Published on Sustainable Cities

The Earth Hour City Challenge: How cities are leading the way towards a more sustainable future

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Vancouver crowned Earth Hour Capital 2013On the eve of Earth Hour, taking place this Saturday 23 March, WWF this week announced the City of Vancouver in Canada as its Global Earth Hour City Challenge Capital 2013 at an award ceremony in Malmö, Sweden. The Earth Hour City Challenge is an initiative that takes Earth Hour beyond the symbolic gesture of switching off lights for one hour, encouraging concrete action on the ground to combat climate change.

The City Challenge is designed to identify and reward cities that are prepared to become leaders in the global transformation towards a climate-friendly, one planet economy. Working in collaboration with the leading association of cities and local governments dedicated to sustainable development, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, WWF worked across six countries (Canada, India, Italy, Norway, Sweden and USA), from which a total of 76 cities registered for the City Challenge.

Candidate status was granted to 66 cities that demonstrated their commitment to action on climate change by reporting their emissions and energy reduction targets, past performance, completed or ongoing actions to reduce emissions and energy use, and climate action plans. Altogether, these cities reported over 1,000 mitigation actions, of which a substantial number were aimed at increasing the use of renewable energy and moving away from fossil-fuel based activities.

A select international jury judged Vancouver as the city that had most strongly demonstrated that it was prepared to implement holistic, inspiring and credible plans for low-carbon development and for substantially increasing use of sustainable, efficient and renewable energy solutions within the next few decades.

The jury also chose five other national Earth Hour City Challenge capitals – with New Delhi in India, Forlì in Italy, Oslo in Norway, Uppsala in Sweden and San Francisco in the United States all winning their respective country awards. All of these cities demonstrated a considerable level of ambition and commitment along with impressive actions which provide an important and powerful source of inspiration to other cities and people around the world.

Overall, the jury’s choice of global and national capitals largely reflects the depth of city actions, many of which involved reaching out to citizens and other stakeholders to support low-carbon strategies. One of many strong examples of this from Vancouver is its pioneering Neighborhood Energy Strategy. The strategy targets areas of the city with the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions. Through engagement with these communities, the city is developing Neighborhood Energy Systems which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these neighborhoods by up to 70% by 2020.

Oslo’s involvement in FutureBuilt, a collaborative effort involving a number of central government agencies and various architecture and construction companies, is another case in point. The 10-year programme, running until 2020, is aiming to complete 50 pilot projects with the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions. FutureBuilt has a strong reputation for innovation, competence building and knowledge exchange.

San Francisco is also reaching out to local communities through its Business Council on Climate Change (BC3). The scheme involves the city partnering with local businesses to reduce emissions and help meet the city’s sustainability goals. BC3 members commit to taking specific actions to reduce their emissions while the municipality has helped them by facilitating the use of electric vehicles and promoting projects such as its green tenant toolkit which is designed to enhance landlord-tenant engagement on sustainability.

These examples and many others from the top 17 shortlisted cities can be found through the Earth Hour City Challenge’s People’s Choice campaign website. The website was designed to generate wider public interest and excitement about sustainability actions in cities by giving the public a chance to vote via social media for their favorite finalist city for the People’s Choice award. Many cities have attracted positive responses reflecting a wide public enthusiasm and encouragement for cities across the globe to take significant action to accelerate the global transition to a truly renewable future. For example, the ambitious measures taken by New Delhi to overhaul its mass transit system have received extremely positive online responses.

WWF is now looking to further expand the City Challenge for next year and will invite cities from an additional six countries – Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia and South Korea – to join the next round of the Earth Hour City Challenge, which will start already this April. A key theme for next year’s challenge will be how cities are investing in renewable energy and divesting from fossil fuels.

Globally, $350 trillion dollars is expected to be spent on urban infrastructure investment and use over the next three decades. These investments can either lock us into a fossil-fuel dependent future – or help drive a global transition towards a sustainable, climate safe future. The expansion of the City Challenge reflects an urgency to encourage cities to follow the great examples described above and become global solution hotspots for a climate friendly and sustainable future.

Overall, the Earth Hour City Challenge demonstrates that cities across the globe are at the forefront of efforts to meet the global climate challenge. Cites have strong potential to work with their citizens and other stakeholders to drive the transition to a more sustainable future. WWF believes that highlighting strong city actions can also place further pressure for determined action at national and global levels, which will be pivotal in deciding whether humanity can stave off catastrophic climate change and secure its long-term wellbeing. 

Earth Hour City Challenge Jury

  • Gino van Begin, Secretary General of ICLEI
  • Martha Delgado, General Director of the Secretariat of the Global Cities Covenant on Climate - the Mexico City Pact
  • Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary
  • Dan Hoornweg, Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology
  • Simon Giles, Senior Principal Intelligent Cities, Accenture Global, Accenture
  • Pietro Laureano, architect and urban planner, UNESCO consultant
  • Conor Riffle, Head of CDP Cities
  • Amanda Eichel, Director of Initiatives and City Support, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group


Jim Leape

Director General, WWF International

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