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Sustainable Cities
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Tools for Developing Building Efficiency Goals and Tracking Performance

Thu, 2016-07-21 22:49

Thane, India, a satellite city of Mumbai. Photo credit EMBARQ/Flickr

Gaurav Sharma is a property developer in Thane, a satellite city of Mumbai. His family firm prides itself on supplying high-quality, environmentally-friendly residential housing to India’s growing urban middle and upper-middle class. By setting ambitious efficiency goals for this new housing, Mr. Sharma’s company can play a leading role in addressing the energy and emissions impacts of urbanization and economic growth.

In 2014, global investment in buildings’ energy efficiency reached $90 billion and total building efficiency investment is expected to grow to $125 billion in 2020. To guide these investments and achieve energy and emissions savings, developers like Mr. Sharma and city policymakers need tools to prioritize actions, measure building efficiency performance and track progress against climate, energy and efficiency goals. As India pursues its Smart Cities challenge, target-setting and tracking resources can facilitate timely and cost-effective implementation.

There are dozens of publicly available tools to help all stakeholders develop building efficiency actions and track progress toward implementation. These tools can assist policymakers, project stakeholders and developers like Mr. Sharma in constructing and reaping the benefits of more efficient buildings.

Policy tools provide insights and information for effective design and implementation of policy packages, as well as their impact evaluation. A few examples include the Common Carbon Metric (CCM) and the Co-Benefits Evaluation Tool for the Urban Energy System. Project tools help to design a building construction or renovation project, calculate a building’s energy performance, simulate the effect of various building components and technologies and estimate potential savings from various energy-efficiency measures. Project tools may take the form of freely available software, such as the IFC’s Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) tool.

New York City Makes Efficiency Tools a Priority

New York is a leading example of how cities have used data, tools and tracking to achieve integrated energy and climate goals. As part of its target to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, New York City has introduced building efficiency policies, data-collection programs and implementation tools. With city-wide targets supported by robust monitoring and reporting processes, New York’s experience illustrates the challenges and opportunities of data-driven building efficiency improvement programs.

Three things to consider in light of New York’s experience and the range of existing tools:

  • As a starting point, baseline inventories and building energy-use datasets are useful for assessing materiality of different city emissions sources, identifying key metrics and bridging stakeholder perspectives. In its recent inventory, New York City found that buildings are responsible for 73 percent of citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the use of natural gas, electricity, heating oil, steam and biofuel.
  • Once baseline data are collected, numerous policy and project tools are available to guide program- and policy-level goal development. NYC convened a Buildings Technical Working Group and launched a 10-year building efficiency action plan.
  • Subsequent monitoring, reporting, and verification can preserve accountability and assess cost-effectiveness. Moving forward, New York has identified seven building efficiency improvement actions to put the city on the pathway to achieving its 2050 targets.
A New Suite of Tools

To guide building efficiency stakeholders through the vast range of resources that has become available in recent years, WRI’s Building Efficiency Initiative and the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency have compiled a list of publicly available project and policy tools for improving building efficiency. In addition to introductory webinars on building efficiency resources, the organizations have produced a decision tree that identifies tools based on available data and stakeholder objectives.

As Mr. Sharma and other stakeholders move toward improved building efficiency, these resources can help bridge stakeholder perspectives, inform actions aligned with best practices and track performance. Leaders in building efficiency are now better-equipped than ever to achieve their goals.

Natural Infrastructure Could Help Solve Brazilian Cities’ Water Crises

Mon, 2016-07-11 19:30

Riverfront of the Baia Carioca in Paraty, a municipality in the State of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo Credit: Rodrigo Soldon/Flickr

Leia este post em Português.

Serious water crises have plagued Brazil’s major cities in recent years. Severe pollution in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay is jeopardizing sailing and other water sports at the upcoming Olympic Games. A historic drought from 2013 to 2015 in São Paulo dramatically slowed farm and factory production, threatening the national economy. Residential water rationing forced people to stockpile water in canisters, which became breeding grounds for mosquito-borne dengue and may have contributed to the recent Zika outbreak.

Some causes are familiar: inadequate enforcement of regulations, leaky water distribution systems, and population growth and urban development outstripping available water supplies.   But looking outside the cities’ boundaries, a lesser-known cause emerges: degraded natural infrastructure.

Natural infrastructure (sometimes called “green infrastructure”) refers to natural and open spaces like forests or wetlands that are strategically managed to protect downstream water supplies. If these natural areas are lost to urban sprawl, converted to farms, or are otherwise degraded, city water supplies are more likely to suffer shortages or become polluted. When managed properly, natural infrastructure directs more clean water to cities by controlling water flows, preventing sediment buildup that would otherwise choke streams and rivers, and absorbing pollutants before they flow into waterways.

While some innovative solutions have emerged to protect and restore natural infrastructure—such as Water Funds, public-private partnerships that jointly invest in natural infrastructure—these are still more the exception than the rule. Most cities in Brazil and throughout Latin America rely exclusively on “gray infrastructure” like water treatment plants and man-made reservoirs for their water supplies, even as environmental threats intensify.

How to Scale Up Natural Infrastructure?

Brazil may not yet fully embrace natural infrastructure, but two central elements could help secure more investment: a clear understanding of the business benefits and knowledge-sharing on managing natural infrastructure programs. A few new projects and tools are emerging to achieve these two goals.

Making the Business Case

Natural infrastructure can safeguard and complement traditional water infrastructure systems, for example, by avoiding water pollution that would otherwise need to pass through a conventional water treatment plant, thus reducing costs.

In some cases, the return on investment can be substantial. Like 19 other cities in Latin America, São Paulo has a Water Fund supported by The Latin America Water Funds Partnership, an association of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), FEMSA Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), in partnership with many other partners. TNC estimates that restoring at least 14,300 hectares (35,000 acres) of degraded land in São Paulo’s supply watersheds would reduce sedimentation by 50 percent, saving $2.5 million every year and reducing water treatment costs by 15 percent over the course of 10 years.

WRI and a network of partners developed the “Green-Gray Assessment” method, an economic analysis tool that helps decision makers compare the potential values of natural infrastructure investments alongside the costs and benefits of traditional infrastructure. WRI and others have tested the assessment in places ranging from the United States to Kenya, finding that natural infrastructure oftentimes offers significant cost savings over or when complemented by gray infrastructure.

This year, WRI and FEMSA Foundation will evaluate the costs and benefits of natural infrastructure investments in São Paulo and Monterrey, Mexico, while the Natural Infrastructure in Brazil initiative—led by WRI, International Union for the Conservation of NatureTNCBioAtlantica Institute and the Boticario Group Foundation—will conduct case studies in São Paulo, Vitória and Rio de Janeiro.

Sharing Knowledge and Building Capacity

Implementing natural infrastructure programs requires know-how on a range of topics, from prioritizing which lands to protect and restore to identifying sustainable financing mechanisms. Traditionally, water managers and other decision-makers in Brazil have lacked information on how to carry out these practices, but here, too, tools are emerging.

The Restoration Opportunities Assessment Method (ROAM) guides stakeholders through the development of strategies to restore degraded or deforested natural areas. Experts have already applied ROAM in several regions of Latin America. Other tools such as InVESTRIOS and ROOT can also evaluate the costs and benefits of natural infrastructure, including the potential value of ecosystem services. And in Brazil, the 10-year-old Oasis Initiative  has provided technical assistance to more than 300 landowners supporting natural area conservation, shedding light on how rural development and water stewardship can be compatible.

This year, the Natural Infrastructure in Brazil project and FEMSA Foundation will build on this knowledge by releasing guidance to help decision makers realize profitable investments in natural infrastructure. The guidance will inform strategies for the Latin American Water Funds Partnership’s 40 water funds.

Brazil’s water systems may not be secure yet. But with the right tools and collaboration, the country can start investing in natural infrastructure projects that can provide clean, sufficient water supplies in vulnerable cities for decades to come.

This post was developed by WRI, FEMSA Foundation, Inter-American Development Bank, the Boticario Group Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Instituto BioAtlântica, which are joining forces to scale up natural infrastructure investments to help secure urban water supply in Latin America. 

In Cities’ War Against Climate Change, Heating and Cooling, Transport Are Key Battlegrounds

Fri, 2016-07-01 01:24

Installing rooftop solar panels in Shanghai, China. Photo by Jiri Rezac/The Climate Group

“If you want to win the climate change battle, it will be fought in the cities of the world,” WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer told participants at a forum on the role of urban areas in the global shift to clean energy.

New research from the International Energy Agency (IEA) confirms that cities represent 70 percent of the cost-effective emissions-reduction opportunities between now and 2050. In short, metropolitan areas will be crucial in determining whether the world succeeds in limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

IEA Director for Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks Kamel Ben Naceur. Photo by Katherine Peinhardt/WRI

Cities at the Frontlines of Climate Change

IEA Director for Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks Kamel Ben Naceur shared this and other findings at WRI’s June 24 event, “The Role of Cities in the Global Transition to Clean Energy.”

While Naceur underscored the vast challenges with curbing climate change in cities—they represent half the global population but 70 percent of emissions—he said that with an energy transformation, the 2-degree C target is still within reach.

Major areas for action include:

Heating and Cooling

About two-thirds of projected energy demand growth between now and 2050 will come from emerging and developing economies. “The elephant in the room is heating and cooling,” Naceur said.

It’s also an area rife with opportunity. The IEA report found that cities can reduce their heating and cooling demand by 25 percent without sacrificing comfort, through solutions such as solar-powered air conditioning. “This could be a very good combination because the max demand is in the daytime, when you have the maximum capacity for solar PV,” Naceur said.

Cities can also tap into efficiency to curb power demands for heating and cooling. Jennifer Layke, director of WRI’s Building Efficiency Initiative, pointed to theBuilding Efficiency Accelerator, which will help 30 cities in emerging economies scale up energy-efficient building practices and policies.

Sustainable Transport

Investments in roads and gas-powered cars may dominate the transport sector today, but IEA analysis finds that shifting much of this money toward electric vehicles (EVs) and metro and light rail could dramatically reduce emissions without increasing costs. While there were 1 million EVs in operation in 2015, Naceur says a 2-degree world would see a thousand times that many—1 billion EVs—by 2050. That’s a tall order, but emerging success stories like Beijing (where EV sales have grown exponentially over the past few years) offer hope.

