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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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4 Opportunities for U.S. States, Cities and Businesses to Step Up for America’s Pledge

Wed, 2017-12-13 14:13

Cities like Chicago are stepping up on climate action. Photo by Josh Koonce/Flickr

Ultimately, the work on climate change is done on the ground and is up to each of us. That is why America’s Pledge on climate is so important, as former U.S. President Barack Obama told city leaders in Chicago last week at the inaugural Global Covenant of Mayors North American Climate Summit. Policymakers from around the world met at the conference to look for ways to do more to tackle climate change, a drive we’re also seeing from states and businesses.

At a time when the Trump administration is abdicating the U.S. position as a climate leader, a growing number of U.S. states, cities and businesses are stepping up to take strong climate action.

report released this fall from America’s Pledge, an initiative co-chaired by Michael Bloomberg, UN special envoy on cities and climate, and California Governor Jerry Brown, shows how these non-federal actors can do more, including these four key opportunities:

1. Boost Renewable Energy

States can boost renewable energy by setting tougher renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to generate an increasing share of their power from solar, wind and other renewable sources. New York and California have already done so. Utility customers – including cities, businesses and other consumers – can go beyond what’s required by participating in the voluntary clean power market. This market accounts for more than a quarter of all renewable energy sales in the United States. States can encourage cities and businesses to buy more renewable power by investing in grid infrastructure to benefit wind and solar producers. In states with Community Choice Aggregation, which allows individual customers to pool their purchasing power, cities can choose to buy clean energy for entire communities. Big energy buyers such as large tech companies and universities can also send strong market signals to utilities by investing in clean energy to power their operations. There’s plenty of room for growth in this area, since voluntary purchases – those made beyond what regulations require – still only represent about 3 percent of total annual electric utility sales.

Voluntary renewable PPAs signed by sector, by year (MW)

The tech industry has led the PPA market (with the largest purchases coming from Google, Amazon, and Apple), with a spike occurring in 2015 amid uncertainty over federal tax incentives for renewables. (Source: NREL 2017).

2. Tighten building energy codes

While building energy codes have improved the efficiency of new and modified buildings, there’s potential to do more. For new buildings, stronger codes to foster energy efficiency need to be put in place, implemented quickly – most states now rely on less rigorous, outdated codes – and effectively enforced. Existing buildings need to be brought into the mix, with building energy codes tailored to them. Taking the lead, New York City recently announced a plan to reduce emissions of its existing buildings by 7 percent by 2035 through mandated energy standards.

3. New Policies to Cut Vehicle Emissions

Private sector innovation and a movement toward zero-emission vehicles could shift the growing transport sector away from fossil fuels, and auto-makers are already on board. States can help accelerate this trend through stronger mandates for zero-emission vehicles and support for development of next generation technologies and recharging and hydrogen refueling stations. Policies now on the books in eight states could put an estimated 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road in 2025. If all 50 states followed these policies, there could be more than four times that many.

4. Capture Methane

To help cut down on methane emissions, which contribute approximately 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, states could offer financial incentives to encourage methane capture from landfills and dairy and hog farms to produce renewable natural gas through landfill gas projects and biogas recovery systems.

In addition, states could encourage research and development to find better ways to curb livestock emissions. To ease repair of methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, cities are starting to use data gleaned by Google Street View Cars fitted with special air quality sensors that show where the leaks are. Public-private collaboration lets gas utilities identify and prioritize the leakiest sections of their infrastructure, with benefits for customers and the environment.

Example output of a methane-sensing technology for the City of Boston created by the Environmental Defense Fund, Google, and Colorado State University (Source: Environmental Defense Fund).

Other Opportunities to Step Up
  • Boost efficiency and distributed generation for manufacturers through financing, regulation and other support to enable U.S. industries that rely mostly on fossil fuels to upgrade facilities with more efficient equipment, renewable energy and lower-carbon energy.
  • Cut back on hydrofluorocarbon use and emissions by banning sales of refrigerants, foams and aerosols that contain these climate-warming chemicals, using less harmful alternatives where available and encouraging development of alternative technologies.
  • Expand carbon pricing networksby adopting policies in individual states or joining  existing markets such as California’s or RGGI’s, as Virginia has recently proposed. Existing carbon markets can expand to cover emissions from more sectors, and private companies can adopt internal carbon pricing to manage climate risk.

States, cities and businesses are already tackling GHG emissions and the opportunities listed above show that non-federal actors can go even farther.

Over the next year, America’s Pledge will build on these opportunities by analyzing the greenhouse gas emissions reduction potential from both existing and more ambitious non-federal actions.

This article has been adapted from a version that appeared on’s Insights.

Kristin Igusky is an Associate with WRI’s Global Climate Program.

Karen Chen is an America’s Pledge Intern with WRI’s Climate Program.

Tom Cyrs is an America’s Pledge Intern with WRI’s Climate Program.

What Makes a Complete Street? A Brief Guide

Mon, 2017-12-11 14:13

Complete Streets Section. Graphic by WRI

This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.

Many cities have streets that make life difficult for pedestrians in ways that are not always obvious – uneven and disconnected sidewalks, dangerously long crosswalks, and pathways too close to fast-moving traffic, to name a few. To remedy this, a movement has emerged to encourage a new way of designing urban roadways called “complete streets.”

The concept of complete streets places the same priority on pedestrians, bicyclists and public transport users as on motorists. The initiative aims to improve the quality of life for all users by designing streets that are both safe public spaces and enable high-performance, sustainable transportation networks.

The U.S. states of Oregon and Florida were among the first to elevate the needs of cyclists and pedestrians during roadway projects in the 1970s and 80s. Later, the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation included elements of complete streets in its guidance. The National Complete Streets Coalition was founded by a coalition of advocacy groups, as well as the AARP, American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects. They launched the complete streets movement in 2004, to promote the development and implementation of relevant policies and professional practices.

To date, more than 1,140 agencies at the local, regional, and state levels have adopted complete streets policies in the United States, totalling more than 1,200 policies nationwide. The success of these initiatives, in terms of promoting more active transport modes, more functional and attractive streetscapes, and reducing traffic fatalities, has led other countries to adopt similar concepts. They are the so-called calles completas in Mexico, ruas completas in Brazil, and “streets for all” in India.

Global Examples of Complete Streets; Graphic by WRI

So, what do complete streets, in their various forms, look like? While the approach varies from place to place and it is crucial to understand a roadway in the context of the area around it, there are key elements that tend to appear in the mix.

1. An Active Streetscape

A community where people share experiences and interact on a day-to-day basis tends to be a safer community. A mix of interactive uses such as commercial, retail and food service can encourage an active streetscape. Commercial and retail facades not only encourage foot traffic but add colour and diversity to the street. Residential and office spaces, which receive less foot traffic, are better situated above the first floors.

Plazas can also attract crowds and encourage pedestrian use. In terms of specific design features, transitions between sidewalks and plazas should allow easy access for all users, and in an era where people rely on smartphones for navigation, communication and socializing, public wi-fi can be a boon.

2. Pedestrian-Scale Lighting

Well-lit environments are just as important, if not more so, for pedestrians and cyclists as for motorists. Street lighting provides a safer and more secure environment in terms of both traffic safety and crime. Lighting also affects the way spaces are experienced. The lighting and ambience it contributes to can vary substantially for a plaza compared to an outdoor café or green walkway, for example, just as their users do.

Public lighting adds to a city’s total energy consumption, so energy costs and sustainability should factor into designs. Many newer projects, like the Boulder Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, use solar panel technology and motion sensors to save energy and reduce environmental impact.

3. Green Infrastructure

Areas with trees, shrubs and grasses, often referred to as “greenscapes,” benefit cities environmentally, socially and economically. Rain gardens and bio-swales capture stormwater runoff so it infiltrates into the soil rather than flooding over concrete surfaces. Greenscapes help replenish groundwater reserves, provide relief from the “heat island” effect and filter polluted air. Some plants provide phytoremediatve properties that naturally clean hazardous pollutants in the soil.

Green infrastructure also adds visual quality, character and health-restoring properties to a street. Studies show that even a short walk through a green space can reduce stress levels and improve people’s mental well-being.

4. Street Furniture

Street furniture has the potential to improve the experience of a public space and make it more active. It can take shape as benches and chairs or be integrated into walls, buildings, tree beds and planters. It serves as space for pedestrians to relax, enjoy and rest, encouraging foot and sometimes bicycle traffic. Bicycle racks, trash bins, bollards, community kiosks, art installations and transit shelters are forms of street furniture that have additional utility.

5. Bicycle Facilities

Making streets more bicycle-friendly is often a central tenet of complete streets projects. The number of people choosing bicycles for short commutes tends to rise significantly after the introduction of protected bike lanes, for example. Various facilities, like bicycle parking, shelters and repair stations, also help improve the experience for cyclists and broadcast safety and comfort to users. They can also improve density and encourage compact development. In the space occupied by a single car parking space, it is possible to accommodate up to 14 bicycles.

6. Signage

Traffic signs are designed to ensure the safety of all road users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike. They serve as an important traffic management tool and should minimize the potential for errors by users. In terms of priorities for pedestrians, it’s important that signage clearly warns motorists where to expect crossings and indicate preferred crossing locations for pedestrians. Signage for cyclists can ensure they are on the right track if they are sharing a road or have the lane to themselves. It can also prepare users for changes in traffic and road conditions.

7. Accessibility for All

Navigating a busy city can be challenging for anyone, let alone users with disabilities. Like buildings, roads should be designed to accommodate all people, regardless of their ability, disability or age, without the need for special assistance. In addition to accessible sidewalks and crossings, attention should be paid to design details such as guide strips for the visually impaired; sidewalk materials and tactile markings to avoid slips and falls; clearly marked parking bays for people with mobility constraints; compliant Braille signage; wheelchair ramps; and markings for motorists near special needs schools and similar zones.

8. Surface Types

Finally, material selection for streets and public spaces can have an impact on durability, sustainability, safety and the experience of users. In general, permeable paving materials such as porous asphalt, permeable concrete and soft paving are more desirable over non-permeable ones. They aid in reducing stormwater run-off, require less maintenance and improve water quality. They can also provide grip and ensure pedestrian safety even during difficult weather conditions. Other factors include road function, type of traffic, vehicle and pedestrian flows, site topography, type of subsoil, functionality and cost.

Complete streets designs ensure mobility to road users of all types by designing facilities that are safe, accessible, and welcoming. They can improve the efficiency of a space, reduce congestion as well as improve the performance of transport networks. Keep an eye out for elements of complete streets in your neighbourhood – and if you don’t see them, help make cities better for everyone by getting involved or speaking to your local government.

Nikita Luke is a Sustainable Transportation Intern with the Health and Road Safety Program of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Anna Bray Sharpin is a Transportation Associate in the Road Safety and Health practice area of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Ben Welle is the Global Health and Road Safety Manager for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Mayors: Don’t Let Food Waste Be a Wasted Opportunity

Wed, 2017-12-06 14:13

More than 1 billion tons of food goes uneaten each year. Photo by Geraint Rowland

An Open Letter to the World’s Mayors:

Welcome to Chicago! As you gather this week at a major climate summit, I hope you will make the most of your time in one of the world’s best food cities. Try the popcorn, the Chicago dogs, the deep-dish pizza and the haute cuisine. While you’re savoring, it would be fitting for you to discuss how to fight climate change.

