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

Mon, 2017-11-27 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sustainable Development Goals

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

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

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

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

The New Urban Agenda

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

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

The Paris Agreement and More

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

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

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

Getting to Action

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

Source: Global Outlook on Walking and Cycling by UNEP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2017-11-22 14:13

Where will COP23 take us? Photo by WRI/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paris Rulebook

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

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

Talanoa Dialogue

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

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

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

Pre-2020 Action

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

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

Adaptation and Loss and Damage

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

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


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

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

Non-Federal Action and U.S. Leadership

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

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

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

Gender, Indigenous Peoples and Agriculture

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

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

What Needs to Happen Now?

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

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

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

This post originally appeared on WRI’s Insights. 

 and  are members of WRI’s climate team.

Urban Trees: A Smart Investment in Public Health

Tue, 2017-11-21 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s Move to Make Buildings Efficient

Fri, 2017-11-17 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Governments: Mandate Efficiency, Establish Baselines

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

For Builders/Developers: Share Information, Upgrade Technology

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

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

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

For the Wider Market: Collect Data, Increase Capacity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wed, 2017-11-15 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

China Prioritizes Electric Buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Can India Learn From China?

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

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

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

When Two (Or Three) Wheels Are Better Than Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Measuring Climate Success with New Common Reporting Framework for Cities

Mon, 2017-11-13 21:15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun, 2017-11-12 14:13

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

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

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

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

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

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

American States, Cities and Businesses Are Reducing Emissions

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

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

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

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

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

Decarbonization and GDP Growth Are Happening Simultaneously

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

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

We Still Need More

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

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

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

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

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

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

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

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

Thu, 2017-11-09 22:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vineet Abhishek is a civil servant working with Indian Railways.

Mobilizing Leadership for Climate Action in the Transport Sector

Thu, 2017-11-09 14:13

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

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

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

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

Moving Toward a 1.5-Degree World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transport Priorities at COP23

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ways to Unlock Financing for Urban Climate Action

Wed, 2017-11-08 14:13

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

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

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

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

1. Localize Climate Financing 

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

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

2. Use Limited Funds Intelligently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empowering Cities and Non-State Actors

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

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

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

For more on COP23, read our full coverage.

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

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

How Can Countries Make Progress at COP23? Work with Cities

Mon, 2017-11-06 21:00

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

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

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

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

Connecting Cities to National Goals

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

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

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

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

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

Why It Matters to Get Cities Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2017-11-03 19:45

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

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

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

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

Why is building efficiency important for Dubai?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did Dubai choose to work on a benchmarking project?

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

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

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

What are some challenges associated with the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 2017-11-03 13:13

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

This article was first published in TechCrunch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Experts: Q&A with Brenda Medeiros

Thu, 2017-11-02 13:13

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

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

How did your academic work lead to your current position?

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

Who are the stakeholders involved in public transport systems?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is WRI contributing to this process?

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

A version of this article was originally published in Portuguese at

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

Beyond Uber: How the Private Sector is Disrupting Mobility

Tue, 2017-10-31 13:13

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

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

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

Mapping New Mobility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Kher Kaw on Transformative Solutions for South Asia’s Growing Cities

Mon, 2017-10-30 13:13

Jon Kher Kaw, a senior urban development specialist at the World Bank, believes the most pressing challenge for urbanization in South Asian cities is accommodating the overwhelming number of new residents.

Reflecting on his wealth of experience working with cities in South Asia, Kaw recently spoke with WRI during a workshop for WRI’s flagship World Resources Report (WRR), “Towards a More Equal City.” He spoke about the region’s acute challenges and potential opportunities. The World Bank projects that around 250 million more people will be living in South Asian cities by 2030. “How we manage that [growth] to make cities continue to be productive and livable centers for people will be very, very important,” Kaw says.

Of course, South Asia isn’t a monolithic region, and cities need diverse solutions tailored to their local context. Nevertheless, Kaw sees patterns in how cities transform and says there are common solutions that have proven environmental and economic benefits.