Bridging Local and National Policies

Reinventing energy systems means national and local governments need to work together on complementary policies—a feat that’s proven difficult historically. “There’s significant potential for synergies,” Naceur said.

Take Norway: About 25 percent of the nation’s new cars are EVs, thanks to a combination of national policies like tax breaks and a network of charging stations in cities throughout the country. The Netherlands has Europe’s second-highest rate of EV registration, at just 1.8 percent of total cars.

A New Urban Future

These are just some of the bigger opportunities to spawn a clean energy revolution. To really bring down emissions to safe levels, cities will need to take action across all economic sectors. And with 80 percent of the world’s GDP, they’re in the best position to lead the charge against climate change.

Making Climate Resilience a Core Part of City Development

Wed, 2016-06-29 21:01

Buses at the Porto Alegre Central Market. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

As home to more than half the world’s population, cities are some of the places most vulnerable to the impacts of a warmer world. Yet in many ways, they’re still not equipped to deal with the challenges climate change presents.

While more than 450 cities committed to reduce their emissions as part of the Compact of Mayors, few urban areas have comprehensive adaptation or resilience plans in place. And even in cities with adaptation initiatives, too often these plans are treated as a separate initiative rather than integrated into core city planning decisions like land use or transport planning.

That’s why 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities are teaming up to help cities see urban planning through a resilience lens. The partnership works to ensure that cities can build resilience into their very foundations, learning from the adaptive successes of their peers and mainstreaming adaptation into city operations and planning decisions. The partnership also works to open up routes to finance cities’ climate-resilient projects.

We’re already starting to see some cities take the lead on these two issues, offering powerful lessons for other urban centers to follow:

Making Resilience Mainstream

Careful climate-minded planning can make a city more resilient. Resilience is necessary not only for adapting to climate change, but for maintaining cities’ social, infrastructure, and economic integrity.

Adaptation and resilience planning will not achieve their intended impacts if they are considered side issues. Rather, these measures must become a part of the regular narrative in cities, incorporating locally adapted projects into every aspect of urban development, from land use planning to transport and housing decisions.

Porto Alegre, Brazil is one city that’s already making strides in this area. The city hired its Chief Resilience Officer and launched a Resilience Strategy to integrate resilience into all aspects of city planning.  Drawing on input from the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, Porto Alegre also developed an integrated resilience strategy, which lays out goals like improved land regulation, increased access to sustainable mobility options, and participatory budgeting.

Rio de Janeiro is using a similar resilience lens to examine its urban planning. The WRI Ross Center integrated resilience research with community consultation to produce an innovative set of new indicators of individual and community-level resilience, including factors like social cohesion, institutional reach, climate change risk perception and economic resources.  By focusing on resilience for city residents, this research served to inform the people-centered plan put in place by city leaders and has contributed to Rio’s recently launched Resilience Strategy. WRI and 100RC are now looking to scale some of these practices to other cities, such as Sao Paulo.

Funding Resilience

Recent research estimates a finance gap of approximately $4-5 trillion per year for sustainable, resilient infrastructure. This deficit means that cities will have to do more with less. Resilience thinking is a way to do just that.  By orienting city planning around resilience practices, cities can uncover new efficiencies in investments to achieve multiple benefits.

Some cities are already taking steps toward dedicated funding for resilience. In two dozen cities in the 100RC Network, mayors and city leaders have pledged 10 percent of their city budgets for resilience projects and initiatives. While gaps in funding for urban infrastructure may persist, this is an important first step.

Innovative sources of capital are emerging, and the WRI/100RC partnership will unveil further possibilities. For example, WRI’s Climate Resilience Practice has partnered with the UN Capital Development Fund to help countries develop national systems for channeling global climate finance to local-level resilience projects.

The cities of the future will be determined by the decisions that urban practitioners, local leaders and others make today. WRI and 100RC are ready to help these decision-makers put resilience at the very core of their urban agendas.

This is a cross-post from 100 Resilient Cities.

Solving the Fresh Water Crisis

Sat, 2016-06-25 00:56

Istanbul, Turkey. Photo Credit: Benoit Colin/WRI

This article was originally posted on the Pacific Standard.

For the past five years, the World Economic Forum has listed water crises among the world’s top global risks, alongside others like “major systemic financial failure” and cyberattacks. Unfortunately, the ranking has proven accurate. The past year alone has seen historic drought conditions in California, devastating floods in India, and water-supply crises in cities including São Paulo, Brazil, and Flint, Michigan.

Now, as attention turns to reducing exposure to water risks, innovators are looking closer at what’s driving our growing, global thirst. While agriculture accounts for 70 percent of the world’s water use, future projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development indicate that energy and industrial activities are the fastest-growing sources of future water demands.

Companies and countries should be looking for partners and solutions that address these growing water and energy demands, including efficiency and re-use. These are more cost-effective means of meeting needs compared to investments in supply solutions like desalination and new power plants.

Companies will find themselves asking: Who can we partner with to develop new technologies and business models that will work for our customers?

Countries will find themselves asking: How will we support economic development while also ensuring all of our citizens have access to clean water and energy?

Among the more intriguing answers to both of these questions: cities and women.

Why Urbanization and Gender Equity Matter

Cities and women happen to know more about water and energy than anyone.

It takes a tremendous amount of water to cool the power plants that keep a city’s lights on. Thermoelectric power plants account for about half of all water use in the United States. Likewise, it requires a significant amount of energy to heat, treat, and transport water — and even more to convert saltwater into fresh water.

Meanwhile, in emerging economies and rural areas, women are best positioned for — but too often excluded from — informing decisions on water and energy use. They spend 25 percent of each day collecting water and an additional 40 hours each month collecting fuel for their families. In many cases, women who are in charge of household decisions on water and energy have the most direct and important insights on meeting future needs.

Cities as Water Innovation Demonstration Grounds

Consider China’s 15 power-hungry megacities — urban areas with populations of 10 million or more. They are actively looking for win-win solutions that meet energy needs while minimizing water requirements and air-quality impacts. Today, most of these cities are dependent on coal-fired power plants, which can be among the most water-intensive options for electricity. Some 60 percent of existing plants are located in areas of China facing significant or extreme water stress. That suggests China’s massive urban areas will need to invest in low- or no-water cooling technologies for their power plants, while expanding wind and solar power and alternatives to fresh water for cooling thermoelectric power plants (such as brackish water or seawater). Indeed, these shifts are already starting as part of China’s climate and water action plans and other government mandates.

Other smaller but growing Chinese cities are helping companies test and prove new technologies. A partnership effort in Xiangyang, for example, is harvesting untapped energy in wastewater, converting sludge into natural gas that can power buildings and vehicles. Look out for more partnerships between cities and companies with solutions on the demand side of the equation, like energy efficiency and water re-use, in China and around the globe.

Women as Essential Business Partners

It’s increasingly clear that gender equity is a fundamental part of not only water and energy resource planning, but overall economic development. Development agencies, understanding that gender mainstreaming leads to better decision-making, are investing heavily in projects that more actively involve women in energy and water planning. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 include priorities like universal energy and water access, as well as specific targets for mainstreaming women’s roles in such breakthroughs.

Companies, including WRI partners Coca-Cola and Unilever, meanwhile, are participating in initiatives focused on empowering women. They are investing millions in programs that, for example, support entrepreneurship and increase local water access and distribution. Expect women to play critical roles as countries and companies look for ways to balance competing demands for water and energy and ensure access for all.

A New Approach

The world faces a future of extreme water variability. Water risks and supply disruptions are already affecting business in California, China, India, and elsewhere. This is true not just for the electric power and water industries, but for customers and suppliers who rely on them. One study suggests that, over the past four years, Californians paid $2 billion in electricity costs related to drought conditions.

But this is not strictly a supply problem. It is just as much a demand challenge, and innovators should pay attention to opportunities to reduce overreliance on limited fresh water resources. In particular, there is a glaring need to reduce the amount of water needed for energy and the energy needed for water.

Fortunately, necessity is the mother of invention. Those who need and use water and energy the most will be the best partners in finding ways to address demand. Companies and countries alike should find ways to work with cities, women, and others who can help change the way we manage the world’s most important resources.

4 Lessons on Scaling Up Sustainable Transport in US and Chinese Cities

Fri, 2016-06-17 19:30

Biking in downtown Beijing. Photo credit Benoit Colin/WRI

The world’s two-largest emitters have a lot to learn from each other—especially on transport.

Transportation is already a major source of CO2 emissions in both China and the United States—at 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. The percentage of people traveling by car is increasing in Chinese cities, rising from 15 percent to 34 percent in Beijing between 2002 and 2013, creating air pollution and fuelling climate change.

Chinese cities have some of the most extensive cycling infrastructure in the world. Photo by Michael Kodransky/ITDP

It’s the reason officials and experts from the two nations came together at the recent US-China Transportation Forum in Los Angeles.

The annual event, bringing together public and private sectors, aimed to boost trade, accelerate knowledge-sharing and inspire solutions to common challenges.

Experts discussed ways to create more sustainable transport in cities—such as public transit, bike paths and pedestrian walkways—and coalesced around four big ideas:

1. Learn from the Game-Changing Pilots.

Local “complete streets” campaigns are popping up throughout U.S. cities, rethinking streets’ functions to be more multi-modal, multi-functional and focused on people rather than cars. For example, New York City has created slow traffic zones and closed some of its streets to cars entirely. These low-cost solutions produce tremendous benefits, including increasing foot traffic and revitalizing neighborhoods. In Seattle, reengineering streets with permeable pavements and rain gardens helps manage polluted stormwater runoff.

Now federal programs are emerging to help local pilots like these spread more quickly. For example, as the first federal bill endorsing complete streets, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act encourages cities to report progress on complete streets, requires the use of an Urban Street Design Guide, and provides grants to pertinent projects. Consequently, U.S. cities have issued more than 900complete streets local policies.

Similarly, mandated by the Urban Road Design Code, Chinese cities have some of the most extensive cycling infrastructure in the world. With WRI’s support, the national government will soon introduce a safe station access manual designed to help cities make streets safer for pedestrians.