That’s because food  –  and the amount we let go to waste  –  presents a real opportunity for mayors. More than 1 billion tons of food (about a third of all that is produced) goes uneaten each year. Food that is lost or wasted is responsible for 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the world’s third largest emitter, right after China and the United States.

Helping households, businesses and others get a handle on food waste doesn’t just make sense for the planet. It can also be a money saver for cities. Earlier this year, a report from Champions 12.3 –  a group of CEOs, government ministers and other leaders, including myself, who are all committed to halving food loss and waste  –  presented a case study from London’s experience. In 2012, six London boroughs began an initiative to reduce the amount of household food waste. Efforts included radio and print outreach, tips on correct food storage, community events, food waste measurement and monitoring, and more.

For every £1 the boroughs spent on the initiative, they saved £8 in avoided waste management costs, and households saved £84 on food they otherwise would have purchased and eventually thrown away. In total, some £15.5 million was saved. The success was apparent quickly. After just six months, household food waste dropped 15 percent, an environmental impact equivalent to taking 9,000 cars off the road.

London has continued to tackle food waste through the TRiFOCAL project, which aims to engage households, businesses, schools and community groups to promote healthy and sustainable eating, prevent food waste, and recycle more unavoidable food waste. Among other targets, the project looks to reduce avoidable food waste by 20 percent, increase the amount of unavoidable food waste that’s recycled by 5 percent, and save Londoners £300 million by 2019.

London’s experience indicates that other cities might also reap significant financial and environmental returns from reducing food loss and waste, and the TRiFOCAL project will provide valuable insights and lessons that others can learn from. These lessons and those from seven other European cities that are replicating the project  –  including Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Milan and Oslo  – will be made available in an online resource platform open to city leaders worldwide.

The landmark Paris Agreement rallied the world to urgently address climate change. To have a likely chance of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) above pre-industrial levels and for the least cost, global greenhouse gas emissions must hit their peak by 2020 and be cut in half by 2050. Cities, as population centers and hubs of innovation, must lead the way.

Mayors, please don’t let reducing food waste be a wasted opportunity.

This article originally appeared on Medium.

Liz Goodwin is Senior Fellow and Director for Food Loss and Waste at World Resources Institute. She is also Chair of the London Waste and Recycling Board.

In a Global First, Shenzhen Steers Toward 100% Electric Bus Fleet

Mon, 2017-12-04 20:00

Shenzhen is set to become the first city in the world to have a fully electrified bus fleet. Photo by Jo./Flickr

From a small collection of fishing villages 40 years ago to a metropolis on track for a global milestone, Shenzhen has come further, faster than most cities. Already home to the largest fleet of electric buses in the world – roughly 14,500 at the end of May – the city is expected to electrify 100 percent of its public transit bus fleet by the end of 2017. If successful, it will become the first in the world to do so.

Battery-powered electric buses can provide environmental and health benefits, such as zero tailpipe emissions, energy savings, less noise and fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Besides helping large cities struggling with poor air quality, this type of technology can reduce fuel costs, improve energy security,widespread adoption in cities around the world.

Members of the global WRI Ross Center vehicle efficiency team, facilitated by WRI China, recently visited the Shenzhen Bus Group, one of Shenzhen’s three major bus operators with around electric 5,700 buses, to learn about their experience transitioning from diesel and adapting to new technologies.

Overcoming Barriers

Shenzhen’s electric bus fleet is composed of 10 to 12-meter local buses (left) and 8-meter buses (right), which run as connecting shuttles or provide suburban services. Photo by Anqi Zhao.

Despite its promise, many city bus operators around the world have run into barriers adopting and operating electric buses. There is often concern about high capital costs, uncertainty about battery performance, and a lack of incentives from local and national governments.

Shenzhen began adopting electric buses in 2009, under a national electric vehicle demonstration program that challenged 10 cities across China to deploy at least 1,000 electric vehicles each year for three years. Since then, the city has released multiple policies and targets supporting the industry and brought more electric buses into its own fleet.

To alleviate high capital costs and other potential risks, Shenzhen adopted several different business models. The city experimented with different leasing mechanisms for vehicles and batteries to avoid long-term lock-in, and it distributed operational risks among stakeholders – between bus operators, bus manufacturers, utility companies and other service providers. For example, electric bus manufacturers are currently responsible for maintaining batteries and scrapping old diesel buses, as opposed to the operators.

Drivers waiting for buses to charge. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

Aside from financial risks, battery range and charging issues are common concerns. Sometimes batteries don’t support a full route per charge, which reduces operational efficiency and increases costs. Shenzhen Bus Group’s solution was charging between driver shifts, which usually take 30 minutes, and charging overnight at depots, which usually takes around two hours. Also, if there are charging facilities at the initial and final stops of certain routes, managers told us no additional charging time is needed to maintain regular service.

To further improve efficiency, Shenzhen Bus Group developed an “octopus” charging station that can connect to four buses at a time. Though the model doesn’t support simultaneous charging, the buses don’t need to maneuver around the charger, saving time and reducing the need for additional charging stations.

The Shenzhen Bus Group depot. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

The Shenzhen Bus Group depot we visited can house around 20 buses at the same time. They are parked underneath overhangs equipped with solar panels and shared charging facilities. While the solar panels provide electricity to power depot lighting, there isn’t actually enough capacity to recharge buses, a goal that will require more innovation. In Marrakech, a GEF and UNDP supported one megawatt solar farm contributes to charging a small number of vehicles in the city’s bus rapid transit fleet, but the amount of solar panels needed per bus makes scaling difficult currently .

Buses park under overhangs with solar panels. Photo by Xiangyi Li.

Shenzhen Bus Group also operates electric taxis and other commercial vehicles, as part of the city’s plan to improve air quality. These projects provide additional lines of revenue, enabling the company to expand and enhance its electric fleet.

The Global Climate Challenge

Beyond reducing air pollution, Shenzhen’s buses are a crucial part of the city’s – and the nation’s – efforts to reduce carbon emissions. China’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement prioritize public transport and encourage the development and adoption of new energy vehicles. The public transit buses in Shenzhen account for only 0.5 percent of the city’s vehicle stock, but , according to the Transport Commission of Shenzhen Municipality.

Despite the fact that coal power plants still account for 66 percent of electricity generation in China, local researchers estimate Shenzhen’s electric buses can reduce 48 percent of CO2 emissions, compared to diesel buses, and up to 100 percent of other local pollutants. Gains could be even greater with a different energy mix.

The WRI Ross Center vehicle efficiency team and our hosts at the Shenzhen Bus Group. Photo by Lu Lu.

In addition to environmental benefits, the Shenzhen Bus Group reported financial benefits, including fuel cost savings, less maintenance, and reduced or no overhaul. Operators said they expected labor costs to increase due to the uncertainties of the technology and unexpected breakdowns, but these costs have yet to materialize. One electric bus can replace 0.95 diesel buses, according to their estimates, with operating savings compensating for higher initial capital and financial costs.

Shenzhen’s experience is a model for others. The city managed to innovate in procurement, operation and maintenance, all framed inside broader national and local policies and targets. It’s a powerful example of diverse urban stakeholders accelerating the adoption of cleaner technologies in the transport sector.

Shenzhen is likely to be the first city to pass the 100 percent electrification milestone – but it won’t be the last.

We would like to especially thank the WRI China team for their efforts arranging this visit.

Xiangyi Li is a Research Analyst at the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Sebastian Castellanos is an Associate with the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities where he leads the low carbon transport offer.

Schuyler Null is a Communications Associate for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Toward Car-Free Cities: Beijing Seeks an Inroad to Sustainable Transport

Thu, 2017-11-30 19:46

Traffic overwhelms an intersection during peak hours in Beijing. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

Toward Car-Free Cities,” a blog series by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Urban Mobility Team, explores the challenges and opportunities for Transport Demand Management (TDM) strategies. TDM focuses on reducing the demand for private vehicles through combining public policy and private sector solutions. It is an essential component for comprehensive sustainable transport planning that complements public transit, walking and biking.

Through the different lenses of New York City, Bogotá, Stockholm, Beijing and London, the series examines the social and political barriers that cities need to overcome to successfully implement TDM strategies. The blog series also discusses the future trends of TDM and its implications, particularly in the developing world.

In 2016, vehicle ownership reached 5.7 million in Beijing, roughly equal to the total number of registered vehicles in all of Sweden. The soaring number of cars and trucks on the roads have made Beijing one of the worst cities to commute in. According to Gaode Map, commuters spend an average of 31 minutes per hour in traffic jams during peak times.

Having realized that expanding capacity can simply induce more travel demand and worsen congestion, Beijing’s government is experimenting with a number of TDM strategies.

A Plan to Decentralize  

While most jobs are distributed evenly between the five major ring roads of Beijing, half of all residents live outside of the Fifth Ring Road. This skewed balance between jobs and housing, a result of disordered urban sprawl, has led to unevenly distributed traffic patterns and congestion during rush hour. Additionally, the city center is incredibly dense, for both jobs and housing, imposing high transport and environmental costs on the area.

Beijing’s city center has a high density of jobs and housing, leading to high congestion. The city is intentionally working to move businesses outside the central district to reduce traffic and pollution. Graphic by WRI

One way to curb traffic is to reduce the number of residences and jobs in the city center. To this end, the municipal government is planning to decentralize the city into four main areas serving political, cultural, international communication and scientific functions.

Additionally, government agencies and affiliated organizations are being moved to Tongzhou district, a satellite town 20 kilometers southeast of the city. Following government-related jobs, some 400,000-500,000 residents are expected to move from the city center to Tongzhou by 2030. The central government also plans to move non-state owned companies out of Beijing in the hopes of reducing population and job density in the city center.

Growing Support for Congestion Charging

In addition to decentralizing Beijing, the government is considering implementing congestion charging to reduce traffic. Congestion charging is one of the most effective TDM measures, with demonstrated success in London, Singapore and Stockholm. The idea is to alleviate congestion by curbing travel demand without increasing infrastructure. Serious discussion about the possibility of congestion charging in Beijing started in May 2010, when former Deputy Minister Qiu of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development published an article in a Chinese academic journal suggesting it could be an effective solution.

A key element in the success of congestion charging is public support. Partnering with Beijing Jiaotong University, WRI China recently carried out a social media analysis of congestion charging from 2010 to 2017. The project provides a preliminary understanding public sentiment toward congestion charging.

In addition to social media, WRI China partnered with Beijing Jiaotong University to conduct two public opinion surveys in 2016 and 2017, each involving more than 10,000 residents. One result of the surveys is that people tend to be more supportive of congestion charging when they are better informed. WRI China is dedicated to promoting public education and communication around congestion charging to help residents understand how it works and what it can do. The team has assisted the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport in engaging with residents in the policymaking process, utilizing multiple channels to reach residents, including brochures, blogs, TV programs, trainings and seminars.

