangerous landslides. In hotter weather, a smartphone app and an SMS system tell registered users when extreme temperatures are forecast.
Over the longer term, degraded land is being restored to forest to help prevent landslides and fires, and to slow rainwater runoff – all of which cause major problems for the city.
The new forests also provide shade, welcome a wide range of animals, and improve the water quality for the nearby communities.
Almost 108,000 urban trees have also been planted in the last three years, helping to mitigate the urban heat island effect while cleaning the city air.
By investing in transport and green space, Rio has begun its journey towards improving the lives of its citizens, reducing its environmental impact, and adapting to the effects of climate change.
*Rio de Janeiro has updated this goal to elaborate and implement a Cycling Master Plan by 2020, which aims to improve the quality and connectivity of the cycling infrastructure in the City.
Reducing carbon emissions has become a priority for Chicago as it seeks to lead the way towards a sustainable future.
With a summer temperature projected to rise by up to 5°C by 2040, if present trends continue, Chicago is taking steps to prepare itself for future climate change.
Restoring and creating green space is key to the city’s adaptation strategy.
It plans to have 2,000 acres of natural land within the city limits by 2020 – in a bid to lower temperatures during hot weather and to reduce water runoff when it rains.
Since 2016, the city has rebuilt or refurbished 225 parks and planted over 26,000 new trees to make sure all neighborhoods have access to canopy cover and green space. And it’s not stopping there: it aims to plant a further million trees by 2020.
But the city is not only looking to adaptation, it is also doing its part in the fight against climate change.
Under Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Chicago has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Between 2010 and 2015, it had already lowered emissions by 7%, even as its population and economy grew.
Energy and transport are two crucial areas in the city’s environmental strategy.
Chicago closed its last two coal plants as part of its shift to cleaner forms of electricity generation, and is supporting the local electric utility to roll out a US$2.6 billion grid modernization project to integrate new sources of renewable power.
As part of a vast retrofitting project of municipal, commercial and residential buildings, the city has increased the energy efficiency of 54 million square feet of the city’s buildings. In 2015, the city reported a 30% reduction in emissions from waste, thanks to an increase in curbside recycling and an improvement in the technology used to handle landfill waste.
Two wheels are better than four
Chicago has worked its way up to first place in the rankings of America’s most bike friendly cities. It’s created around 100 miles of better bike lanes and expanded its bike share program to over 5,000 bikes. It has also created the Loop Link, a bus and bicycle project that gives people speedy, more sustainable options when travelling around the city. Transport planners are now also looking at creating Chicago’s first fleet of electric buses.
Taxi travel too has become less carbon intensive, with city initiatives encouraging a 600% increase in low-carbon taxis. As of September 2014, they represented roughly 81% of the total number of taxis on the road.