2. Set Up the Right Performance Metrics.

The frequent failures of metro systems in New York City and Washington D.C. suggest not only a lack of maintenance, but inadequate performance metrics adopted by the transportation industry. For example, most transit authorities use a metric called “on-time performance,” which notes whether a train deviates from its schedule, but not how late it is. This type of benchmarking creates an inaccurate picture of a system’s strengths and weaknesses, which prevents problems from getting fixed.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is considering a better metric, known as Excessive Wait Time. It quantifies the lateness of a train compared to the scheduled frequencies, thereby capturing the waiting time of average transit riders and revealing real problems with transit operations.

Similarly in China, WRI has worked with governments to employ transit users’ satisfaction ratings as a key performance indicator of transit service quality, as required by the national 13th Five-Year Plan. The ratings will help provide a comprehensive assessment of transit services that would otherwise be overlooked in traditional metrics, like comfort.

3. Work Across Silos.

Urban transport projects often involve multiple agencies, like those dedicated to urban development, transport and law enforcement. Since priorities, funding cycles and performance metrics of different agencies do not always align, working across silos is extremely important.

In China, national grants from different ministries are sometimes are pooled to single local agency for coordinated usage. For example, biking improvement funding from the Ministry of Housing and Urban Rural Development is merged with transit funding from the Ministry of Transport for more holistic and comprehensive improvements.

4. National Programs Can Scale Up Local Successes.

National programs are essential vehicles to accelerate the adoption of sustainable urban transport ideas at scale, and the momentum is gathering.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 authorized $60 billion— about 42 percent of the nation’s transit capital investments – to enhance transit services in next five years.  Likewise, China’s 13th Five-Year plan (2016-2020) provided unprecedented support to the National Transit Metropolis Demonstration Program. This initiative aims to empower half of Chinese cities financially and technically by 2020 to improve transit service and promote transit-oriented development.

Building on these lessons, both countries can drive great changes in their transport systems.

WRI is currently supporting China’s Transit Metropolis Demonstration Program. It tests ideas and develops solutions in Suzhou, Guiyang, Kunming, and Zhuzhou. It also scales up local success through national policy-making, handholding with the Ministry of Transport and other ministries.

23 Chinese Cities Commit to Peak Carbon Emissions by 2030

Thu, 2016-06-09 23:34

U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit in Beijing. Photo credit: Wee Kean Fong

More than half the world’s people live in cities, and cities are responsible for more than 70 percent of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions on Earth. These dramatic statistics meancities have a critical role to play in addressing climate change. This is especially crucial in China, where fast-growing metropolitan areas like Chengdu – with a population of 14 million — have become engines for economic, scientific and technological progress. Until recently, Chengdu has not focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even as it emphasized sustainable development.

That changed today during the 2016 China-US Climate-Smart / Low Carbon Cities Summit in Beijing, when Chengdu formally announced its commitment to control carbon dioxide emissions so that they reach a peak around 2025 and decline after that – a target five years ahead of China’s national aim to peak carbon emissions by 2030. With support from WRI and partners, Chengdu completed its 2010 greenhouse gas inventory, set its emission peak target and developed a low carbon-strategic plan to reach its target.

At the summit, China’s Alliance of Pioneer Peaking Cities (APPC) announced that 23 cities and provinces are now members and committed to peaking emissions by or before 2030. These cities and provinces represent about 16.8 percent of China’s population, 27.5 percent of national GDP, and 15.6 percent of national carbon dioxide emissions.

Why China’s Cities Matter

In China, cities play an integral role in helping the country achieve its national climate goals. Cities bore most of the responsibility for achieving the medium-term target set out in the 2011-2015 five-year plan of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 17 percent per unit of GDP from 2010 levels by 2015. The 2016-2020 five-year planspecifically mentions that more developed cities should peak their emissions ahead of national peaking target.

Recognizing cities’ importance, China’s National Development and Reform Commission selected 42 pilot cities and provinces to join the national low carbon program. These cities act as pioneers for low-carbon practices such as making greenhouse gas inventories, low-carbon action planning, low-carbon economic transition planning and low-carbon technology deployment.

In June 2015, China formally submitted its intended nationally determined commitment (INDC) and committed to peak its carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. Subsequently, the commission elevated its low carbon cities initiatives byestablishing the APPC in September 2015. The intention is to encourage cities peak their emissions ahead of the national target year. Eleven cities and provinces joined the APPC as founding members.

Cities are Key to China’s Climate Targets

The voluntary APPC program is important for four reasons:

  1. Current national commitments are not enough to achieve the global 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) target. Cities’ early peaking could help China to reach its national emission peak ahead of 2030 and contribute to the global 2 degrees C target.
  2. This is the first time in history Chinese cities are committed to long-term emission reduction targets. Before this, they were only committed to five-year intensity targets in line with the national five-year plans.
  3. This pioneering group of cities are expected to encourage more cities to commit to more ambitious climate actions. This could include the cities currently designated as national low-carbon pilot projects, as well as the new batch of national pilots that to be announced later this year.
  4. Different parts of China develop at different speeds. Some cities, especially those in the Western region, are still rapidly industrializing and may need more time to get to peak emissions. To balances these cities’ progress, more fully developed cities need to peak emissions ahead of 2030. APPC cities will play an important role in this respect.

While committing to emission peaks is an important step, cities need to turn their commitments into action. They need well-designed plans to help make the transition to a low-carbon economy. They also need accurate data to help make the most effective decisions. They can look to cities like Chengdu and tools like WRI’s emission inventory, emission peaking, and low carbon action planning tools to reach their goals.

From Bogota to Belgrade, Cities Commit to Energy-Efficient Buildings

Mon, 2016-06-06 19:30

Belgrade, Serbia committed to new goals in building efficiency. Photo by Andres Arjona/Flickr

Around the world, urban leaders including university presidents, renowned architects, city mayors and financial managers are recognizing the need to manage explosive energy demand growth from rapid urbanization. But changing business-as-usual development is not an easy task.

Today, 12 new cities are committing to accelerate their efforts in making buildings more energy efficient by joining the Building Efficiency Accelerator, a coalition to achieve the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative’s goal of doubling energy efficiency by 2030.  These cities—Belgrade, Serbia; Bogota, Colombia; Coimbatore, India; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Eskişehir, Turkey; Medellín, Colombia; Porto Alegre, Brazil; Rajkot, India; Riga, Latvia; Santa Rosa, Philippines; Shimla, India and Tshwane, South Africa—join 11 other cities already in the Accelerator. Together, they seek to reap the many benefits energy-efficient buildings produce, such as reducing energy demand in new and existing buildings by 25-50 percent.

These new cities will work with WRI and more than 30 international organizations in a multi-stakeholder partnership. Five of them—Belgrade, Bogota, Da Nang, Eskisehir, and Raijot—will join Mexico City as part of a “learning laboratory” for the Accelerator, and will work with a technical advisor from the partnership to help them prioritize, engage local stakeholders, develop local materials and initiate their policies and projects.  Over the past year, Mexico City has been localizing the national building code and planning to retrofit a set of its municipal buildings.

All 23 cities will also work with BEA partners to pursue new policies and projects.  WRI’s recent guidebook, Accelerating Building Efficiency: 8 Actions for Urban Leaders, offers a menu of options, including 8 policy actions to scale up energy-efficient buildings:

1) Enact building efficiency codes and standards to require minimum levels of energy efficiency in building design, construction and/or operation. This can decrease energy expenses throughout the lifetime of the building.

Brussels, Belgium has met great success with multiple Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings projects. Starting off as a response to a European Directive on buildings occupied and owned by public authorities, Brussels went above and beyond the requirements of the Directive to enact stricter standards at an accelerated pace for energy performance in new buildings.

2) Commit to efficiency improvement targets.  Many communities set local goals for energy performance in publicly owned buildings. Governments can also introduce voluntary targets to incentivize private sector action and create “challenge” programs for city-wide action.

Tokyo, Japan has implemented a cap-and-trade program that limits emissions from large-scale industrial and commercial infrastructure. The program engages tenants and owners to reduce emissions 17 percent between 2015 and 2019.

3)  Collect energy performance information on buildings. Understanding building energy use and benchmarking that information against other similar buildings is a good way to decide where investments can be made for the lowest-performing buildings.  Having data allows decision-makers to track energy performance against improvement targets.

New York City has made progress on this action, passing a benchmarking law that requires owners of large buildings to report their energy use. Local Law 84, under which these policies were enacted, also spurred the development of a tool to predict energy savings at the building level, the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation’s Energy Savings Potential (ESP) Tool.

4) Establish financial programs, incentives and other options to help efficiency projects overcome economic barriers such as upfront costs.

Armenia has been a pioneer in this arena. Its innovative R2E2 program created a revolving fund for efficiency and renewable energy projects.

5)  Lead by example. Successful government policies and projects undertaken on government buildings can create greater demand and acceptance for building efficiency technologies and approaches.

Buenos Aires, Argentina has launched its Energy Efficiency Program in Public Buildings in order to help meet its goal of reducing its overall emissions 30 percent below 2008 levels by 2030. The initiative has taken off, with more than 20 public buildings undergoing energy audits and implementing best practices for improved efficiency and building performance. City leaders are implementing energy management tools, as well as new standards for environmental sustainability in new public buildings, bringing the city closer to its emissions targets.

6)  Engage building owners, managers and occupants using partnerships, competitions and awards.

Singapore has created a Green Leasing Toolkit, which equips both tenants and landlords with information about monitoring and improving building efficiency. This tool boosts building performance from the ground up, and provides tenants and owners with the knowledge to take action.

7) Work with technology, equipment and other service providers to develop skills and support business models to meet and accelerate building efficiency demand.

Bainbridge Island in Washington State is working with efficiency service providers on capacity-building by hosting workshops on technical improvements to buildings, such as air leakage control. Bainbridge Island has also increased standards for contractors’ certifications, better educating the technicians who make decisions about buildings’ features.

8)  Work with utilities to improve access to energy usage data and support efforts to reduce customers’ energy demand.

Brazil’s “Intelligent Energy Program” has mandated that utilities make annual investments in building efficiency projects. It has spurred programs like Conviver, which installs more efficient fixtures in lower-income communities, increasing performance of buildings for more vulnerable populations.