Improving intra-city connectivity through bus rapid transit (BRT) systems and containing urban expansion through land use policies are two opportunities for tackling common challenges across the region, according to Kaw. BRTs can improve access to jobs, reduce time lost to congestion and make people more productive at relatively little cost. Managing sprawl, likewise, can help reduce a city’s carbon footprint and improve resource efficiency, although cities will need to address affordability concerns with more compact development.

As for cities that show progress, Kaw points to the example of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. “The city has transformed quite dramatically over the last 10 years. Today, [it] is a very different city from five years ago; it has very much improved in terms of connectivity as well as how land is managed within the city. There’s a lot of improvements in the urban space and freeing up land for productive and livable uses.”

Clearer Governance for More Efficiency and Accountability

For promising and innovative ideas to translate to change on the ground, there should be clear responsibilities outlined for each level of government, Kaw says.

City-level decision makers need to be responsive to immediate city needs and ensure basic services for all residents. “On the national government front, I think it’s important to set the urban agenda up front, thinking in terms of being very clear on their role on issues such as creating a system of cities [and] coordinating how cities come together,” he says. “Also, things like fiscal transfers and empowering local governments to make decisions on how to manage cities will be very, very important.”

Getting the relationship right between municipal and national governments is not easy, but it is imperative to making cities more financially effective and accountable to their residents.

Kaw suggests that cities should be empowered to leverage local assets. “What I mean is not only to just invest in capacity building but also to think about how to leverage on, for example, land value capture,” he says. “Only then can you think about how cities can be sustainable in the longer term.”

Alex Rogala is a former editor of TheCityFix and currently a master’s student in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

China’s Clean Air Challenge: Time to Cut Maritime Pollution

Wed, 2017-10-25 13:13

China’s maritime sector is responsible for a large share of air pollution in coastal cities. Photo by IFPRI -IMAGES/Flickr

While cars and trucks are often blamed for air pollution, it’s time to bring ships into the equation. The maritime sector—mainly ships and ports—contributes a large share of air pollutant emissions in coastal cities and casts a deathly pall over coastal communities. Ships are the particularly noxious sources of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, fine particulate matter and other air pollutants that are bad for human health. Shipping represents about 15 percent and 13 percent of global nitrogen and sulfur oxides from anthropogenic sources.

China has taken notice by incorporating maritime emissions into its national five-year-plan for transportation. As the world moves toward a cleaner economy, port cities and coastal nations will watch closely to see if China’s policies are effective at reducing maritime emissions.

Ship Emissions Hurt Coastal Communities

In major port cities, shipping activities represent a substantial share of total emissions—for example, around half of sulfur oxides in Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Shenzhen. Ships also contribute to more than 8 percent and 11 percent of sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, respectively, in Chinese coastal cities. It is significant enough to raise the awareness of coastal emission control.

These emissions put a city’s development at risk. Increased illness and premature death caused by air pollution reduce quality of life, as well as labor productivity. Pollution also makes cities less attractive to talented workers, thereby reducing cities’ competitiveness.

There is a strong link between air pollution exposure and cardiovascular diseases, such as ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. Children, the elderly and the poor are the most vulnerable groups. Air pollution caused 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide in 2013, costing $5.11 trillion in welfare losses around the world—and that may be a conservative estimate.

The ship pollution has taken a toll on global coasts. In 2013, ship emissions led to more than 24,000 premature deaths in East Asia, with 18,000 fatalities in mainland China alone. However, studies of the health impact of global shipping are still limited.

China Moves Toward Green Ships and Ports

Greening ships and ports is a plank of the Ministry of Transport’s 13th-Five-Year Plan. It declares that by 2020, ship sulfur and nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions should be reduced by 65 percent, 20 percent and 30 percent respectively, relative to 2015, in China’s three most prosperous coastal regions – Pearl River Delta (PRD), the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) and Bohai Rim.