The results seem to be positive. Following the second survey, public acceptance of congestion charging increased from 23 to 26 percent, and there was a 15 percent shift from opposing to neutral.

A TDM Playground

Beijing has experimented with other TDM measures, including regional traffic and vehicle ownership restrictions.

In May 2016, the municipal government suggested dynamic tolls, an increase in parking fees, and consideration of congestion charging and dynamic fees for public transport and taxis (higher cost in peak hours and lower costs off-peak). In April 2017, the department released a draft of new parking regulations, which require dynamic parking fees according to parking location, length of stay and arrival/departure time of parking. Four months later, the government announced a new low-emission zone for trucks within the Sixth Ring Road, covering most of the built-up area of the city. The government is also investing in non-motorized transport infrastructure, flexible working schedules and early bird subway discounts, to discourage the use of private vehicles.

The results of these TDM efforts have been mixed so far. In the first quarter of 2017, the traffic delay index increased by 2 percent from the year before, but in the second quarter, the index decreased by 9 percent.

The city is still searching for the right measures. This year, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport created a high-tech research and development team to work with universities and research institutes to explore new solutions, and the rising palatability for congestion charging bodes well for more options in future years. Beijing’s challenges are not unique; what’s clear is that Beijing’s experience will provide a valuable roadmap for other cities seeking to reduce congestion and improve the sustainability of their transport sectors.

Shiyong Qiu is a Research Analyst for WRI China.

Ying Wang is a Research Associate for WRI China.

How Global Policy Does (and Does Not) Account for Walking and Cycling

Mon, 2017-11-27 14:13

Walking and cycling account for 30-40 percent of all trips in Latin American cities, but its ubiquity isn’t necessarily reflected in the global agenda. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

This series, supported by the Volvo Research and Educational Foundation, discusses walking and cycling in cities with a special focus on low- and middle-income countries.

Walking and cycling are getting more and more attention in wealthy cities, as ideas about pedestrianization and safer street designs grow in popularity. Walking and cycling produce the least pollution of any urban transport mode, foster health benefits, decrease traffic congestion, and can help address traffic safety by protecting vulnerable users. But in many of the fastest growing cities in the world, people walk or bicycle out of necessity.

Walking and cycling levels in low- and middle-income countries are on par with or surpass those of public transport. In most Latin American cities, walking and cycling comprise 30 to 40 percent of all trips. Some 2.5 billion people are expected to be added to cities by 2050, most in low- and middle-income countries. Chances are, many millions more will walk or cycle to their homes, jobs and friends every day in the years ahead.

Yet there is a mixed record of addressing these important modes of transport in global development agendas.

The New Urban Agenda, launched at the Habitat III summit last year, mentions walking and cycling 10 times – a welcome change compared to previous iterations, which mentioned them just once. But there is no direct reference to them in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and only passing reference in climate targets and other major global policy agreements. Despite this, governments interested in the benefits of urban walking and cycling will find they fit well under several existing elements of the global agenda.

The Sustainable Development Goals

There are clear ways that supporting walking and cycling contributes to development objectives. The SDGs contain two goals that primarily relate to walking and bicycling: Goal 3, to foster good health and well-being; and Goal 11, to provide sustainable cities and communities, as well as connections to sustainable infrastructure, gender and climate change.

For example, safety of pedestrian and cyclists will be necessary to meet the road safety target to halve road deaths, and walking and cycling also provide an easy form of physical activity that positively contributes to health.

Providing safe public spaces that are accessible to all will entail making cities bicycle and walking friendly, and these modes have a clear connection to addressing climate change.

Additional connections can be inferred through goals for sustainable infrastructure and climate change.

The New Urban Agenda

The New Urban Agenda is the outcome document agreed on at the Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador in 2016. It is expected to guide urban policy for countries, cities, international development funders, UN programs and civil society for the next 20 years.

Contrary to the outcome of the previous two Habitat agendas in 1976 and 1996, which mention cycling just a single time, the New Urban Agenda mentions cycling five times and walking or pedestrians an additional five times. Citiscope further notes that unlike in the SDGs, cycling and walking are “explicitly promoted and implicitly encouraged through an overall emphasis on human-scale and people-centered planning.” This includes fostering road safety, particularly for school children, encouraging accessible public space for walking and cycling, and supporting sustainable mobility that explicitly includes walking and cycling.

The Paris Agreement and More

In addition, promotion of safe walking and cycling are significant aspects of other global efforts, such as the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases and the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety.

There’s also the Paris Agreement and potential for more climate connections. Although the agreement itself does not specifically reference transport, countries have committed to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that indicate what they will do to meet global emissions targets. A review by SLoCaT found that 74 percent of the NDCs submitted so far mention urban transport, though only 14 percent specifically reference walking and cycling.

Source: Share of Mitigation Measures in NDCs by Mode and Sub-Sector Source: SloCaT

Getting to Action

Clearly, there is more attention than ever to walking and cycling, even if it’s sometimes somewhat hidden. A 2016 UN Environment Programme report that surveyed walking and cycling issues and policies in 25 low- to middle-income countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America found that most had a policy at some level intended to give walking and cycling more attention. But it also found that commitments varied widely from “relatively insubstantial” sections in a general transport or mobility policy to “standalone national walking and cycling policies.”

Source: Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling by UNEP

Mere mention of walking and cycling in a document does not make for real progress for commuters and residents and businesses.

The UN Environment Programme report recommends countries draft and implement national and local policies, dedicate at least 20 percent of transport budgets to walking and cycling infrastructure, gather better data, and address concerns of key users such as women, children and the elderly. Overall, they recommend cities and national governments give walking and cycling equal status to that of private cars.

Though a higher profile in the SDGs would have been welcome, the global agenda contains more to support walking and cycling than any other time. As this year’s climate conference showed, the emphasis for many global development agendas is now shifting from commitment to action, and the same is true for walking and cycling. It will likely require country and city-level actors to take charge and emphasize walking and cycling in planning and budgeting.

Ben Welle is a Senior Associate for Urban Mobility at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Nikita Luke is a Sustainable Transportation Intern with the Health and Road Safety Program in Washington, D.C.

Despite Some Major Bumps, Bonn Climate Summit Got the Job Done

Wed, 2017-11-22 14:13

Where will COP23 take us? Photo by WRI/Flickr

By the time the last gavel came down early in the morning of November 18, international climate negotiators in Bonn paved the way to the next climate summit in Katowice, Poland in 2018. There, the rules underpinning the Paris Agreement will be finalized and countries can signal their commitments to enhance national climate plans by 2020.

Encouraging news on the sidelines of the negotiations added helpful momentum. New WRI research found that 49 countries have already peaked their emissions. A new coalition of countries pledged to phase out the burning of coal by 2030, or never start in the first place. The world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, based in Norway, offered a proposal to divest from oil and gas holdings, which could have significant ripple effects. The Kigali Amendment crossed the 20-country threshold for entry into force, under which all countries have agreed to replace hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases, with climate-safe alternatives. Despite the Trump administration’s stated intention to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, American businesses, cities, states and others showed up to give a full-throated endorsement of climate action. And there was a vast array of initiatives showcasing climate solutions for all levels and sectors.

America’s Pledge launch event at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. Flickr/WRIPhoto by WRI/Flickr

But while we can celebrate this incremental progress, trends in global emissions show we are not on track to avoid the most economically and environmentally devastating climate impacts. According to a new report, greenhouse gases from human activities will reach their highest levels yet this year, after three years of flatlining. Around the world, we have yet to make the comprehensive economic and societal shifts – from how we power our homes and build our cities to how we feed our families and move around – needed to keep climate change in check. We are still nibbling at the edges of this monumental challenge, and the clock is ticking.

Given that, countries will need to bring added energy in 2018 to complete the rules for the Paris Agreement and send clear signals that they will strengthen action in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020.

Below, WRI’s International Climate experts share insights on key developments at COP23:

Paris Rulebook

Negotiators made headway on the rules and procedures underpinning the Paris Agreement. To finalize the Paris rulebook by next year, countries must intensify efforts and carefully navigate topics such as transparency, accounting of emissions and finance, and the process for raising ambition over time. At Bonn, the most progress was made on the sensitive issue of transparency. Over the coming year, negotiators will need to balance providing flexibility to developing countries that need it because of their different capacities, while still ensuring all countries are guided by the same principles for improving their data overtime and providing the predictability that countries and markets need on climate finance.

Negotiators still need to find areas of convergence on how they can take stock of their climate efforts every five years, including how to address equity issues in that process. The Paris rulebook will need to rise higher on countries’ political agendas to ensure we achieve clear outcomes in 2018 that will advance a level playing field for all countries and provide the market signals needed to help underpin the transformation to a low-carbon, climate-resilient world.

Talanoa Dialogue

After intensive consultations, the Fiji Presidency unveiled a roadmap for the 2018 Talanoa Dialogue, a year-long process to assess collective progress and identify opportunities for countries to strengthen action. The Talanoa Dialogue is a first step in the cycles of progressive ambition taking place every five years, which is a core feature of the Paris Agreement.

Jointly led by Fiji and Poland, this process will include a preparatory phase starting in early 2018 and culminate in a political phase at the ministerial level during next year’s climate summit. The roadmap highlights the importance of setting clear, forward-looking signals to inform more ambitious NDCs, which are needed to decrease global emissions. The Talanoa roadmap also includes an important role for other actors including cities, businesses, unions, faith and civil society groups, as well as global, national and regional events throughout 2018.

The climate summit hosted in 2013 in Warsaw, Poland was the birthplace for NDCs. Thus, throughout 2018 and during COP24, the Polish Presidency can again show leadership by working with Fiji to smooth the path to the next round of NDCs, sending clear signals that countries will enhance their climate commitments by 2020.

Pre-2020 Action

An appeal by developing countries for accelerated climate action before 2020 in order to ensure that commitments already made are honored was an unexpectedly prominent issue in Bonn. Developing countries called on developed countries to deliver on pledges made around both emissions reductions and mobilization of finance. Similarly, the need for developed countries to complete ratification of the second commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which concludes in 2020, was highlighted. Delegates reached common ground by agreeing to special stocktaking sessions in 2018 and 2019.

Research shows that global emissions need to peak and start to decline significantly by 2020 to have a chance of keeping global temperature rise well under 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), and thus ward off the most dangerous climate impacts. Immediate action is of paramount importance.

Adaptation and Loss and Damage

As climate change intensifies, so will the consequences for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Negotiators made only procedural decisions on the adaptation-related mandates of the Paris Agreement. Next year will be critical for important substantive issues, such as how to recognize what developing countries are doing to adapt, how all countries will assess adaptation actions and support, and how they will seek to mobilize more support.

Recognizing that loss and damage will still occur even if countries do more to reduce emissions and adapt, Parties acknowledged the important work of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) in exploring issues such as displacement, extreme weather events and slow onset events. They also asked WIM’s Executive Committee to convene an expert dialogue in 2018 (coined the “Suva Dialogue”) to explore ways to enhance support for loss and damage, including finance.


Germany, Sweden, Italy, Belgium and its southern region of Wallonia, and Ireland made $185 million in new financial pledges to the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund, which will support urgent adaptation needs in vulnerable countries. Negotiators agreed that the 10-year-old Adaptation Fund will be formally linked to the Paris Agreement next year, giving clarity on its future.