Cities are seizing the transformative opportunity that building efficiency best practices can provide—a chance to meet the energy needs of growing communities by stretching each kilowatt hour to more people. Building energy efficiency also helps cities reach their climate goals, reduce costs and improve productivity.  With cities growing rapidly, their leaders face a myriad of infrastructure investment requirements – energy efficiency is one of the smartest investments they can make.

Creating “Super-Blocks” in Barcelona

Thu, 2016-06-02 21:50

Barcelona’s city blocks. Photo by shawnleishman/Flickr

Barcelona is re-designing its streets; city planners released a new plan that takes city spaces back from cars, for the people. Re-orienting the city to the human scale, Barcelona’s leaders have decided to create more space for walking and cycling, while leaving less space for traffic jams. The goal is that this transformation will increase Barcelona residents’ access to the city, with new areas for recreation and social interaction along the historic city streets.

The new plan will return 60% of the space of the streets where cars circulate today to the citizens for pedestrian use. The city has an ambitious plan for the redesign of the blocks of neighborhoods, turning them into “super-blocks.” The idea is to join nine city blocks into one, forming a square. The cars on the internal streets will be replaced by boardwalks, bike paths, recreational areas and green areas. The Eixample district will be the first to participate in the project.

The design of the “super-blocks” will humanize public space, as it takes into consideration livability, sustainable mobility, green areas and biodiversity, while aiming to promote citizen participation. Local government leaders aim to create public spaces for the people, emphasizing social interaction, health and recreation for all. The measures, in addition to benefiting residents, are aligned with urban sustainability goals. The design of “super-blocks” re-organizes city streets to be oriented toward sustainable mobility options, like walking, cycling and using public transport.

Through the new design, cars, motorcycles and buses are restricted to the streets outside the perimeter of the blocks, while private vehicles will have even greater restrictions. People who own a car and live in areas restricted to pedestrians will be able to access the internal roads, but only at reduced speeds of 10 kilometers per hour, thus reducing overall congestion and the likelihood of fatal traffic crashes. From the point of view of urban planning, Barcelona’s approach to compact neighborhoods and plans for mixed urban land use is aligned with the recommendations outlined in the Manual for Transit-Oriented Development, also referred to as DOTS. This approach enhances green spaces for citizens, encouraging social interaction and healthy modes of transport.

A study released by the Environmental Epidemiology Agency determined that last year, about 1,200 deaths could have been avoided if Barcelona met the air quality standards recommended by the European Union.  The study cites 18,700 hospital cases of preventable asthma attacks, as well as 12,100 cases of acute bronchitis and 600 hospitalizations related to cardiovascular problems. In addition, the city traffic is responsible for elevated noise levels, which have reached a level 61% higher than what is considered healthy by law.

However, the improvement of urban spaces for citizens depends on how the plan will be implemented. The project consists of adding over 300km of bike paths to existing cycling infrastructure. In addition, the city has a bus network servicing many of its main roads. Salvador Rueda, director of the Barcelona’s Urban Ecology Agency has predicted that these measures will ensure that buses have rapid and reliable service for public transport users across the city.

The new designs will be installed in nine different places across Barcelona, with an estimated project cost of €10 million. Barcelona is pioneering its urban development, using tactical urbanism to create healthier, more sustainable city spaces that are accessible to all. Returning city streets to the people, Barcelona is re-examining what a city block can be.

Urban Planning “Games”: A Novel Approach to an Old Problem

Thu, 2016-05-26 23:32

Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marengo/Flickr

How do you liven up discussions around urban planning, get participants thinking outside of the box and get people to take a holistic and inclusive approach to community planning? Why not try a game?

Games are emerging as a useful platform for fostering meaningful dialogue on today’s most pressing urban development issues. Through simulations, role playing and even the use of LEGO blocks, interactive urban development and planning games can provide a fun and engaging way of bringing disparate groups of stakeholders to the table. These games remove the threatening atmosphere often felt in more formal meetings, and allow participants to more casually communicate with one another while collectively evaluating different paths of development.

Games can help simplify complex and seemingly insurmountable problems by detangling components and breaking them down into smaller, more comprehensible pieces. Furthermore, games that require role playing can force participants out of their comfort zone helping them to begin to understand and view problems from a different perspective, such as through the eyes and experiences of a bicyclist, bringing light to issues they may normally overlook.

Recognizing the value of games, the United Nations in collaboration with the makers of Minecraft, the Urban Land Institute, MIT and countless other institutions have developed interactive games as teaching and outreach tools to facilitate learning and decision making between stakeholders of all ages and backgrounds.

Putting TOD Games in Action in Mexico and Turkey

Recently, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ team in Mexico co-developed a role playing, LEGO-based game to supplement their Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Guide for Urban Communities, inviting players to explore a range of development strategies at different scales for a city and facilitating a discussions of the benefits of zoning and transit-oriented development (TOD).

Players are assigned roles, representing different government agencies or sectors, private developers and the public. With a map of a specific site, they use colorful LEGOS that represent different land use types (e.g. commercial, residential, industrial) and stickers to denote different types of sidewalks (e.g. with or without trees), cycle paths (e.g. two-way), and traffic lanes (e.g. dedicated bus lanes) to build and visualize different development scenarios.

DOTS game in Mexico. Photo by Benoit Colin/WRI

The game serves as a vehicle for bringing to life the principles of TOD and has proven to be an effective technique in engaging the public and professionals from multiple sectors in talking about TOD.

Given the game’s success in Mexico, the Ross Center’s team in Turkey incorporated a session of the game into the 2015 Livable Cities Symposium in Istanbul in November 2016. The workshop introduced the topic of transit-oriented development (TOD) and allowed participants to explore the concept through the redesign of an actual squatter settlement (Kucuk Armutlu), located next to the university where the Symposium was held. The workshop provided an interactive environment for participants from various disciplines—from urban planning and environmental engineering to the private sector and academia—to learn how they can better design communities in an actual low-to-middle income neighborhood isolated from public transport, both by natural barriers and a major highway.

Players were divided into two teams. One group was assigned to represent  a  ‘business as usual’ approach, requiring members to develop recommendations within the confines of current legal restrictions, such as zoning that does not allow mixed-use development, and planning conventions that typically take a top-down strategy. The other group was tasked with taking a more ‘radical’ approach, allowing recommendations to include reforming laws and planning processes. Both teams focused on three main problems facing the community: disjointed scales of planning; disconnected modes of transit that are physically inaccessible by the community; and a lack of vibrant public space.

In addition to addressing real problems and facilitating an understanding of TOD in the design process, the game attempts to foster meaningful collaboration between players of diverse backgrounds. Each player must shed their professional and educational beliefs and take on an assigned character, making decisions through that person’s eyes.

This was the most challenging part of the game. Many of the engineers, urban designers, architects and others found it difficult to support new and contrary ideas to what they normally believe. Another challenge that the players faced was learning to interact with one another and accept different perspectives. In fact, what was most revealing about the workshop and the game was that with honest and enthusiastic participation and discussion, it was still possible to establish common ground.

Players acknowledged the importance of active participation from diverse stakeholders in the decision-making process. The participants’ motivation and excitement demonstrated the importance of instilling empathy in players during the strategic decision-making process. Greater empathy fostered better communication and collaboration and helped players to better plan for all people. Participants realized that planners in Turkey and beyond need to actively engage the public in the planning process—a practice that is largely non-existent today.

As Jane Jacobs explains in The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Beyond Emissions: 5 Cities Achieve Social and Economic Development by Reducing GHG Emissions from Transport

Wed, 2016-05-18 18:00

Vélib Bike Station in Paris, France. Photo by mariordo59/Flickr

Low-carbon transport has many social and economic benefits that can accelerate local sustainable development and that deserve recognition beyond their role in addressing climate change. A new series of papers from the Low Emissions Development Strategies Global Partnership’s (LEDS GP) Transport Working Group highlights case studies that provide evidence of the variety of social and economic benefits of low-carbon urban transport—from job creation and saved time and money, to fight poverty, safer roads and cleaner air.

Here are five cities that are maximizing these benefits and leading the way:

BRT Saves Guangzhou, China US $14 Million Annually

Bus rapid transit (BRT), can help reduce the amount of time and money people spend on transport, lower the government’s operations budget and cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With about 12 million people in Guangzhou’s metropolitan area, the city suffered from an overloaded bus system and daily congestion. Launched in 2010, the BRT carries 850,000 passengers every day and has succeeded in shifting 10-15 percent of trips away from private vehicles. High capacity buses move 29 percent faster than pre-BRT traffic, reducing fuel consumption and making operations more efficient. In addition to generating annual savings of US $14 million and reducing 86,000 tons of CO2 every year, passengers personally save $103 million in out-of-pocket travel costs and 30 million hours of travel.

Velib, Paris’s Bike Share, Employs 400 People

A broad range of jobs—in construction, management, sales and services—can be created by adopting low-carbon transport. With a 6.6 percent unemployment rate in Paris and young people making up a large number of the unemployed, Velib is looking to make a small dent by providing directly 400 full-time and part-time jobs to local youth. Employees have a variety of educational backgrounds and take up services, warehouse and call center jobs. While Velib already has about 20,600 bikes at 1451 stations spread throughout the city, the municipal government is playing an increasingly supportive role to create a bike friendly environment—developing road safety campaigns, speed restriction zones and about 125 miles of new bike lanes for more connectivity. This has helped increase ridership by 70 percent since Velib’s introduction, cutting emissions down by 32,330 tons of CO2 per year.

Ahmedabad’s BRT Will Prevent 77 Percent of Traffic Fatalities by 2040

Globally, private vehicles cause about 70 percent of all traffic related injuries, and it is estimated that traffic crashes will be the third greatest cause of premature deaths by 2020 as a result of rapid motorization. With a focus on safety and access for pedestrians and cyclists, low-carbon transport can help improve traffic safety in cities. For example, strategic changes—protected stations, designated entry and exit points, level boarding for safe access to buses—to Ahmedabad’s BRT system, Janmarg, have led to 79 percent positive safety ratings for the system. Since 2009, Janmarg has carried over 140,000 daily passengers, and is slated to reduce a third of the city’s total CO2 emissions by 2040, an 84 percent reduction from the baseline.

