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Insights from the Urban “Oscars”

Stephen Hammer's picture

Boris Johnson, Mayor of LondonIt had all the trappings of a major awards ceremony; a “green carpet” (of actual grass), a scrum of paparazzi chasing the celebrities (in this case, the mayors) entering the building, a laser light show, and a striking (and heavy) trophy for the award winners.

The City Climate Leadership Awards held at the Siemens Crystal building in London on Thursday, September 4th, brought together a “who’s who” of urban experts to recognize cities leading the way in urban climate change governance and performance. Sponsored by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Siemens, the ten award winners were:

  • Bogota’s Transmilenio bus rapid transit system
  • Copenhagen’s plan to make the entire city carbon neutral by 2025
  • Melbourne’s energy efficient buildings finance initiative
  • Mexico City’s ProAire program, which has dramatically improved local air quality
  • Munich’s 100% Green Power program
  • New York City’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience strategy
  • Rio de Janeiro’s Morar Carioca Urban Revitalization strategy
  • San Francisco’s Zero Waste program
  • Singapore’s Intelligent Transport system
  • Tokyo’s cap & trade scheme

London Mayor Boris Johnson kicked off the ceremony, putting the 29 nominees on notice that he was prepared to “shamelessly copy” many of their innovations, tweaking them to fit London’s local context. (He also encouraged visiting mayors to steal ideas from London.)

City of Munich receiving award for Green Energy categoryJudging was the responsibility of a group of 10 urban planning and sustainability experts, including Abha Joshi-Ghani, Director for Knowledge Exchange and Learning at the World Bank Institute. Karin Kemper, the World Bank’s Director of Climate Policy and Finance, along with colleagues from the Bank's Urban Development Unit, ESMAP, and the Task Force to Catalyze Climate Action, attended the awards ceremony, a full day of sessions profiling climate actions in cities around the world, and a separate half-day training program focused on the Global Protocol for Community Scale Emissions (GPC). The sessions were highly illuminating, particularly those focused on measuring and managing local greenhouse gas emissions.

If you haven’t yet heard about it, the GPC is a new, highly rigorous and comprehensive methodology that quantifies the greenhouse gas emissions associated with economic activity and consumption occurring in a city. The GPC should ultimately replace the many different GHG inventory accounting methods employed by cities around the world over the past decade. This multitude of methodologies has made comparisons across cities difficult and raised obvious questions about their accuracy.

To help resolve this situation, the World Bank, UNEP and UN-Habitat coalesced expert opinion around a preferred inventory approach before handing it off to ICLEI, the World Resources Institute, and the C40 for refinement and rollout around the world. More than 35 cities are currently piloting the final beta version of the GPC, which will be formally launched in early 2014. After much review, the Bank has endorsed the use of the GPC, as have other leading city climate technical assistance programs.

The logic of our collective support is clear -- comprehensive greenhouse gas inventories are the essential foundation of sound low-carbon planning efforts in cities. As NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg often says -- and as he repeated in his remarks delivered by video-link at the awards ceremony -- you can’t manage something if you don’t measure it. City mayors and other government officials attending the conference repeatedly echoed that theme.

To use a statistical term, however, the survey sample in London was heavily biased. Virtually all of the cities in attendance there have completed one or more GHG emissions inventories, in some cases updating them on an annual basis. That’s definitely not the situation in most cities.

Earlier this summer, colleagues at the Bank's Urban Development Unit scoured the web, various city network databases, and many different publications and academic journals for information about city GHG inventories. Incredibly, we identified only 181 inventories globally which break out citywide GHG emissions on a comprehensive, sector-by-sector basis. (Dozens of other cities publish per capita numbers but don’t provide sector-by-sector breakdown, which is essential if you want to know which sector to prioritize.)

As shown in the chart below, cities in more developed countries have conducted the vast majority of these inventories; some of these cities were at the conference in London.

To date, only 20 GHG inventories with sector-by-sector breakdowns have been identified for cities in regions where the World Bank provides loans, grants, or technical assistance support. We know our list is not exhaustive, but after consulting our colleagues in and outside the Bank, we’re quite confident it reflects the circumstances on the ground.

So why haven’t more cities prepared and published their sector-by-sector GHG emission inventories? What can be done about it?

Participants at various C40 conference sessions on Thursday and a GPC training session on Friday offered several potential diagnoses: a general lack of knowledge about how to prepare an inventory, difficulty accessing some of the necessary inventory data, and insufficient staff resources.

Several speakers noted that many mayors or local government leaders have yet to be convinced of the value a GHG emissions inventory can bring to their city. Lacking that information, they weren’t willing to invest the staff time or resources to prepare an inventory. Making a related point, one speaker noted that most mayors really don’t care about carbon emissions per se…, they are primarily focused on improving the livability of their city.

In other words, city GHG inventories will only become commonplace if they are recognized as an essential precursor to actions and investments that will improve the lives of people and the development prospects of cities.

This logic aligns neatly with work the World Bank is undertaking as part of its Task Force to Catalyze Climate Action. One of the initiatives we’re pursuing is the development of a global training and accreditation program for industry professionals and local government officials to build their knowledge base on the how-and-why of GHG inventory preparation. (We’re tentatively calling it the ‘GPC-AP’ program.)

Those successfully completing the rigorous program will receive a professional credential indicating a high level of knowledge in urban carbon measurement and low-carbon planning. The LEED-AP program and other industry-based professional accreditation programs offer excellent templates for our new initiative, and we’ll be working with several partner organizations – including the creators of the GPC, education experts, and others – to roll out this program over the next year. The 185,000+ LEED industry professional credential holders around the world are changing the nature of building design – so too will GPC-APs change the nature of low-carbon planning at the city level.

The program will be about more than just the nuts and bolts of how to do an inventory. Our goal is to encourage these professionals to advocate for change in their cities, helping turn evidence into ideas, and ideas into climate action. This means our program must discuss steps cities can take to lower carbon emission levels in cost effective ways. Training modules must highlight how to win support in cities where climate change concerns do not rank high on the local development agenda.

This last point – which is highly germane in many places where the World Bank does business – means pursuing carbon mitigation and climate resilience policies and investments that go hand-in-hand with strategies designed to lift people out of poverty; develop and retain a talented workforce; improve social cohesion; and deliver basic infrastructure services essential to advance the city.

City Climate Leadership Award winners like Bogota, Mexico City, and Rio proved this can be done, as did other developing country nominees including Shanghai, Johannesburg, Lagos, Sao Paulo, and Buenos Aires.

Going forward, we welcome input from city officials and others with suggestions on how to best structure the GPC-AP program. We’d also like to hear from central government officials who may be interested in rolling out this type of program on a countrywide basis. With such support and insights, we're confident that in the not-so-distant future, cities staffed by GPC accredited professionals will be crowding the awards platform at events like those held last week in London.

For more information about the GPC-AP program, please contact Heejoo Lee at hlee11@worldbank.org.