In addition to adaptation finance, negotiators grappled with the key question of how countries would communicate about future financial support – both ex-ante as well as ex-post – for climate action in developing countries. Negotiators agreed to allow additional time to discuss these issues in the preparatory sessions between now and the 2018 climate summit.

Non-Federal Action and U.S. Leadership

The most inspiring voices at COP23 came from city, state and business leaders from around the globe. We heard from companies like HP, Mars and Walmart, which are among the more than 320 major companies that have committed to or already set science-based emissions reduction targets. Mayors shared what they are doing as part of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which brings together 7,500 cities and local governments with the potential to reduce 1.7 billion tons of emissions. Governors showed they were ready to lead on the global stage no matter what obstacles stand in their path.

This was especially true for non-federal actors from the United States. The America’s Pledge report shows that U.S. states, cities and businesses – representing more than half the U.S. economy and population have stepped up to fill the void left by the Trump administration’s stated intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Taken together, these states and cities alone would be the 3rd largest economy in the world.

The Trump administration was soundly criticized for using its single official event at COP23 to pitch universal access to fossil fuels as a sound climate strategy. During the negotiations, Syria joined the Paris Agreement, making the United States the only nation on Earth not on board with the global accord.

Gender, Indigenous Peoples and Agriculture

Countries also focused on important issues that link climate action to people’s lives. They adopted a plan to advance gender equality, and operationalized the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform created in Marrakech last year, which recognizes how indigenous peoples can contribute their knowledge to advance climate action. Both outcomes promote human rights and a just transition toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient society, but institutional arrangements and budgets are needed to get these initiatives off the ground.

After years of gridlock, negotiators also made a breakthrough on agriculture-related climate issues. Countries agreed to shift from talk to action and support solutions such as improving soil carbon and soil health, promoting better livestock management practices, and ensuring sufficient food supplies in the face of climate change. This could also result in recommendations to the Green Climate Fund to finance agriculture-related activities that curb emissions and better adapt to climate impacts.

What Needs to Happen Now?

While negotiators made progress, it will be no small task for them to finalize the Paris rulebook next year and build political will to enhance NDCs by 2020. The good news is there will be many occasions to rally the world to act in the year ahead, from the President of France Emmanuel Macron’s “One Planet” summit in December this year, to interim negotiating sessions and the Global Climate Action Summit in California in September next year, and beyond.

The window is closing to rein in the relentless rise of greenhouse gas emissions. 2018 is the year for countries – and all of us – to step up.

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

This post originally appeared on WRI’s Insights. 

 and  are members of WRI’s climate team.

Urban Trees: A Smart Investment in Public Health

Tue, 2017-11-21 14:13

City trees can help save lives and millions in health expenditure. Photo by Rick Harris/ Flickr

Would you spend $8 per year to see your community reduce rates of obesity, heart disease, anxiety and asthma? Still not convinced? What if that investment also reduced energy costs and increased property values?

Urban trees can transform city neighborhoods, contributing to a wide range of public health gains. Investing an additional $8 per person, on average, in planting and maintaining urban trees in American cities, could have a significant impact. Yet across the United States, cities are losing about 4 million trees per year.

The humble street tree is an ecological powerhouse. Study after study has shown multiple benefits to people and society. Trees, and other urban green spaces, can help manage runoff during rainstorms. They help clean and cool the air, reducing harmful air pollutants and air temperatures on city streets. They lend beauty to our communities and increase property values. And time spent in natural environments has demonstrated mental health benefits.

A new report, “Funding Trees for Health,” from The Nature Conservancy, The Trust for Public Land and Analysis Group, raises the concern that a combination of reduced budgets; the ravages of drought, storms, and pest infestations; and lack of investment is quickly stripping cities of the benefits that trees provide.

The paper finds that a significant percentage of the gap between current funding for trees and the amount that cities spend today could be offset by the public health gains that city trees provide.

Every year, between 3 and 4 million people around the world die as a result of outdoor air pollution and its lifelong impacts on human health. Urban trees can serve as pollution barriers and even filter the air. A 2016 analysis of average costs and impacts across nearly 250 major cities found that trees offer comparable benefit to traditional solutions, with the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

Now, Analysis Group’s research on major U.S. cities finds that that urban trees could account for $25 million in annual savings related to health care costs and lost work days from air pollution alone.

While the situation varies city by city, our analysis demonstrates that a green urban future is not an impossible dream, and it’s affordable in most places if policymakers and others commit to making this critical investment.

The paper offers several specific examples of innovative public sector partnership and private sector investments that highlight the full societal value of urban trees. However, municipal leaders in communities of all sizes can begin to address significant health challenges by thinking creatively about the role of nature in cities and towns.

A range of complimentary solutions will be necessary, including changes to how building codes handle open space and incentivize trees on private property; efforts to break down municipal government silos so that parks and environmental departments are better positioned to collaborate with public health departments; and public education efforts to communicate the role that trees can play.

Some cities are already leading efforts to prove the value of urban trees. For example, in Louisville, Kentucky, city leaders are partnering with the University of Kentucky Medical School and others to demonstrate the link between urban trees and cardiac health via the Green Heart Project. The project is a five-year urban laboratory that will plant as many as 8,000 trees in a neighborhood, then conduct a clinical trial to track their effect on the health of local residents.

All cities, big or small, can begin exploring ways to create links between the health sector and urban forestry agencies. The key is connecting public health outcomes to urban trees. Communication and coordination between a city’s parks, forestry and public health departments can reveal new sources of funding for tree planting and maintenance. Working together, the health sector and the urban forestry sector can achieve a healthier, more verdant world.

Robert McDonald is Lead Scientist for the Global Cities program at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of “Funding Trees for Health.” He researches the impact and dependencies of cities on the natural world, and helps direct the science behind much of the Conservancy’s urban conservation work. He holds a PhD in Ecology from Duke University and has published more than 50 peer-reviewed publications, and a recent book, “Conservation for Cities.”

India’s Move to Make Buildings Efficient

Fri, 2017-11-17 14:13

Dehli skyline. India’s building sector accounted for nearly a third of its energy consumption in 2016. Photo by Francisco Anzola/ Flickr

India’s buildings are silent power guzzlers. Residential and commercial structures consumed nearly a third (32 percent) of the country’s total electricity in 2016, according to the latest annual energy statistics published by the Ministry of Statistics, Planning and Implementation. And as Indian cities grow, building energy demand is sure to surge.

The government’s policy agency, Niti Aayog, estimates that energy demand from India’s buildings will increase by more than 800 percent in 2047 compared to 2012. Under the current standards, the country will face higher energy costs and skyrocketing consumption for decades. At the same time, air pollution will worsen, adding to the impact of climate change. That’s why India needs better building efficiency policies and programs now.

India took an important step forward in June by launching the revised Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) 2017. Developed by Ministry of Power and Bureau of Energy Efficiency, the code prescribes energy performance standards for new commercial buildings to reduce energy consumption and promote low-carbon growth. It sets parameters for builders, designers and architects to integrate renewable energy sources in building design, with a goal of achieving a 50 percent reduction in energy use by 2030.

It’s an important initiative. Buildings that meet requirements of the ECBC are between 17 and 42 percent more efficient than conventional buildings, offering enormous potential for energy savings. A parallel effort on a code for new residential construction is also underway.

For maximum effectiveness, the new code must be made mandatory and built into municipalities’ bylaws. But there’s an obstacle: the code must first be adopted by the states, and then implemented by local bodies – an immensely slow process. As that effort moves forward, here are several strategies that could help urban leaders and decision-makers in India’s energy sector improve energy use in buildings.

For Governments: Mandate Efficiency, Establish Baselines

Under the existing 2007 Energy Conservation Building Code, India’s state governments and municipalities were responsible for adopting, mandating and enforcing the rules. This has had limited success. As the new code is phased in, it must be made an integral part of building design and construction, just as fire safety and structural standards are. The government needs to incorporate efficiency considerations in construction and procurement guidelines and establish benchmarks for building energy use. And to do that, it will need data. Transparent, accurate, reliable and accessible electricity use data for buildings is a basic requirement for creating baselines. Once standards are created, governments can implement mandatory or voluntary energy-use disclosure programs, and offer tax incentives to encourage energy savings.

For Builders/Developers: Share Information, Upgrade Technology

Too often, builders, buyers and investors in India lack adequate access to information on energy performance data and certification. Developers don’t always know that energy performance-certified buildings enjoy higher property values and faster leasing, often at a premium, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Similarly, buyers don’t hear about benefits like easier maintenance, lower energy costs and better ventilation and insulation in hot climates. Certifying and labeling buildings based on their energy use would build trust in tenants and buyers, and stimulate the market for efficient buildings.

Technology upgrades are also needed. India currently lacks testing, standardization and certification for efficient building materials, which discourages innovation and advances. What constitutes efficiency at different scales of construction also needs a re-look.

For the Wider Market: Collect Data, Increase Capacity

Strong efficiency mandates for new buildings can create markets for jobs, materials and expertise. But several impediments currently exist, which can be remedied by targeted action.

The first is that building energy use data is not collected systematically. Without it, benchmarks for energy performance are weak. To help build investor confidence in energy-efficient projects, industry and government need to take the lead on assembling data and establishing reliable electricity-use baselines for different building types.

In addition, lax enforcement of buildings codes, combined with low demand for energy-efficient building technology, has dampened India’s market for products like insulation, wall materials, fenestration and shading devices. Strengthening enforcement can boost demand for these products.

At present, no more than 30 energy service companies exist to help implement energy efficiency projects, and access to financing is a major challenge for them. Creating lending priorities and financing instruments that encourage energy-efficient construction can address this problem.

Energy-efficient building requires skilled craftspeople, but most companies have little incentive to train such workers. A comprehensive assessment by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency or an independent organization could identify where new jobs can be created, or where government agencies could create programs to improve building skills.

Building efficiency has been recognized as critical to India’s climate change mitigation strategy and global climate commitments. By focusing on the opportunities at hand, India can significantly transform the building efficiency landscape and meet its emissions reduction goals.

This article has been adapted from a version that appeared on’s Insights.

Sumedha Malaviya is a Senior Project Associate with the WRI India’s Energy Program.

Bharath Jairaj is a Senior Associate at WRI India and works with the Energy Program and the Governance Center. 

Beyond Electric Cars: As China Leads in Electric Buses, India Could Follow Suit in Electric Motorcycles

Wed, 2017-11-15 14:13

In 2016, 80,000 electric buses were added to Chinese fleets. Photo by Benoit Colin/Flick

The number of electric cars on the world’s roads has zoomed from zero in 2008 to 2 million in 2016, with many of those in China and the United States. But China is staking out new territory with electric buses, and India could do the same with electric motorcycles.

China has seen a remarkable increase in electric buses. In 2016 alone, approximately 80,000 electric buses were added to fleets.

Transitioning to electric buses will help China’s commitment to reduce its climate intensity by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, and help address growing concerns about rising air pollution.