Stockholm’s Congestion Charge Cuts Hazardous Particulate Matter by Nearly 10 Percent

Fossil fuel consumption by motorized transport releases exhaust fumes that contain particulate matter hazardous to human health and detrimental to the climate. However, Stockholm’s congestion pricing system shows how cities can cut vehicle pollution to curb climate change. By pricing vehicles during peak hours in congestion-prone zones, the city is able to distribute traffic flow uniformly throughout the day and cut back on road blockages. Private vehicles are charged 15 kronas ($1.77) on workdays and double in evening and morning rush hours. This stimulated about a 9 percent increase in public transport ridership from 2005 levels and an 18 percent reduction in traffic volumes by 2011. Together, this cut down the particulate matter by 9 percent and mono-nitrogen oxides by 7 percent and has been generating daily revenues of $500,000 to 2.7 million for the city. These funds are then reinvested for expanding bike lanes and new bus lines.

Lagos’s BRT Reduces Poor Households’ Transport Costs from 17 to 11 Percent of Income

Key to low-carbon transport is connecting low-income groups to social and economic opportunities in their city in a clean way. Nigeria’s Lagos BRT system, BRT-Lite, provides a high-quality, efficient and affordable service to the local population, about 61 percent of whom live under poverty. Lagos is the fastest growing city in Nigeria, and a high rate of private vehicle ownership has resulted in 27,500 vehicles congesting the city’s roads daily. On average, a resident of Lagos spends about 17 percent of his or her income on either private vehicles or public bus and minibus services. The BRT system has helped reduce the income spent by poor households on public transport from 17 to 11 percent, as BRT fares are 30 percent lower than those for traditional public transport.  

These five stories from the LEDS GP’s series of papers demonstrates how cities can accelerate the provision of social and economic benefits for city residents by choosing low-carbon transport policies and projects. Many more national and subnational leaders should take note from these inspiring examples, innovating and enabling low-carbon transport through greater investment, public-private partnerships, new regulatory frameworks and more public participation.

The Rise of the Urban Energy “Prosumer”

Mon, 2016-05-16 20:12

An increasingly important actor on India’s urban scene could help reach the ambitious Indian goal of reaching 40 GW of rooftop solar power capacity by 2022. Meet the urban electricity “prosumer,” a consumer of electricity who also produces it and can sell it back to the grid, often through a rooftop solar PV system. For major cities in developing countries, the prosumer could be an essential ingredient in meeting the growing need for electricity.

A “prosumer” produces and consumes electricity, often through rooftop solar panels, and sells it back to the grid. Photo by Helena Wright/Flickr

The use of rooftop solar PV systems is catching on with prosumers, thanks to improved performance of rooftop solar panels, more consumer choices, lower costs and available subsidies. Increasing retail electricity tariffs and unreliable supply have been other drivers as households look for alternative electricity sources. By late 2014, an estimated 30 percent of the global cumulative installed capacity of PV was owned by residential entities. Today, in the US alone, more than 600,000 homes and businesses have on site-solar. And the boom in residential solar in the US isn’t set to slow down: UNEP estimates that the number of residential customers with solar PV is predicted to more than double by 2020, with an average of 1.7 GW added capacity annually.

How India’s New Tariff Policy Supports Prosumers

In India, renewable energy is expected to play an essential role in generating added electricity capacity, according to the Ministry of Power’s recent Tariff Policy, which makes the promotion of renewable electricity one of its primary objectives. The policy endorses the idea of prosumers as a way to spur growth in renewables, particularly rooftop solar PV systems, encouraging state governments to support solar friendly policies. By October 2015, the country had a total installed rooftop solar PV capacity of 525 MW. However, this means that reaching India’s national solar rooftop target of 40GW by 2022 will require increasing current capacity 76 times by that date.

Many Indian states, like Karnataka, already have policies that support rooftop solar PV systems. Karnataka’s capital city Bengaluru, like many large cities in developing countries, is struggling to meet its energy needs. In September 2015, the city’s utility, BESCOM, failed to meet the needs of its 8.9 million customers by falling 900 MW short of meeting its 3,400 MW peak demand.  Part of Bengaluru’s struggle to meet demand is due to increasing pressures of water scarcity and droughts on the city’s highly dependent hydro power plants. To alleviate pressure and meet energy demand, major cities like Bengaluru are exploring ways to increase prosumer adoption of rooftop solar PV through net-metering, a policy that gives consumers financial incentives to generate electricity for the grid by paying prosumers 9.56 rupees per kilowatt hour (kWh) (equivalent to 0.14cents per kWh) for surplus electricity produced. As of May 2016, this rate changed considerably to 7.08 rupees/kWh for systems smaller than 10kW, and significantly lowers the amount prosumers would receive for surplus electricity.

Examples of How BESCOM’s Net-Metering Program Works

Since Bengaluru introduced the net-metering program in 2014, over 5.6 MW of rooftop solar panels have been installed by residents, business owners, schools, and other public institutions, and have been connected to BESCOM’s grid. But the program will need to accelerate quickly for the state of Karnataka to meet its solar goal of 400 MW of grid-connected rooftop systems by 2018.

Overcoming Barriers

To better understand the current barriers to Bengaluru’s net-metering program, WRI published a working paper, Prosumers in Bengaluru: Lessons and Barriers for Scaling Rooftop Solar, which identifies obstacles, including a lack of understanding of rooftop solar PV performance, cost and payback by potential prosumers and confusion over the details of the net-metering program.

Find out more about what cities can do to meet electricity demands by tapping into the prosumer movement.

C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Forum & Workshop

Fri, 2016-05-13 20:37

Global leaders in city finance met in Rio de Janeiro on 5 April 2016 for the first-of-its-kind global forum to accelerate the financing of climate action in cities. The C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Forum brought together over 130 representatives from government, non-government organisations and financial institutions to collaborate on solutions to bridge the gap between city climate ambitions and the investment community.

Forum location: Museum of Tomorrow, Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

The event was part of the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, an ongoing partnership between C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the Citi Foundation and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, designed to help accelerate and scale up investment in sustainable urban solutions in cities around the world.

“I ask you all to pool the intelligence, experience and creativity in this room to work out how we can bridge the gap between cities and the finance community,” said Rodrigo Rosa, Special Advisor to the C40 Chair. “How to correct asymmetries of information, eliminate barriers, build confidence among us. If we bridge this gap, we can make sustainable cities a reality. This is the ambition of the collaboration between the City of Rio, C40, the Citi Foundation and WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, which brings us here today.”


Representatives of the event partners, from left: Benoit Lefevre, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities; James Alexander, C40; Val Smith, Citi; Rodrigo Rosa, C40 and City of Rio de Janeiro; Toni Lindau, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities; Helio Lima Magalhães, Citi Brazil; and Marco Aurelio Santos Cardoso, City of Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

City finance leaders participated in a series of panel discussions and networking opportunities to inspire action, highlight innovation, and create networks to accelerate city climate action through improved financing and new business models. Key themes of the day included leveraging private investment, innovative financing mechanisms and unlocking municipal funding sources for low-carbon buildings, transport and urban development.

Opening panel session on financing thriving and sustainable cities. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Panelists included representatives from the Boston Consulting Group, C40, Citi, the Climate Bonds Initiative, HSBC, the Inter-American Development Bank, UN-Habitat, the World Bank, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities and 2° Investing Initiative, as well as city representatives from Boston, Buenos Aires, Durban, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tshwane.

Discussions centered on public and private collaboration to increase investment in sustainable urban solutions to improve the quality of life for rapidly growing city populations around the world, with 70 per cent of the global population projected to live in cities by 2050.  They highlighted a number of successful projects around the world and the need for a common language and a forum for cities, service providers and capital providers to engage with one another in productive dialogue to scale up and replicate these successes.

Panelists share insights on finance challenges and opportunities, from left: Horacio Terraza, Inter-American Development Bank; Umar Banda, City of Tshwane; and Clemente Allende, City of Buenos Aires. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Panelist, Umar Banda, CFO of the South African city of Tshwane, summed up the need for collaboration between public and private sectors from his perspective as a leading municipal finance practitioner:

“Cities in developing economies are finding it more challenging to build sustainable economic infrastructure whilst addressing the basic service delivery needs of the poor. It is clear that complex solutions involving the finance houses, the private sector and public sector are needed to build sustainable cities of the future. Cities have demonstrated that the solutions are there. The inaugural Financing Sustainable Cities Forum and Workshop has created the much-needed platform for cities to collaborate with each other and investors to put together a financed sustainable solution to climate change affecting cities.”

Following the Forum, ten C40 cities engaged in a two-day workshop hosted by C40 and the City of Rio de Janeiro in the Palácio da Cidade. The workshop provided a private space for cities to share their finance challenges and good practices and collaborate on practical solutions. The cities each developed concrete action plans to implement the new ideas from the workshop.

City representatives from Bogota, Boston, Buenos Aires, Curitiba, Durban, Lima, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tshwane, along with C40 and WRI Ross Center staff, at the Palacio de Cidade in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Cities presented on a range of solutions they were pursuing and challenges they were facing under the themes of land value capture, green bonds, revolving loan funds, public-private partnerships, development finance, energy efficiency for affordable housing and infrastructure planning.

Sergio Eduardo Martinez Jaimes sharing insights from the City of Bogota during the workshop. Photo by Camila Uchoa

Cities were also given a preview of a prototype of the Financing Sustainable Cities Platform, which will launch online as part of the second phase of the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative. The solutions-focused Platform will highlight options available to improve urban services and help the public and private sectors work together to fund, finance and deliver sustainable solutions.

C40, WRI Ross Center and the Citi Foundation will be working together through the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative to provide these cities and many others with the ongoing support they need to help turn their plans into action.

Additional photos from the Forum are available on the C40 Flickr page. For more coverage of this event, see the blog article by Val Smith, Citi’s Director and Head of Corporate Sustainability. For more information on the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, please contact Skye d’Almeida, C40 Sustainable Infrastructure Finance Network Manager on

What Can We Learn from Thailand’s Inclusive Approach to Upgrading Informal Settlements?

Thu, 2016-05-12 20:15

Housing along the canals in Bangkok. Photo by Alex Berger/Flickr

Currently, an estimated one billion people worldwide live in informal settlements where they lack access to basic services and infrastructure and are often threatened with forced eviction. While the overall proportion of the world’s urban population living in informal settlements has decreased in recent years, the absolute number is expected to increase to 3 billion by 2050 due to rapid urban population growth mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa—the world’s poorest regions.