Buses also offer a chance for China to capture a growing market. In that sense, China’s experience is essentially a lesson in industrial policy – one that India and other rising economies facing similar challenges would do well to study: Identifying and prioritizing a single sector can be a sharp strategy for green growth.

China Prioritizes Electric Buses

An electric BYD bus in Hangzhou. Flickr/shankar s.

China is one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, but most of its demand is domestic. Chinese manufactures can’t compete with international car manufacturers, such as Toyota.

But they might be able to beat world producers to the electric bus industry.

To get there, China adopted a program in 2009 – Ten Cities, One Thousand Vehicles – which encouraged provincial governments to identify pilot programs, form industrial alliances and provide policy and financial support.

By giving provincial governments incentives to form alliances through the program, stakeholders such as energy utilities and battery manufacturers and suppliers have worked together.

Led by China’s national government, this program succeeded because it addressed the electric mobility sector holistically, from manufacturing to end use.

Underlying it all is an economic strategy that recognizes the need for government to protect and nurture new niche technology that competes against what’s already there. This means that through subsidies and local partnerships, public agencies will be able to develop better support mechanisms, like standards and regulation. Partnerships also help businesses and solution providers optimize and improve business models. Once the benefits of the technology out-weigh the economic costs, this protection can be phased out.

What Can India Learn From China?

Like China, the national government in India has called for electrification of its passenger transport sector. The power ministrytransport ministry and the government think tank Niti Aayog have all supported this call and have introduced policies in some cases. However, the kind of national strategy that powered China’s electric bus ascent has not yet been initiated.

Some state governments, including Karnataka and Telangana, have constituted or are in the process of announcing policies to promote electric mobility and attract investments and the Department of Heavy Industries has drafted a national policy to promote electric buses.

While these policies and initiatives are welcome, they might not be sufficient to achieve similar outcomes as China, largely because they lack cohesion. It might make more sense for India to choose a different sub-sector altogether: motorcycles.

When Two (Or Three) Wheels Are Better Than Four

A clutch of motorbikes wait for a traffic signal. Flickr/WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

India is the largest market for two-wheelers (including motorcycles, motorbikes and motor scooters) and one in three Indians use two-wheelers to get to work. Industry experts opine that the market for auto-rickshaws, which have three wheels and similar engines to motorbikes, will increase.

In addition, while a significant portion of India’s population commutes by bus, which cuts down on air and noise pollution compared to personal cars, the capital cost of full electric buses is more than twice that of diesel buses. Considering city bus operators are struggling to break even and would require significant assistance to procure new buses, the two-wheeler and auto-rickshaw markets might be better entry points for India’s electric mobility transformation.

To achieve full vehicle electrification by 2030, India needs to urgently develop a roadmap. China’s progress on electric mobility could provide lessons for India: a strategy to promote electric mobility as a co-benefit of increasing jobs by tying it to an industrial policy, a program to study the roll out and develop standards for procurement, battery technology, and finally, coordination between national and sub-national governments to identify common goals. Finally, it is important to remember that electric mobility fits within the Improve part of the Avoid-Shift-Improve framework that cities would need to use to better their sustainable mobility strategy.

This article has been adapted from a version that appeared on’s Insights.

Srikanth Shastry is a Principal Associate with the Cities and Transport at WRI.

Lu Lu is the Research Analyst of WRI China’s Transport Program. 

Measuring Climate Success with New Common Reporting Framework for Cities

Mon, 2017-11-13 21:15

The UN climate conference in Bonn, Germany, has highlighted the importance of sub-national actors to translating commitment to action and meeting global climate goals. But as more non-state actors pledge action, how do we measure success? What is sustainability? What is green growth?

To help answer these crucial questions, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy on Sunday announced a common framework for reporting greenhouse gas emission from sectors like transport, energy, waste and buildings.

Seeing the value in protecting their citizens, stewarding their natural resources, and preparing their economies for the future, local governments and civil society groups are asking for a seat at the climate negotiating table. COP23 has elevated these voices more than any other climate summit to date. America’s Pledge launched a new report that for the first time aggregates all U.S. non-federal climate commitments. The Coalition for Urban Transitions launched the Urban Leadership Council. Other city networks like C40 and ICLEI are seemingly ever-present in the Bonn Zone. And the Fijian Presidency led the first-ever official dialogue at a climate meeting between Parties and non-Parties (that is, states and non-states) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Global Covenant is the world’s largest cities network with more than 7,400 cities and local governments as members, including other regional and global networks. The new common reporting framework is expected to help create more consistent and cross-comparable data.

“This common reporting framework is valuable not only to better track cities’ contributions but to hold them accountable and help everyone learn what works best,” said WRI’s Wee Kean Fong, who was part of the Global Covenant’s technical working group. It is consistent with the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) and WRI’s effort to promote consistent and transparent greenhouse gas inventories for cities more broadly.

The Covenant also hopes the framework will make it easier to finance city-level climate projects, which sometimes can be snared in national approval processes or derailed by unfavorable risk assessments when there is little data available on comparable efforts.

“By enhancing the accountability of our collective efforts, we can prove that the aggregation of local climate action is in fact driving progress towards a more sustainable future and use this evidence to drive deeper investments in urban low-carbon solutions,” said Christiana Figueres, vice-chair of the Global Covenant and former executive secretary of the UNFCCC. “It will also give confidence to governments that they can increase their climate ambition as a means to spur economic growth.”

Using the new framework, the Global Covenant announced new projections for the impact of its member commitments. If all Global Covenant cities commit to and achieve targets similar to those already established, they could eliminate nearly 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030, compared to a business-as-usual trajectory, roughly equivalent to the national emissions of Japan today.


By 2050, the cumulative emissions avoided could reach more than 46 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to analysis by WRI, roughly equal to the entire world’s emissions in 2010.

The Global Covenant has members from all over the world, but especially strong membership in Europe after merging with the EU Covenant of Mayors last year. This accounting is the first to combine the commitments that came with that merger.

Africa and Asia lag furthest behind in terms of coverage by the Covenant – though not necessarily in climate action, as China’s ambitious low-carbon cities program shows. Future additions to the network and enhanced commitments could lead to greater gains.

A period of consultation with cities and towns will begin early next year to refine the new approach. New members will be required to use the common reporting framework in 2018 while existing commitments will begin in 2019.

Schuyler Null is the Communications Associate for the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Report: Cities and States Pledging Action on Climate Represent More Than Half U.S. Economy

Sun, 2017-11-12 14:13

March for Science, Washington, DC, April 2017. Photo by Molly Adams/Flickr

When President Donald Trump announced his intention to pull the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions out of the Paris Agreement, there was understandable concern. But much of the United States pledged to continue moving forward with climate action anyway, and a report finds their commitments could be very significant.

According to new analysis, more than 2,500 non-federal actors representing more than half the U.S. economy – including cities, counties, states, businesses, colleges and more – have pledged their support for the Paris Agreement goals.

If these cities and states were their own country, they’d be the world’s third-largest economy.

This research is presented in a report by America’s Pledge, a new initiative led by California Governor Jerry Brown and UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate Michael Bloomberg to quantify the climate actions and recent commitments from non-federal actors. WRI, along with the Rocky Mountain Institute and CDP, conducted the analysis for the Phase 1 America’s Pledge Report released at COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Here are some other key findings on the progression of U.S. climate action:

American States, Cities and Businesses Are Reducing Emissions

In addition to the 10 states with cap-and-trade programs and 96 U.S. businesses using internal carbon prices, our analysis shows that non-federal actors are already reducing emissions from major sectors. For example:

  • Electricity Generation: Twenty-nine states, representing more than half (56 percent) of retail electricity sales in the country, have mandatory renewable portfolio standards, with nine others setting voluntary renewable energy goals.
  • Transportation: Thirty U.S. cities have committed $10 billion to purchase 114,000 electric vehicles (EVs) for their municipal fleets – a number roughly equivalent to all the EVs sold in the country in the first eight months of 2017.
  • Building and Industrial Energy Use: More than 400 companies, representing more than 13 percent of total U.S. commercial building space, and almost 2,600 industrial facilities have voluntarily committed to reduce their energy use through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings / Better Plants program.
  • Methane Emissions: Methane is up to 36 times more potent than CO2, and is emitted from several sources, including landfills. Twenty states have bond, grant, loan or rebate programs that support development of landfill gas-to-energy projects, which capture methane to use for electricity generation.
  • Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) Emissions: HFCs are up to 12,000 times more potent than CO2 and are used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation and other applications. Forty-three supermarkets have committed to reducing their HFC emissions, with 533 individual stores certified under this program since 2008.
  • Land-use and Forestry: More than 3,000 communities are implementing urban forestry measures through Tree City USA, including maintaining a tree board or department, and having a community tree ordinance.
The Low-Carbon Transition Is Taking Off in Key Sectors

Cleaner energy and electric transportation are emerging as not just emissions-reduction leaders in the United States, but cost-savings leaders as well. Within the electricity sector, coal is no longer competitive with cheaper renewable energy and natural gas, thanks to state-level clean energy mandates, declining clean technology costs, low-cost and cleaner-burning natural gas, citizen mobilization against dirty power plants and Congressionally approved renewable tax credits. For example, in August 2017, the Department of Energy announced that its “SunShot” target to make solar power cost competitive with conventional forms of energy had been met three years early.

Within the buildings sector, energy efficiency gains have outpaced most official projections: since 2005, the Energy Information Agency’s estimate for 2025 total energy use by U.S. buildings has dropped by more than 20 percent.

The transportation sector has overtaken electricity as the largest source of U.S. emissions, but is also potentially on the cusp of major change. For example, electric vehicles are widely anticipated to be less expensive and have lower lifetime costs than conventional vehicles by 2025-29.

Decarbonization and GDP Growth Are Happening Simultaneously

Falling clean technology prices, emerging innovations, and actions by states, cities and businesses have helped reduce U.S. net greenhouse gas emissions by 11.5 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the economy grew by 15 percent over that period. This has allowed states, businesses and cities to take on steeper emissions-reduction targets and accelerated renewable energy commitments.

For example, nine northeastern states have implemented the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to create a market-based system that reduces electric sector emissions 2.5 percent a year through 2020. RGGI has reduced power sector CO2 emissions more than 45 percent since 2005 while the region’s per-capita GDP continued to grow. In August, RGGI announced that it will accelerate emission reductions over the next decade to provide an additional 30 percent cap on 2030 power sector emissions, compared to 2020 levels.

We Still Need More

Across the United States, governors, mayors and business leaders are acting to fill the climate action void created by current federal policies. With public support and effective collaboration, they can drive U.S. climate action forward.

Indeed, sustained action by U.S. states, cities and businesses can help maintain momentum and lay the foundation for future re-engagement by the federal government after 2020 – which is needed in the long term.

In its next phase of work, the America’s Pledge initiative will aggregate and quantify the full range of potential U.S. non-federal actions, including how they affect the country’s ability to reach its emissions-reduction target. In the meantime, expect to see more and more non-federal actors stepping up for climate action.

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

This article has been adapted from a version that appeared on’s Insights.

Kristin Igusky is an Associate in WRI’s Global Climate Program.

Kevin Kennedy is Deputy Director of the U.S. Climate Initiative in WRI’s Global Climate Program.

Reducing the Dangerous Crowding on Mumbai’s Trains Will Take More Than Increased Capacity

Thu, 2017-11-09 22:31

Mumbai suburban trains serve 8 million passengers daily. Photo by Benoit Colin/ WRI

On September 29, the Mumbai suburban train services saw one of the worst catastrophes in its history when 23 commuters lost their lives in a stampede at Elphinstone Road railway station. An enquiry committee of the highest level was formed, and the entire railway system is mobilizing to review and rework the way it provides passenger amenities and safety facilities.

But this incident was about more than overcrowding a narrow foot bridge. It should compel policymakers to rethink transportation integration at a larger level.

Much of the focus after the deadly accident has been on adding more capacity. But if adding more train service was such an easy solution, then the World Bank-funded Mumbai Urban Transportation Project (MUTP), which has cumulatively invested more than $1.4 billion to upgrade and enhance suburban railway infrastructure, would have had a bigger impact by now. Instead, despite more than 2,800 suburban train services a day reaching some 8 million Mumbaikers, the average commuter still faces “super-dense crushed load” conditions, with up to 16 hapless commuters per square meter of train space.

In initiatives like MUTP, it is frequently assumed that new capacity will bring more comfort to riders. The first phase of MUTP aimed to bring down the number of passengers per train on the Western Railway during peak periods from 4,500 to 3,600, but could only achieve 4,016. The next phase started from a baseline of 5,400 peak hour passengers per train on the Western Railway route and set a more realistic target of 4,000, but could only achieve 5,257.

And herein lies the reason why project after project has failed to decongest Mumbai’s notorious rail system. Commuters are like water, always flowing through the path of least resistance. As long as the rail system is the only option for many people, more capacity will simply be filled with more demand. In the case of Mumbai suburban, the extra capacity created during peak hours was easily occupied by those who previously used other modes of public transport, private vehicles or previously traveled during non-peak hours. Indeed, after phase two of the MUTP, the World Bank’s independent evaluation group acknowledged that “better services increased demand more than had been expected.”

Yet, some policymakers have yet to learn these lessons. The third phase of MUTP is currently focused on quadrupling the length of track and adding additional train services.

To truly reduce congestion on suburban trains in the medium to long term, planning must take into account the bigger picture and become much more integrated.

Some 22 percent of commuters on Mumbai suburban trains travel less than 10 kilometers. Many could easily be shifted to non-motorized transport modes, like walking and cycling, if they had access to adequate and safe infrastructure. The example of congestion at Elphinstone Road is pertinent here. A large chunk of Central Railway route passengers get down at Dadar to catch the slow local to the next two stations, Elphinstone Road and Lower Parel. If there was well-developed cycling infrastructure integrated with the railway system, many commuters could easily cycle the 2.5-kilometer distance from Dadar to these stations instead.

It would take just a fraction of the $1.4 billion invested in MUTP projects to date to develop robust, sustainable cycling and walking infrastructure. Such changes would decongest trains far more effectively than adding more service. If needed, further mode shifts could be encouraged through fare changes to balance congestion and encourage healthy, sustainable modes of transport.

Why hasn’t this been done already? Fault lies with the institutional structure of the transport sector. India is the only country among the top 100 economies of the world where responsibility for transportation is segregated by mode across multiple government agencies. There is the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Ministry of Shipping, and Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. Each handles some aspect of transport policy, but barely talks to the others. Add in the various state governments and you have a complex labyrinth of departments with virtually no convergence. There could be millions invested in a project within one ministry, but when an issue requires inter-departmental or inter-ministerial coordination, then no matter how beneficial the resolution might be for citizens, departmentalism makes it difficult to achieve. The case of universal ticketing for trains in Mumbai is a glaring example. After more than two years of futile attempts by the railways, Maharashtra Government and Mumbai Metro, there is nothing to show.

What Mumbai needs is not just more foot bridges, escalators and trains but a more mature and nuanced treatment of the transport policy landscape. Developing multiple modes of citizen-centric, integrated transport, with a focus on cheap and sustainable options, would go much farther toward preventing the next Elphinstone Road disaster than more tracks and more trains.

Vineet Abhishek is a civil servant working with Indian Railways.

Mobilizing Leadership for Climate Action in the Transport Sector

Thu, 2017-11-09 14:13

COP23 in Bonn, Germany presents a tremendous opportunity for cities and national governments to come together on transport. Photo by: Mariana Gil/WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities

A steady drumbeat of events has set the stage – and thrust into the spotlight – the importance of sustainable urban mobility at this year’s climate conference, COP23. The Climate Action in Transport Conference in Berlin, part of the annual European Mobility Week and the first Transport and Climate Change Week, demonstrated the large and growing interest in the transport sector’s potential to deliver significant emissions reductions earlier this fall.

As the world increasingly looks to subnational actors for climate leadership, major global agenda-setting gatherings, like this year’s COP and the World Urban Forum in February, have wide ramifications for urban transport. Transport contributes 23 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and cities account for more than 60 percent of all kilometers travelled globally.

The most urgent question for transport now is how to increase the ambitions of national governments to decarbonize the sector and ensure implementation comes through at the local level.

Moving Toward a 1.5-Degree World

Global climate discussions are focused on the integration of national and local policymaking in an effort keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial averages. Transport policy similarly needs to be adjusted at multiple levels.

Transport is currently included in 75 percent of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the voluntary commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement (see Figure 1). But most – 79 percent – do not include any specific, transport-related targets. Subnational actors can and should play important roles in creating appropriate targets.

In the next round of NDCs, which will begin with the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 and result in new “enhanced” NDCs by 2020, experts are also looking for countries and cities to identify specific actions in the transport sector in order to prioritize those with the highest mitigation and development impacts. Previous analysis of transport-related NDCs has shown that global initiatives are missing outstanding opportunities for effective local climate action.

NDCs that currently include action for the transport sector disproportionately concentrate on technological measures, like electric vehicles. For example, reducing energy use and changing how and when people travel can be more effective, since electric vehicles have little effect on climate change as long as the power sector remains profoundly reliant on carbon-heavy fuels.

A more comprehensive implementation strategy specifically designed for the transport sector is “Avoid-Shift-Improve,” which simultaneously encourages higher system, trip and vehicle efficiency. “Avoid” refers to minimizing motorized trips through changes in land use or policies like congestion pricing. “Shift” refers to tilting the modal split toward more public transport and non-motorized travel. “Improve” focuses on technological advances to reduce emissions, such as improving fuel quality and vehicle electrification.

Few jurisdictions have provided explicit targets for their transport sectors so far. Aside from improving fuel efficiency, much of the climate mitigation potential of the urban transport sector remains untapped.
Source: GIZ 2017, Sectoral implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), page 5

Transport Priorities at COP23

Urban transport is an area where cities and states can act as policy architects and showcase their huge potential to reduce carbon emissions and improve quality of life. Indeed, at COP23, there is more focus on subnational actors than ever before.

While negotiators meet in Bonn, a series of transport side events are scheduled throughout the conference, including on the thematic transport day, November 10, and during high-level focus on SDG 11 on November 13. The Paris Process on Mobility and Climate and Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport are also hosting a daily talk show on transport and climate change at 6:00pm CET from November 7-16.

Cities can create better outcomes through infrastructure for electric vehicles, bus rapid transit systems and innovative bike-sharing schemes, to name a few transport interventions with potentially large impacts on climate emissions. Such changes could be replicated quickly and bring other benefits, including safer streets, more economic productivity and reduced pollution.

But change does not happen by itself; cities and national governments need to step up to the challenge. These actions make most sense in close coordination with regional and national planning. And in some cases, cities need assistance with technical capacity and funding. National leaders should recognize and support mayors and other subnational climate champions as partners on the road to 2020. Recognizing the potential of actors at all levels is crucial for tracking and raising climate ambition across the board.

Angela Enriquez is a researcher and program coordinator for the Energy and Climate Team at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Linus Platzer is a climate and energy intern at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

3 Ways to Unlock Financing for Urban Climate Action

Wed, 2017-11-08 14:13

At COP23 in Bonn, Germany, the role of climate finance will be critical in meeting national climate action goals. Photo by UNFCC/Flickr. Photo by Ajith Kumar/Flickr

In climate negotiations, as elsewhere, the question of money takes center stage. How will existing and future commitments be paid for, and who will invest in potentially capital-intensive infrastructure projects?

Estimates vary depending on a range of factors, but aggregating across sectors and regions reveals a large investment gap. A low-emission future has been estimated to cost an additional 9-27 percent on top of existing, business-as-usual infrastructure costs in the range of $4.1-4.3 trillion per year. How this plays out varies depending on the sector. In transport, for example, a low-carbon transition may be achieved through deep shifts in existing investment portfolios, while climate adaptation will likely require an increase in absolute volumes of funding.

What is clear is that much of these investments will be in cities, especially the fast-growing cities of the global south where the urban form is still taking shape. The momentum and ambition from mayors is there, but we need more to finance sustainable cities. As UN member states, their negotiators and the international community meet in Bonn for COP23 to discuss the implementation of the Paris Agreement, here are three ways to unlock financing for urban climate action.

1. Localize Climate Financing 

By October 2017, more than 2,500 cities and 2,000 companies had committed to undertaking climate actions and the numbers keep growing. Known as “non-Party actors” in UN parlance, cities, states and private companies have the potential for huge emissions reductions and resilience contributions. Even if the federal government withdraws from the Paris Agreement, the United States could be halfway towards achieving its NDC by 2025 if all of the existing mitigation commitments are realized.

Cities and other non-Party actors need national governments and administrators of climate finance to find more ways to pass climate monies down the line. Notwithstanding their differing interests, capacity and resources, non-Party actors need support in realizing their commitments. Cities, for instance, often need support formulating investable projects and managing their typically constrained financing capabilities. In general, climate-smart investments benefit from support for experimentation with new technologies, new contract design and funding approaches, and broad cross-sector capacity- and coalition-building.

2. Use Limited Funds Intelligently

The term “climate finance” itself covers a broad range of money flows that help countries cut their emissions and adapt to climate change. Climate finance typically includes development aid and grants (which are non-reimbursable), as well as reimbursable types, such as equity, debt, and credit-enhancing guarantees and insurance.

The role of climate finance must be seen in the context of the task ahead. The combined resources of international climate funds – about $23 billion today – are actually small relative to the trillions needed globally every year to adjust consumption patterns, reorient economic incentives and more that is required to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

We will need strategic and purposeful deployment of limited funds, particularly those originating from public sources. Cities and other non-Party actors should tell their country representatives at the UN to use funds to leverage and unlock resources that would otherwise not be spent on climate-smart investments.