Last month in Pretoria, South Africa, governments, NGOs, academics and members of informal communities convened for the UN Habitat thematic meeting on informal settlements. The Pretoria Declaration, which emerged from the discussions, stresses the importance of empowering the poor, upgrading settlements in place rather than relocating people, developing a range of tenure arrangements and establishing new financial mechanisms.

This is easier said than done. Cities often struggle to address the challenge of informal settlements. However, some initiatives, like Thailand’s Baan Mankong program, offer a glimpse of an instructive and locally-adaptable solution that can work at scale. The Bann Mankong program improved the lives and living conditions of more than 90,000 households in 1,546 communities across Thailand between 2003 and 2011 while spending the equivalent of just $570 per family. Urban decision makers can learn a lot by looking at Baan Mankong’s story

Thailand’s Baan Mankong Program Empowers Poor Communities to Take Ownership of Their Own Housing Development

Traditionally, slum upgrading is planned, administered and funded solely by the government or a third party. As a result, the community is often excluded from the planning and implementation process, leading to fragmented improvements in a few targeted slums.

Instead of treating residents as just beneficiaries of government aid, the Baan Mankong program (“secure housing” in Thai) facilitates a process that is entirely community driven. The program supports networks of poor communities to survey and map all the poor and informal settlements across the city and develop plans for comprehensively upgrading them. Residents partner or consult with experts from local governments, NGOs and academia, but it’s the members of individual settlements that take the lead in surveying and mapping the community, developing plans and budgets for upgrading housing and infrastructure and negotiating some kind of secure land tenure—the ability to live somewhere without fear of eviction. Once the communities have reached an agreement on the land tenure and have completed their upgrading plans and budgets, the implementing agency, Community Organizations Development Institute (CODI), issues infrastructure subsidies and/or subsidized loans directly to the community. This empowers the poor to determine where and how they want to improve their community.

When it comes to housing, this means putting communities in charge of identifying land and building their own homes. Through the Baan Mankong program, communities have full authority to negotiate land deals and tenure directly with public or private landowners, including the owner of the land they currently occupy. These negotiations can be difficult, as the community is forced to prioritize their tenure, spatial and geographical preferences, given the constraints of available land and limited resources.

For example, communities may accept less secure tenure arrangements, such as long-term leaseholds, in order to remain in an area near jobs. A community that wishes to remain in an area where land is in short supply may decide to forgo development of larger, detached homes, opting instead to build denser communities of smaller two or three-story row houses.

While every project is different, Baan Mankong’s community-driven process empowers communities to determine how best to meet their unique needs. Between 2003 and 2011, more than 60 percent of the households involved were able to negotiate land deals that allowed them to remain in place and more than 78 percent were either able to negotiate a long-term lease (43 percent) or cooperative land ownership with title (35 percent).

A Closer Look at Why Baan Mankong’s Approach Works

The success of the Baan Mankong program is the result of the financial capacities and social support networks it creates. To qualify for the program, communities must first establish a savings and loan group and register themselves as a cooperative—bringing them together financially and politically. The combination of these two requirements brings a number of benefits.

First, individuals within informal settlements often have very little in terms of equity or assets. They often face unemployment or irregular income, which can make traditional loans and rigid payment deadlines unviable. By pooling resources together within a savings and credit group, the community is able to unlock new financial options—like small emergency and livelihood loans for members who would never qualify for formal bank loans otherwise.

Second, the combination of these two requirements allows residents to function as one and support one another, signaling the community’s ability to effectively organize and manage themselves and their finances. Because loans are issued directly to the cooperative, the burden of repayment falls on the entire community. If one family becomes unable to make a payment on its housing loan, the community has a vested interest in finding a solution. In this way, the community serves as a social and financial support network for members.

Third, the government-subsidized loans allow cooperatives to charge a slightly higher, yet still affordable, interest rates. This additional money is placed in a reserve fund that the cooperative can draw from to cover late payments and community managed welfare programs—another form of protection to ensure that the community does not default on its loan and that its most vulnerable members are supported.

Lastly, the program sets ownership requirements that overcome a common challenge to slum upgrading. Market forces often encourage the poor to sell their homes and return to slums, resulting in the gentrification of upgraded communities and eventual displacement of poor residents. The Baan Mankong program overcomes this by requiring the community to keep its land for a 15-year term. This long-term, obligatory commitment helps the community meet the often difficult process of loan repayment and adjust to functioning as a cooperative. After the loan is repaid, each community can then choose whether to maintain the cooperative or switch to individual ownership.

Inspiration for the New Urban Agenda

Community-driven upgrading initiatives that allow inhabitants to collectively manage their own funds, determine their priorities, negotiate forms of tenure and design and implement their own housing projects are achieving success at scale and offer insights for further exploration. Employing a similar model, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) implemented a large-scale and ambitious five-year project, the Asian Coalition for Community Action Program (ACCA), which supported citywide slum upgrading in 215 cities in 19 countries throughout Asia.

Models such as ACCA and the Baan Mankong program reflect the Pretoria Declaration’s emphasis on community empowerment via control over the upgrading process, resource allocation decisions, collective financing mechanisms, and provisions of different types of tenure. While it is important for initiatives to adapt to the local context, aspects of these success stories in Asia are worth keeping in mind in the lead-up to Habitat III conference in Quito and the New Urban Agenda – the strategy document to guide urbanization across the world for the next two decades.

A forthcoming WRI working paper looks at informal housing in the broader context of access to affordable housing within the city and urban services challenges. This paper will be part of the next World Resources Report (WRR) on Sustainable Cities, which explores how cities can become more economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable and socially equitable.                                                                                                  

Special thanks to Somsook Boonyabancha and Thomas Kerr who spent several days with WRI staff sharing their knowledge and experiences.

4 Surprising Ways Energy-Efficient Buildings Benefit Cities

Wed, 2016-05-11 18:30

Building efficiency offers benefits to cities. Photo by Hsiuan Boyen/Flickr

Urbanization presents major challenges: congestion, sprawl, inefficiency, health hazards and high cost of living, just to name a few. But the choices we make for our cities can transform these challenges into opportunities: mobility, connectivity, economies of scale, healthier lifestyles and economic opportunity.

Experts spend a lot of time identifying solutions to seed these transformations, but too often they forget about cities’ most iconic landmarks—buildings. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is an often overlooked strategy that can help alleviate many of the challenges cities face—from climate change to public health problems to unemployment and poverty.

New WRI research examines the vital role building efficiency can play in shaping sustainable cities of the future, as well as ways policymakers can accelerate it in their own communities. Here’s a look at four of the economic, social and environmental opportunities building efficiency creates:

1. Buildings are large, long-lasting investments. Efficient buildings provide better social and financial returns.

The construction sector represents 10 percent of world GDP, 10 percent of the workforce, and, in emerging markets, will likely make up 16.7 percent of GDP by 2025. This is a lot of money spent on buildings. These are good, long-term investments, especially because buildings last 40 years or more and construction creates more jobs than other sectoral investments.

Investments in the building sector are less risky and create better returns when directed toward energy-efficient buildings. Globally, buildings and construction are responsible for 60 percent of electricity use, 12 percent of water use, 40 percent of waste, and 40 percent of material resource use. In cities, buildings occupy 50 percent or more of the land area. Each of these is a cost, but each efficiency improvement in energy and resource use removes a cost that the city and its residents no longer have to pay.  For example, each additional $1 invested on energy efficiency avoids more than $2 on energy supply spending. Efficiency savings free up money for other investments, stretching scarce resources.  .

Improvements in efficiency are particularly important for the lowest income urban residents, who pay a larger portion of their income on energy and are least able to afford higher energy prices or cope with unexpected fluctuations in energy costs.

Comparison of the lifespans of energy-consuming equipment and infrastructure

2. Building efficiently the first time offers huge economic opportunities, particularly for developing nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

With cities expected to add 3 billion people between 2008 and 2050, almost doubling the global urban population, the world is poised for a building explosion. In fact, an area equal to roughly 60 percent of the world’s current total building stock will be built or rebuilt in urban areas by 2030, mostly in developing or emerging countries such as China, India and Indonesia. Without changes in construction practice, related emissions are also expected to skyrocket.

But how cities choose to build makes a big difference. There is tremendous potential to implement best-in-class building practices in new construction in rapidly growing countries. These countries could in reap the economic and climate benefits of energy-efficient buildings and avoid “locking in” decades of inefficiency and the need for more costly renovations later.

Projections for building sector emissions, by region.

3. Building efficiency is one of the most affordable ways to curb climate change.

In addition to reducing infrastructure costs and household expenses, building efficiency also provides the most bang for the buck in reducing climate change-causing emissions. Efficiency improvements in buildings often have low or no marginal cost, or provide a return on investment in the form of energy cost savings in as quickly as six months to a year. This is a significant difference from emissions-saving investments in other sectors such as agriculture or transport, which are relatively expensive or result in lower emissions reductions.

Economic mitigation potential in buildings, agriculture, industry, energy supply, forestry, transport and waste sectors

4. Building efficiency can significantly reduce illness and death related to air pollution, particularly in the places suffering the most.

Every year, approximately 3.3 million deaths are caused by energy-related outdoor air pollution—such as smog from coal-fired power plants—and 3.5 million deaths are due to indoor smoke. The highest rates of exposure are in developing cities, where people are dependent on indoor fuel combustion for heating and cooking. In China and India, the regions with the highest air pollution-related mortality rates, the largest contributors to these deaths are residential and commercial energy use—buildings are at the heart of the problem.

Energy-efficient buildings reduce indoor air pollution because they offer cleaner combustion and better ventilation than traditional buildings. And because they use less energy, they also curb outdoor pollution by reducing the fossil fuel pollution created by power generation. Reduction in indoor and outdoor air pollutants can decrease incidence of illnesses such as asthma and lung cancer, as well as lower the rate of premature deaths. This saves not only lives, but also the financial and social costs of medical treatment and lost productivity.

Deaths associated with outdoor air pollution in 2010

Sources for air pollution linked to increased mortality

Efficient buildings—those that make highly productive use of natural resources—are vital to achieving sustainable development. By investing in them today, cities can yield “triple bottom line” benefits—including economic, social and environmental opportunities—long into the future.