Within current debates, three ways of using climate financing more intelligently stand out:

  • Blending: Blended finance consists of the strategic use of development and philanthropic funds to mobilize private capital flows. This approach is particularly important for unlocking investments in emerging markets as it mobilizes much-needed private sector capital while gradually building confidence in the market.
  • Direct access: For the past few years, climate funds such as the Adaptation Fund have been allowing developing countries to access funding directly by accrediting national institutions. This allows national entities to surpass international intermediaries, which could in turn improve their ability to attract future investments. A similar arrangement could be developed for cities and subnational actors, for example through the Green Climate Fund.
  • Financial aggregation: In sectors where climate-smart investments are small and spread across many individual transactions, as in the case of building efficiency, aggregating projects into a portfolio allows for risk-sharing and economies of scale. Intermediary organizations and dedicated investment vehicles are useful in this process, simultaneously mobilizing private investment while reducing risk, which is paramount for enabling private sector involvement.
3. Improve Tracking and Measurement

Official numbers put global climate finance flows at $741 billion in 2014, but we have little idea of how much is channeled to the local level. Despite recognition of the importance of non-Party actors by both the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, there is no common framework that donors and financiers can use to track the magnitude or destination of subnational climate finance flows.

The existence, and consistent application, of such a global tracking framework for subnational climate finance flows would enable a deeper discussion of how much climate finance should reach the local level, including cities.

Empowering Cities and Non-State Actors

Reaching the scale of investments required to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the Paris Agreement envisions, requires countries to mobilize and empower non-Party actors. As in sustainable development more generally, local governments and civil society should be recognized as essential partners in climate-smart development.

Indeed, when thousands of non-state actors from more than 50 countries gathered at the Climate Chance Summit in Morocco last September, how to finance action by non-state and subnational actors was one of the foremost questions from participants.

The investments required are substantial and the timeframes to deliver them are short. This means countries need to focus intently on localizing climate financing, finding the most appropriate use of limited public funds, and ensuring a balance between short-term, rapid gains through local projects and building capacity that sustains momentum in the longer term.

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

Anne Maassen leads WRI’s work on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, a partnership between WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities and C40 Cities, funded by the Citi Foundation, focused on helping cities develop business models to accelerate the implementation of sustainable urban solutions.

Christopher Moon-Miklaucic is the Urban Innovation and Finance Research Assistant at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

How Can Countries Make Progress at COP23? Work with Cities

Mon, 2017-11-06 21:00

Ahmedabad, India. Cities must be key drivers towards a more sustainable, more equitable world – or we risk not getting there. Photo by Chetan Karkhanis/Flickr

At this week’s climate conference in Bonn, Germany, the pressure is on many national governments to continue implementation of the Paris Agreement despite the United States’ intention to withdraw. But they’ll have help from the world’s cities.

Bonn is shaping up to be one of the most urban-centered climate summits yet. America’s Pledge, an effort led by Governor Jerry Brown of California and former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg to aggregate climate commitments from cities and other “non-Party actors,” will launch its first report, informed by analysis from WRI. The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, which counts more than 7,400 cities among its members, or 9 percent of the global population, will announce its 2030 goals. And the Urban Leadership Council, a group of representatives from city networks, the private sector and urban think tanks including WRI, will meet for the first time. These events and more are expected to climax with the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders and the Global Covenant of Mayors Day on November 12 and 13.

It’s fitting that cities are stepping up for climate action – they account for more than half the global population and about 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But despite their prominence and power, cities can’t do it alone. They need support from leaders at the national and international levels.

Connecting Cities to National Goals

COP23 will prepare the way for next year’s “Talanoa” dialogue, where nations will assess progress towards the targets of the Paris Agreement and countries’ national climate plans, known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs. But while the diplomatic machinery of NDCs was built with national governments in mind, much of the implementation required to see them achieved is at the subnational level, where cities play a big role. How national implementation agendas incorporate individual cities is a major open question.

This kind of cooperative planning between cities and national governments can already be seen in a few places. In China, the central government assigns goals for provinces and cities to achieve the national carbon dioxide intensity reduction target. In Brazil, a new national law will help implement the NDC at the subnational and sectoral levels, too. But these examples are exceptions to the rule.

There is also a limit to how much cities can do on their own. While cities consume and emit a great deal, they do not have full control over their emissions sources. According to a report by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, only a third of a typical city’s assets and functions are directly owned or operated by city government. Cities are sometimes able to manage energy consumption through mechanisms such as transport plans and building codes, for instance, but vehicle fuel efficiency and the carbon intensity of the electrical grid are under the jurisdiction of the national government.

Finance is another example. There are wildly varying degrees of coordination between national and city governments, which sometimes prevents climate funds from reaching municipalities or supporting their priorities. To change this, national policymakers need to recognize the growing role of cities in climate action and formally address it. Finding more ways to fund city-level work on a large scale is critical.

Cities also need technical capacity to put added attention and funding to good use. In the rapidly growing cities of the global south, most of the infrastructure, housing and other services needed to absorb new residents have yet to be built. Decisions made now will influence the sustainability of cities for decades – not to mention economic and social outcomes, which are inextricably linked.

Why It Matters to Get Cities Right

Critics have pointed out that there were similar calls for independent subnational implementation after the United States chose not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and after climate negotiations failed at COP15 in Copenhagen. The result was that emissions didn’t decline. Mere touting of climate leadership by mayors and advocates will not turn emissions trajectories by itself. Things need to be different this time around.

Simply put, cities must be key drivers towards a more sustainable, more equitable world – or we risk not getting there.

To successfully implement the climate agenda in cities, we need better coordination between city and national planning that produces specific actions, agreement on how to fund them at a large scale and capacity to see them done. It is time for national and city governments to work together, hand-in-hand, to bend the global emissions trajectory towards sustainability.

Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.

Wee Kean Fong is a Senior Associate at WRI who leads the GHG Protocol for Cities as part of the broader effort to promote data-driven city climate actions.

Linus Platzer is the Climate & Energy Intern at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Voices of Efficiency: Dubai’s Quest to Improve Energy Performance Starts with Benchmarking

Fri, 2017-11-03 19:45

A pilot project will benchmark energy use in 100 buildings across Dubai. Photo by Achim Fischer/Flickr

Dubai is blazing a new path for cities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by calling attention to energy consumption in buildings and highlighting the lack of data available to benchmark usage rates and measure progress.

In 2016, Dubai joined the Building Efficiency Accelerator (BEA), a global network of cities led by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and proposed a new policy on energy performance labels for existing buildings. The city government launched a pilot project in February 2017, led by the Emirates Green Building Council and Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, to measure the performance of 100 buildings. The Word Green Building Council is a delivery partner for the BEA, supporting its Green Building Councils involved in the program.

To learn more about this endeavor, the first of its kind in the UAE, we sat down with representatives of the Emirates Green Building Council – Operations Director Lora Shrake, Technical Manager Majd Fayyad and Communications Officer Maha Khogali – to gain a better understanding of the project’s progress to date and the collaborative nature of their work. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Why is building efficiency important for Dubai?

Majd Fayyad: Buildings account for 70-80 percent of energy consumption in the UAE, where we face high temperatures much of the year. There is therefore a great deal of potential around reducing energy demand and shrinking the carbon footprint of buildings. The government of Dubai has identified 30,000 inefficient city buildings in need of retrofits. Initially, in alignment with the government’s energy saving targets, the BEA project aims to benchmark the energy performance of 100 buildings in three focus groups: hotels, schools and shopping malls. In line with Dubai Plan 2021, the government aims to make Dubai one of the most sustainable cities in the world with a primary focus on green buildings, renewable energy and sustainability.

Who are the stakeholders involved in the project, and how do they work together?

Fayyad: We created a team that consists of key city developers who are leading the charge on energy efficiency and will provide case studies for the benchmarking project. The advisory committee includes consultants and industry leaders, such as companies and utility providers, who can provide expertise by reviewing the benchmarking methodology and reports.

Lora Shrake: At the launch of the project, we held a stakeholder engagement workshop to ensure that attendees were updated on project progress and technical scope. Participants identified the energy labeling policy and energy benchmarking projects as the important issues to address while working with the BEA. Stakeholders also discussed facilitating comparisons of individual buildings and measuring progress toward targets for the entire city.

How do the different areas of stakeholder expertise strengthen the project?

Fayyad: The Emirates Green Building Council is offering technical benchmarking expertise based on an existing hotels benchmarking project, and the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy is offering expertise through an energy intensity mapping tool. Through the advisory committee and stakeholder engagement, we are asking industry consultants to evaluate the technical methodology for benchmarking, while the Council focuses on regulation and policy implementation for existing buildings. Developers benchmark their own properties against others, helping drive the market toward retrofits.

Why did Dubai choose to work on a benchmarking project?

Fayyad: There are currently no benchmarks for existing buildings in Dubai, no measure of performance that could easily be used to compare buildings or align building energy performance with goals for the whole city. The 100 buildings analyzed during the pilot project will contribute to a baseline that will allow us to create better targets and policies.

The project supports the city government in developing strategies and targets around energy efficiency for existing buildings in line with the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy and the ongoing efforts at demand-side management and energy diversification. The project will also help developers benchmark their properties and evaluate performance, allowing them to go further with audits and retrofits, contributing to the city’s sustainable development.

Maha Khogali: The stakeholder engagement workshop provided valuable feedback from industry leaders and was necessary to begin the process. It showed that there is demand for benchmarks. This could be a milestone toward an energy labeling policy, which reflects the vision of the UAE at large.

What are some challenges associated with the project?

Khogali: We are currently in the beginning stages, but we anticipate overcoming two general challenges: funding the development of a sophisticated online portal that will help with benchmarking, and collecting enough information about all 100 buildings to produce accurate comparisons and baselines.

However, we are already addressing these potential challenges by working with our strategic partners and members. The Emirates Green Building Council has a substantial number of partners who are working toward a shared vision for a sustainable city. We have invited them to support the initiative through data contribution or sponsorship of the online tool. And, as Lora mentioned earlier, we are making a concerted effort to attract global stakeholders involved in the BEA to help.

How has this project helped you understand the different views and roles of stakeholders involved in building efficiency in Dubai?

Khogali: This project has emphasized the key roles of the different stakeholders and strategic partners. The partnership gains significant value from the contribution of different players. We also recognize the government’s high ambition in achieving energy efficiency.

Fayyad: The BEA project was created to help facilitate public-private partnerships. The Emirates Green Building Council, as an organization that represents industry, reaches out to our members and provides technical expertise. The Dubai Supreme Council of Energy represents the city and is driving local energy targets. Through engagement with BEA, WRI, and the benchmarking project, the Council will be better informed to develop policy that the market is ready for and will achieve Dubai’s energy efficiency targets.

Elspeth Holland is a Junior Project Manager with the World Green Building Council.

Shannon Hilsey is Project Coordinator for the Building Efficiency Initiative within WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. 

How Cities Can Harness the Good – and Avoid the Bad – of the New Mobility Movement

Fri, 2017-11-03 13:13

Downtown Hong Kong. Ride-hailing, car- and bicycle-sharing networks, trip-planning apps and other innovative services are disrupting mobility in cities around the world. Photo by Wall Boat/Flickr.

This article was first published in TechCrunch.

In late September, London made headlines when it stripped popular ride-hailing app Uber of its license to operate in the city. The wall-to-wall coverage that followed the decision was a sign, if any more were needed, that we are on the cusp of an urban mobility revolution.

Ride-hailing systems, car- and bicycle-sharing networks, trip-planning apps and other innovative services that capitalize on advances in mobile communications, cashless payments and remote monitoring are increasing in popularity around the world. Users appreciate – and in many places have grown to depend upon – the convenience and flexibility these services offer at a range of prices. The most basic smartphone now means that getting to work or play or an airport at 5am is as easy as tapping the screen.

Faced with this new wave of transportation options enabled by mobile and network technologies, however, many local governments have struggled to adjust. Critics rightly point out that issues with regulations, safety and congestion are far from resolved. And multi-billion-dollar valuations or massive job potential make for exciting headlines, but they obscure the real possibilities of the urban mobility revolution.

Simply put: new mobility may be exciting enough on its own, but where it can be more effectively combined and leveraged with existing public transport options, its potential can be truly transformative.

Indeed, there are clear opportunities to integrate these new mobility services into existing urban transportation systems for more affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly transport for all. There are already more than 70 cities partnering with new private mobility services in part to bolster public transit offerings, while also easing the pressures of rising public transit costs, aging assets and rapidly increasing ridership.

Cities and their residents stand to benefit from new mobility services – if they can understand and avoid the potential pitfalls. In the first-ever global survey of new mobility services, led by the Coalition for Urban Transitions, new analysis shows how cities can evaluate new mobility options and integrate them into their urban transportation systems. There are three specific applications that could benefit from such collaborations.

First, partnering with the developers of dynamic trip-planning and ticketing apps could offer passengers a fully integrated platform for planning and paying for rides. This would make it much simpler for passengers to access whatever may be most convenient, appealing or cost-effective – all through one device. The GoLA app, for instance, helps residents of Los Angeles compare cost, time, calories burned and emissions saved for various transit options ranging from bicycling to bus to private cars. A total of 24 transport service providers are covered, with some already allowing for payment through the app, as well.

Second, integrating electric, on-demand minibuses operated privately with other forms of public transit could help cities maintain or extend coverage in underserved areas while lowering the cost of service. Minibuses play an important role in many fast-growing cities, and companies such as RideCell and TransLoc offer routing platforms that transit agencies could use to run their own on-demand fleets. Doing so would give cities the capability to change routes and capacity on the fly according to fluctuations in passenger demand.

Third, subsidizing shared rides to and from transit hubs in neighborhoods where residents may lack good access to transit options, including lower-income residents or individuals with disabilities. Several programs of this kind are up and running already. A town in New Jersey, for example, expects to save as much $5 million across 20 years by subsidizing shared rides instead of building more parking lots near train stations.

New mobility services have the potential to complement public transit, but they could also lead to worsening traffic congestion, more vehicle accidents, additional air pollution and other unwelcome effects if not managed carefully. And more attention must be paid to ensure that new mobility services meet the actual needs of residents. Overall, though, integrating them properly into existing transit systems is an opportunity cities should seize. We may still be in the early days of the new mobility revolution, but instead of banning the future, we should be creative about how we embrace it.

Ani Dasgupta is the Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, WRI’s program that galvanizes action to help cities grow more sustainably and improve quality of life in developing countries around the world.

Meet the Experts: Q&A with Brenda Medeiros

Thu, 2017-11-02 13:13

In 2008, Brenda Medeiros joined WRI Brasil as one of its first interns. Today, she serves as its Urban Mobility Director, focusing on the optimization of public transport systems.

With degrees in both civil and transportation engineering, Medeiros earned her public transportation regulation at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brasil). In this interview, she talks about the challenges of creating integrated transit networks and the importance of listening when planning public transport systems.

How did your academic work lead to your current position?

Brenda Medeiros: When I was working on my master’s degree, I focused on a very technical area: operational issues for BRT (bus rapid transit), centered on performance, capacity, speed and traditional engineering. I was eager to apply all my academic knowledge on cities, but I also realized that this was something very difficult to do―even our most basic knowledge is sometimes problematic to apply. So I asked myself: “Why is it so difficult?” That’s when I started to get interested in understanding the relationships among stakeholders, the people, the way organizations are structured and how they interact with each other. Of course, as an engineer, I wanted not only to understand, but to improve and establish values. Who are the most relevant stakeholders? What is the strength of their relationship? From these questions, I started to model and map these relations.

Who are the stakeholders involved in public transport systems?

Medeiros: Transportation involves different actors: city Hall or the mayor, the operators (because transport systems in Brazil are generally run by private companies) and the public. I concluded that it was vitally important to include people in the decision-making process regarding public transport. People are not obliged to use public transport―they are customers. They have needs and desires, and they want to have them met. They want to be well informed and receive good service, and they need a good reason to use public transport.

Other services have improved their performance after considering that people don’t use them by obligation, but by choice. The same is true for public transport. We need to see people as important stakeholders when it comes to the operation of a public transport system.

What do you believe that city administrators still don’t do – but need to – in order to guarantee popular participation in public transit?

Medeiros: Governments and administrators should listen to people, because it’s people who use public transport every day and know its qualities and inefficiencies. Often, a planner or a technician who is developing a project has a different view from a person on the other end, the one who receives the service. It’s essential to establish a connection and open communications channels with people to understand what they need, what they don’t like, what their complaints are and what shortcomings they see. When a new system is planned or when improvements are implemented, people are impacted.

At WRI, this is a vision that we have worked for some years to build: to understand the quality of public transport not only in technical or operational terms, such as average speed and travel compliance, but from the perspective of who is served.

One of the challenges in developing countries like Brazil is to build integrated transport networks. What are the key steps in this process?

Medeiros: A fundamental requirement is that all the stakeholders involved in the operation of the system must have a common vision. Of course, all the parties will have their specific objectives: bus operators and private companies have a business to run; mayors must respond to the public demand for good, reliable service. But these interests need to be combined for a greater vision: an integrated transport network. And that’s when the conversation begins. What kind of transport network does a city need to operate in a clean, safe and efficient way to meet people’s needs? This is the network we want, and we need to work together to do it.

How is WRI contributing to this process?

Medeiros: Organizations like WRI can apply academic knowledge to ignite positive change. There’s a lot of research and knowledge being generated that needs to reach our cities. Our task is to build bridges that transform theory, data and models into applied actions, into changes that actually improve urban mobility and quality of life in cities. Because that’s our goal: to change reality in cities. Not to do research for the sake of research, but to offer a real change and create a better world for people.

A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese at

Priscila Pacheco is a Communications Analyst at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

Beyond Uber: How the Private Sector is Disrupting Mobility

Tue, 2017-10-31 13:13

A taxi cab protest in Portland, Oregon, over ride-sharing services is recorded by an onlooker. (Photo by Aaron Parecki/Flickr)

In August 2017, Uber passed the 500 million rides mark in India. In under four years, the company has expanded to 29 cities and worked with close to half a million drivers. India’s homegrown competitor, Ola Cabs, is growing just as rapidly. But despite the sheer volume of attention – and business – that these companies have garnered, the disruption in urban mobility today goes deeper than the taxi industry.

According to Tracxn, a start-up tracking platform, 2,436 companies were founded globally in the transport technology sector in 2016. Of these, only 125 operated in the on-demand taxi space. A recent evaluation conducted by WRI India confirms the diversity of the field, finding that so-called “new mobility” companies are making an impact in four broad categories.

Mapping New Mobility

New mobility is a loose term that refers to models using technology to deliver transport in new ways. The most talked about disruptions have centered on re-inventing ownership and delivery, using data and connectivity in new ways, and reducing or even eliminating the use of non-renewable resources.

As is true of all markets amid a major disruption, there is little clarity today on how these models will impact cities tomorrow. What is clear, however, is the need to understand the change, indeed to “count it” – to track its evolution, evaluate its impact, and identify risks and opportunities.

WRI India recently reviewed the business models of 150 companies that applied to our accelerator programs between 2014 and 2017. We also interviewed representatives from 60 companies, including start-ups and business units within larger companies. Based on these reviews, we then classified the companies into 21 categories based on different criteria, including target audience, services offered and business model. The 21 categories were grouped based on additional factors such as area of disruption, technology employed and potential impact to arrive at four major areas of activity.

These categorizations can help us understand the various ways new mobility is changing urban transport:

  1. Shared mobility refers to models in which transportation options are shared among users, like Uber, Lyft and Ola Cabs, and was indeed the largest sector. While all mass transit and public transit modes are essentially shared modes, the term “shared mobility” is often colloquially used for models in which the sharing aspect has been accelerated by the use of mobile technology and smartphone apps. There are a further three categories of shared mobility models:
    • Ride sharing is the simultaneous sharing of transport services among commuters travelling in the same direction at the same time. It includes carpool, taxi share, auto-rickshaw share and bus aggregator
    • Ride hailing or ride sourcing refers to for-hire-vehicles setup using the internet that are used consecutively by commuters, such as taxis, motorcycle taxis and auto-rickshaws. These companies are referred to as aggregators and on-demand companies in India.
    • Vehicle sharing is the consecutive use of assets without ownership. These models allow commuters access to vehicles such as bicycles, cars and motorbikes for short periods of time.
  2. Commuter experience refers to models that somehow support an improved mobility experience for users, often via information sharing that helps people make better decisions. In India, there are broadly two areas in which private enterprises have emerged:
  3. Product innovation refers to businesses that are working to modify or improve transportation assets and vehicles. In India, activity has been limited in this segment, but is expected to grow on the back of the government’s recent electric vehicle commitments. We have mapped businesses across three main segments:
  4. Data-driven decision-making refers to models that use technologies such as sensors and GPS data to provide additional insight to drivers and planners. This is a nascent segment in the Indian market with a few niche products emerging from early stage companies and bespoke solutions from large IT companies. Two major categories so far are:
Implications for Cities

Advocates of new mobility credit the kinds of business outlined in the survey with a host of positive changes, including improving access to transport services and shifting people from “just in case” vehicle ownership to “just in time” vehicle access. On the flip side, sceptics have raised concerns about the impact on vehicle kilometers travelled, emissions and congestion.

The uncertainty and high stakes of the new mobility transition for cities and people are described by Robin Chase, co-founder of ZipCar and WRI board member, as a “heaven or hell” scenario.

“We get hell by taking a wait and see approach,” she says. Autonomous vehicles replace the private car and it becomes cheaper to have yours circle the block or drive home instead of parking. Autonomous delivery vehicles replace store fronts. Drivers of all kinds lose their jobs, despite more cars than ever on the road. And tax revenues that support road infrastructure plummet.

If most autonomous vehicles are operated in shared fleets and offer shared trips though, things could be different. “Instead of spending $9,000 a year on your own car,” Chase says, “when we combine car sharing and ride hailing and buy a seat in a shared autonomous vehicle, we can get door-to-door transport at the speed of private car travel for the cost of a subway ticket. This transforms people’s access to opportunity.”

City administrators everywhere are struggling to craft appropriate responses in this rapidly shifting landscape. In their quest to be more equitable, productive and sustainable, cities must set a vision for what they want to achieve (e.g., the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities), rather than letting technology set the agenda. They must also use all the policy tools at their disposal to shape outcomes: regulatory, infrastructural and financial. This will require convening and coalition building, re-thinking investments, and leveraging new technologies to upgrade formal and informal transport systems.

Jyot Chadha is the Director of the Urban Innovations Program at WRI India.


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