Financing Sustainable Solutions: What Cities Need to Deliver on COP21 Commitments and Beyond

Thu, 2016-05-05 23:52

A view of Rio de Janeiro’s Transcarioca Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Corridor. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil/WRI Brasil

Cities are at the forefront of combatting climate change. Many cities and municipal governments and agencies were party to the Paris Agreement reached at COP21 in December, and many have committed to ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals and meaningful climate strategies they must now implement. I recently participated in the first-of-its-kind global financing forum, hosted by the City of Rio de Janeiro, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), World Resources Institute’s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities(WRI) and the Citi Foundation, where decision-makers from the private sector and nearly 20 global city governments convened to discuss the financial challenges cities face in pursuit of their sustainable climate strategies. The Financing Sustainable Cities Forum highlighted cities’ priorities around delivering sustainable urban solutions, including: cutting red tape, transit-oriented development and public-private partnerships.

An overriding theme of the forum was the sense of urgency many cities expressed for greater technical expertise in setting up public-private partnerships, a mode of project delivery that cities are increasingly looking to as a means of more efficiently delivering urban services. While public-private partnerships are great tools for leveraging private capital, their details determine how risks, revenues and costs are shared between a city and private partners over the term of a project. Experience and expertise are both required to ensure a strong partnership.

Forum attendees also emphasized the need for guidance in how to encourage an appropriate regulatory environment that will enable these emerging new urban strategies. For example, car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing systems are taking off in cities around the globe, but many cities still have laws ranging from taxi licensing to helmet regulations that either hamper these new services or outlaw them entirely. Cities are reluctant to change longstanding regulations without knowledge of what has been successful elsewhere.

Finally, a strong interest in transit-oriented development matched the results of the U.S.-focused Menino Survey of Mayors, which Citi supported. Transit development is often a complex dance of system funding, land use planning and the engagement of private sector property developers and existing community members. Spurring development along a new or existing transit corridor takes more than simply building the system itself. Cities usually need to create a mix of land use changes, financial incentives, and community engagement to promote successful developments around transit, and challenges vary from one location to another.

While we saw significant sharing of best practices, attendees also walked away with city-specific finance action plans that included practical steps they can take over the next 12-18 months to improve the productivity, livability and sustainability of their cities. The event strengthened links between cities around common interests and C40 will support the cities to continue to collaborate after the workshop through focused working groups and C40 peer-to-peer networks.

Although financing innovation and enabling progress in cities around the world is at the very core of Citi’s DNA and the Citi Foundation’s commitment to promoting greater economic opportunities, we also recognize that innovation doesn’t just miraculously materialize; sometimes it needs a little push. In the world of sustainable financing, cities and bankers are often frustrated in their efforts to bridge the gap between what cities want – to achieve their sustainability goals through innovative new approaches – and the current reality of the financing options that are feasible and accessible. Historically, municipal infrastructure finance relied on the monolithic model of a single city agency, business unit and infrastructure project. But that model is largely obsolete. Today, a wide variety of urban stakeholders are learning to work together – across silos – to tackle some of our most pressing local and global challenges.

This Forum was the first of several convenings being supported by Citi Foundation and its Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative with C40 and WRI. For more information on Citi’s work with cities, please visit Citi for Cities.

A New Coalition Will Prove Sustainable Cities Are Better for Growth, Better for Climate

Thu, 2016-05-05 17:30

A view of the Mumbai Skyline. Photo by Vistyb/Flickr

Cities are all about efficiency. It’s why they exist: to allow easy access to jobs, goods, services and ideas. However, in many countries, new and expanding cities are sprawling, car-dependent and uncoordinated – a set-up that’s not only inefficient, but carbon-intensive.

Thankfully, a new vision for sustainable urban growth is spreading, emphasizing the economic and environmental benefits of compact, connected and coordinated cities. More efficient urban growth can drive a productive, equitable economy while limiting traffic accidents, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Wide consensus is forming among national and local leaders, who understand the economic case for an urban transition. But while we have agreed on a better vision for future cities, what remains to be seen is the “how” of the transition.

To find these solutions, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, New Climate Economy and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group are teaming up to launch the Coalition for Urban Transitions. The Coalition, unveiled during today’s Climate Action 2016 Summit, will bring together global leaders and evidence-based solutions to make the economic case for a new model of urban development: one that is more productive, safer, healthier, more inclusive and lower carbon.

Working with 20 partner organizations, the Coalition will develop a continuous stream of economic evidence and policy strategies to help national and local decision-makers working towards a transition. It will be championed by a high-profile Urban Leadership Group, expected to include members of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and other prominent city, national and international leaders.

Together, these institutions and individuals span the globe. What they all share is a common purpose: unlocking a better urban future for all.

This will be one of the first major international initiatives to focus on the economics of urban transitions, and will focus in particular on the role of national policymakers. Through high-level thought leadership and a series of country studies, the Coalition will help put effective urban infrastructure investment where it belongs—at the heart of national economic development planning.

The Economic Case for Better Urbanization

Analysis by the New Climate Economy finds that investing in public transit, building efficiency and waste management in cities could unlock an economic dividend worth almost $17 trillion by 2050 from energy savings alone – and that’s just a fraction of the wider benefits. This could also reduce carbon emissions each year by more than the current annual emissions of India.

Evidence-based solutions like improved finance for infrastructure, integrated land-use planning, and transit-oriented development can empower sustainable, economically dynamic cities. For example, WRI Ross Center research shows that investing in sustainable transport could save as much as $300 billion per year, while C40’s Transit Oriented Development Network is advancing policies for integrated land use and transportation.

Better Planning for Better Cities

Individual cities often do not have the resources to carry out large-scale investments in smart urban infrastructure. Only 4 percent of the 500 largest cities in developing countries are deemed creditworthy in international financial markets.

National governments, though, working hand-in-hand with cities and the private sector, can unlock the power of urban areas to invest and innovate. For example, national leaders and ministers can:

  • Develop national urban infrastructure strategies (like China’s National Plan for New Urbanization) and set up integrated land use and transport authorities to more effectively plan and connect urban growth;
  • Reduce or eliminate fossil fuel subsidies to remove incentives for car-centric development and encourage more sustainable transport;
  • Change planning laws to encourage mixed-use development over sprawled, segmented cities; and
  • Scale up innovative finance mechanisms to support large-scale urban infrastructure projects.

National economic planning has too long ignored the real importance of cities, so that’s where the Coalition for Urban Transitions comes in. It will link city-level strategies with broader economic development planning, so that individual city efforts add up to more than the sum of their parts.

Next Steps

The Coalition will work on the ground with three to five rapidly urbanizing countries on their national urban infrastructure and financing strategies. Potential countries include China, India and a number of rapidly urbanizing African, South Asian and Latin American economies. The work will be demand-driven, based on timely and relevant research, and done in close collaboration with key economic decisionmakers.

There’s evidence this method of change works. Last year, the New Climate Economy collaborated with the Ethiopian government to inform its national level urbanization strategy. It found that Ethiopia’s development was too focused on its capital, Addis Ababa, at the expense of its other cities. The Unlocking the Power of Ethiopia’s Cities report mapped out potential city clusters and corridors of economic activity that could enhance the role of secondary cities without taking away from Addis’s growth. Policymakers incorporated this more efficient approach into Ethiopia’s new Five Year Growth and Transformation Plan, which is being implemented today.

With the help of the Coalition for Urban Transitions, leaders at all levels can be empowered to transform cities through relevant research and locally appropriate policies. By working to inform economic development planning, we can have better cities, better growth and a better climate.

For more information on the new initiative, visit 

How Does Your City Prioritize Energy Efficiency Actions? Participate Now in a New Survey!

Tue, 2016-05-03 20:09

Photo by Brendan Corey Benson/Flickr.

Are you involved with decision making, operations or investments in the buildings and real estate sector? If the answer is yes, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities invites you to please share your insights in a survey designed to expand our understanding of energy efficiency in cities.

Since 2007, Johnson Controls and partner organizations have regularly conducted the Energy Efficiency Indicator survey, which looks at the trends and challenges that decision makers cite as influential when they make choices about energy efficiency and buildings. You can view results from previous editions of the survey on the Building Efficiency Initiative website.

This year, there are five new questions specifically for policymakers and staff who manage, budget or are responsible for investments in local government facilities or who set subnational policy. These new questions align with the eight building efficiency actions that the Building Efficiency Initiative at WRI has been working on, and the results will help the team better assist cities in identifying efficiency priorities.

If you are a decision maker or local government policymaker, click here to respond to the survey. The survey takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and closes on Friday, May 13. In the following months, we will follow up to report back with our findings.

Delhi’s Air Quality Crisis: Lessons from Beijing, Mexico and Bogotá

Fri, 2016-04-29 01:17

Delhi, India. Photo by Andrew Kadis/Flickr

With 26 million inhabitants, Delhi’s metropolitan area is the fifth largest in the world. But the city also has terrible air quality, with an annual average particulate matter 15 times the recommendation of the World Health Organization. Air pollution is responsible for 10,000 to 30,000 annual premature deaths in Delhi, and is the fifth leading cause of premature death in India, with 620,000 deaths every year.

This high level of harmful pollutants is a consequence of various problems with the city’s transport system. Most of the particles come from the tailpipe of motor vehicles and dust from traffic in unpaved or poorly maintained streets. Delhi has the largest vehicle fleet in India, with close to 7.5 million units. According to India’s Center for Science and the Environment, motor vehicles are the “Silent Killer” of Indian people.

Delhi’s response to the poor air quality has been a series of policies. In 1996, the Supreme Court ordered sulfur content in diesel fuels be reduced from 1 percent to 0.05 percent by 2001. Then, in 1998 the Supreme Court ordered that all commercial vehicles (buses, taxis and three-wheeled “auto-rickshaws”) be converted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) by 2002. At the same time, strict emission standards were developed for all vehicles. Metro operations started in 2000, and the system has become one of the fastest growing urban rail networks in the world, with 213 kilometers (125 miles) carrying 2.4 million passengers per day.

Delhi strategy was successful during the early years. Particulate matter fell by 16 percent between 2002 and 2007, but it started to increase dramatically after 2007, as motorization and average trip lengths in the megacity grew as well. What went wrong? One plausible response is that the strategy was incomplete, not taking into account policies and decisions that promoted urban expansion to the surrounding states of Haryana and Upi. This included the large-scale expansion of the road network, expressways and flyovers, unrestricted ownership and use of motor vehicles, increase in the number of light duty diesel vehicles (SUVs) and growth in unsustainable fuel subsidies.

As a result of the air quality crisis in 2015, the local government experimented with license plate restrictions, separating even-odd plate numbers during a 15 day trial period. It brought congestion relief, but did not reduce air pollution by much. One side effect of reduced congestion was faster bus rides for six million commuters. The experiment was repeated again in April 2016. These restrictions may seem useful in the short term, but do not solve the problem.

So what else should the city do to reduce air pollution? Beijing, México and Bogotá’s experiences fighting air pollution can provide some clues.

Beijing’s Air Quality Stabilizes amid Rapid Economic Growth

The Chinese capital has also faced very difficult challenges, but in 2015 its air quality registered at about one-third of Delhi’s PM2.5 level. This progress can be attributed to high investment in public transport (metro and buses), combined with transport demand management (TDM) measures. Bejing introduced plate restrictions during the Summer Olympic Games in 2006, and the city currently restricts 20 percent of the fleet according to plate numbers. In 2010, Beijing introduced a vehicle registration quota which distributes only 20,000 new licenses every month through a lottery system—reducing the number of vehicles permitted. Currently, city authorities are discussing the possibility of implementing a congestion charge.

By the end of 2015, the city’s economy had continued to grow 6.9 percent. The air quality situation was promising, with stable concentrations compared to the previous two winters, but still 5 times the limits recommended by the WHO.

Mexico City Makes Great Strides, But Recently Declares Emergency

Mexico City’s local government has been working to improve its air quality for more than three decades, focusing first on technology and then shifting to a focus on sustainable mobility. In the 1980s, the city ordered a reduction of the lead content in gasoline, closed a petrol refinery in the Valley of Mexico and relocated industries to the periphery. In 1989, it also introduced emission control standards for manufacturing firms and prepared an air quality plan, which included a reduction of the sulfur content in diesel as well as car restrictions.

The air quality plan was accompanied by improvements to the public transport system and a greater focus on walking and cycling. The city expanded the Metro system (Line 12, 20 kilometers, 367 thousand passengers per day), built the Suburban Rail Buenavista-Cuatitlán (27 kilometers, 150,000 passengers per day) and implemented the Metrobús BRT system (125 kilometers, the most extensive BRT network in the Americas, moving one million passengers per day). Mexico City also launched and expanded a successful bike share system called Ecobici and a network of dedicated bicycle lanes. They also pedestrianized key streets downtown and introduced an on-street parking management system called Ecoparq.

Mexico City’s PM levels have been falling since the 1980s, but the city has experienced a recent spike. Graph by

All this helped improve air quality while also improving access to mobility. Particulate matter smaller than PM10 fell from an average of 160 µg/m3 in 1989 to 40 in 2014. Nevertheless, Mexico City’s air quality has recently taken a turn for the worse. On March 4, 2016 the city declared the first air quality contingency in 14 years. The crisis is the result of not advancing emission standards (México still keeps Euro IV standards), an aging fleet and delays in the plan to reduce sulfur content in diesel fuel.

México, like Delhi, has also experienced rapid growth of its vehicle fleet—from three million in 2000 to close to nine million today. Urban expressways (“Segundo Piso” or second floor) have also expanded quickly. Exemptions to the “Hoy no Circula” policy on vehicle restrictions made it a very ineffective measure. Although vehicle ownership grew threefold, the plate restrictions ended up affecting only 3 percent of the vehicle fleet in 2016. However, with the recent air quality crisis, the city eliminated the exemptions and reinstated restrictions not only for cars but also motorcycles, including new vehicles.

Fortunately, Mexican authorities are conscious that this is only an emergency response, and that the city will need to focus on sustainable mobility and transport demand management measures in the future.

Bogotá Makes Steady Progress, But Is Not There Yet

Bogotá has also shown progress in air quality management, but it still has not met the standard set by the WHO. As in Mexico, progress is the result of a mix of multiple measures focused not just on air quality, but on improving mobility in general for the city’s residents. Average levels of PM10 have declined from 100 µg/m3 in 2015 to 50 in 2015 (though still 2.5 times the WHO’s recommended average).

The city has reduced sulfur content in diesel fuel, introduced traffic restrictions to trucks and buses and replaced public vehicles with newer technologies, including 428 hybrid electric buses.  These measures reinforce steps that Bogota has taken since 1998: license plate restrictions (initially 40 percent of the fleet, now 50 percent in an even-odd scheme during peak hours), the construction of the BRT System TransMilenio (now 113 km long, serving 2.4 million passengers per day) and the implementation of an extensive bike network (now 410 kilometers long). Bicycle use in the city has increased from less than 1 percent of total trips in 1998 to 4.5 percent in 2015 and public transport has remained stable over the last 20 years.

With steadily falling PM levels, Bogota’s air quality is improving, but the city has not yet achieved the WHO’s recommend level. Source: Dr. Nestor Rojas, National University of Colombia, with data form the Air Quality Monitoring Network, managed by the Secretary of Environment, Bogotá.

In the near future, the city will need to finalize the implementation of the integrated public transport system, initiate new projects—like the first metro line—and expand and improve TransMilenio and the bike network. The goal of the 2010-2020 air decontamination plan is to achieve average concentrations below 20 µg/m3 of PM10 and less than 10 µg/m3 of PM2.5. Achieving this is possible, but will require continual work.

A Matter of Life and Death

Some cities facing air quality problems have resorted to extreme measures, like banning vehicles from circulation. These emergency measures can be useful in the short term, but they are ineffective in the medium and long term. Structural changes are needed, not just to improve air quality, but to meet people’s mobility needs. Cities need transport demand management (TDM) measures, like parking management and congestion charge, as well as more high-quality public transport and infrastructure for walking and cycling. Avoiding sprawl through compact, connected and coordinated urban development is also an important part of the equation, along with clean fuel technologies and emissions standards. Improving air quality is a matter of life and death.

This blog continues the discussion on Air Quality in Global Cities at Connect Karo 2016, an annual conference organized by WRI India. To learn more, click here.  

Pioneering Open Government Innovations in São Paulo and Austin with the OGP Subnational Pilot Program

Tue, 2016-04-19 21:27

Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Gabriela Sakamoto/Flickr.

Cities are where real progress is made for sustainable development. They’re where governments are closest to their citizens and where essential public services like education, health and transport are delivered to people. However, with this proximity comes a responsibility for cities to be more transparent, accountable, and responsive to their citizens’ needs. A more open government at the local level can directly improve quality of life for all.

Last week (April 12, 2016), the Open Government Partnership—a global organization that works with countries voluntarily committing to greater openness and transparency—announced that it is opening up membership to subnational governments, including cities, municipalities and regional bodies. Fifteen pioneers in open government were selected for their commitment and leadership in driving innovation and reform at the local level.

To celebrate this step forward, we’re highlighting two of the fifteen urban pioneers—Austin, Texas and São Paulo, Brazil—who have made incredible strides towards improving people’s quality of life through open government.

Open Data for Better Transport in São Paulo, Brazil

With 11.3 million residents, São Paulo is one of the OGP’s largest subnational nominees. The city has been working towards a more open government by focusing on technology and has opened up data and decision making processes to support public participation. For example, the new Open São Paulo Portal has enabled more citizens to be part of decisions made about the budget as well as services like transport and education. The Open São Paulo Portal served as the starting platform for two laboratories, Mobilab and LabProdam, and continues to provide a collaborative space for citizens, tech innovators and the public sector to advance collective goals like better mobility.

Mobilab is a partnership between São Paulo’s public transport and planning agencies, private operators (like Easy Taxi), local citizens, universities and innovators. Established in response to public protests and dissatisfaction with public transit services and rising bus fares, Mobilab was founded on the principles of public participation and open data. The city recognized the need to innovate new transport solutions while also increasing transparency and public satisfaction. Opening up data from traffic signals, parking meters and public transit GPS systems, the lab has supported the creation of many mobile apps that have improved the way transit users plan their trips and travel throughout the city.

Similarly, LabProdam is an organization looking to “develop tools aimed at improving social participation, transparency, innovation, and integrity and conduct discussions and activities on open government, especially in the area of technological innovation”. One product they’ve developed is the Contador de Ciclista or “Cyclist Counter,” which measures the use of bike lanes throughout the city using simple technologies like webcams and mobile apps. The cycling data is then made public for cycling advocates, city planners and elected officials.

Citizen Engagement in Urban Planning in Austin, Texas

Over the past five years, Austin has embraced the open government movement as well as democratic innovation and citizen engagement. For example, instead of an executive decision by city officials, the city council openly debated their application to join the OGP pioneer program. A Council Resolution was passed to support the city’s participation, showing support for the principles of transparency, accountability and responsiveness.

Two excellent examples of civil society engagement are Imagine Austin and Code Next—initiatives that are helping to shape Austin’s urban environment through citizen engagement. Imagine Austin, a master planning and visioning effort adopted in 2012, is founded on co-creation and co-implementation with citizens, community organizations and businesses. The initiative created Austin’s long-term plan, guiding regional development for the past four years. During the two-year planning process, Imagine Austin received over 18,500 public inputs through community forums, social media campaigns, local media outlets, surveys and other media.

Building on recommendations that came from the Imagine Austin planning process, CodeNext is a new, collaborative initiative that revises and updates Austin’s zoning and land use codes. The project works with the community “to preserve, protect and enhance the City’s natural and built environment.” While urban zoning and planning codes are typically considered highly technical in nature, CodeNext is helping to demystify urban development among citizens—drawing on the community’s perspectives and using their input to shape the city’s development.

Creating a Culture of National and Local Collaboration

Over the next 18 months, Austin, São Paulo, and the rest of these 15 selected subnational governments will make progress towards becoming more transparent, accountable, responsive and participatory cities. Additionally, the national governments participating in the OGP will work with urban pioneers both in the pilot program and beyond to help create and implement city-level open government initiatives and policies through national action plans.

Cities will play a large role in helping the world achieve its climate and sustainable development goals—from the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. By prioritizing open government, these cities will also help create a more inclusive and equitable future.


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