In the meantime, the ministry has issued action plans for pollution control of ships and emissions control for major ports. Some most important policies and solutions include:

  • Introduce domestic emission control areas (DECAs): China is setting DECAs in its three major coastal regions, requiring ships to use marine fuel of no more than 5,000 parts per million sulfur content through 2019. From 2020, the government will consider stricter requirements of 1,000 parts per million sulfur content, and to extend the geographical scope of DECAs. However, it is still behind the schedule of the existing DECAs set by the International Maritime Organization.
  • Draw cleaner power from the shore: China has been encouraging shore power—the provision of electricity to a ship at berth from a source on land—in recent years. This allows ships to shut down dirty engines while drawing cleaner electricity while they can. 493 berths will be equipped with shore power by 2020, and the government is subsidizing implementation.
  • Switch ships to cleaner fuels: Right now, most ships are powered by heavy fuel oil. But, by 2020, China aims to double its LNG-fueled vessels, a move supported by adding LNG facilities to port terminals.
  • Connect seaports with railways: Freight right now is unloaded from ships and carried inland mostly by trucks. Trucking, an emissions-intensive process, could be avoided if railways were directly connected with ports and operations synced for greater efficiency.

In recent years, WRI China has focused on promoting low emission zones not only in urban land areas, but also in coastal areas, researching how to reduce emissions from ships. What we see so far is that this not only requires better policies, technologies and financing solutions, but also knowledge and awareness from China’s government, industry and the public.

As the first step, we have developed guidelines to evaluate emission inventories and the social impact of maritime air pollution. By working with partners, we are conducting a training program in several Chinese cities, such as Qingdao and Guangzhou, with the aim to test our methodologies and influence policies with science-based evidence, and finally seek to scale our efforts regionally among maritime stakeholders and achieve a healthier coastal environment.

Su Song is a Research Associate in the WRI China Office.

Are Trains Better Than Bus Rapid Transit Systems? A Look at the Evidence

Mon, 2017-10-23 13:13

Brisbane, Australia’s South East Busway saw both a ridership increase and time travel reduction, in comparison to previous commutes. Photo by Harshil Shah/ Flickr

The world’s great public transit systems: Tokyo’s Metro, London’s Tube, Honk Kong’s MTR…and Mexico City’s bus rapid transit corridors? Trains are often seen as the pinnacle of modern urban transport infrastructure. They’re green and efficient, supported by permanent, complex track infrastructure. Bus rapid transit systems, on the other hand, are less flashy and often associated with their slow cousins, the local buses.

But in a new study published in Transport Reviews researchers Jesper Ingvardson and Otto Nielsen from the Technical University of Denmark point to data that suggests there’s little that separates the two approaches in many contexts.

Ingvardson and Nielsen compare 86 metro, light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT) corridors using several variables: travel time savings, increase in demand from riders, modal shift, and land use and urban development changes. In some cases, the much more economical BRTs matched and even outperformed rail.

Travel Time and Ridership

The study starts by looking just at whether BRT can reduce travel times and improve mass transit ridership on its own.

There are large variations across BRT systems regarding travel time, making it difficult to draw broad conclusions, but overall they saw declines. While Metrobüs in Istanbul produced travel time savings of 65 percent compared to previous commutes, the Bus-VAO lane in Madrid led to 33 percent savings and the South Miami-Dade Busway just 10 percent.

Ridership gains after a new BRT corridor also varied: 150 percent in Istanbul, 85 percent in Madrid and 50 percent in Miami. Ridership gains are associated with travel time savings, but also derived from other factors such as the frequency of buses, station quality, vehicle type and user information systems.

Converting Drivers to Mass Transit

An interesting impact of mass transit implementation is its effect on drivers. In the 13 cities where Ingvardson and Nielsen studied BRTs, the number of riders who shifted from car trips ranged from 5 percent (Stockholm) to 40 percent (Adelaide), with a simple average of 17 percent. This figure is similar for the 24 LRTs (average 16 percent) and slightly lower than for the two metro systems included in the study (average 23 percent).

One caveat to these conclusions is that BRT and LRT corridors tend to be much smaller than metro corridors in terms of total volume of riders. The notable exception is Istanbul’s Metrobüs, which serves more than 600,000 passengers a day, 4 to 9 percent of which would otherwise be car users.

Land Values and Development

Despite the permanence of train tracks, Ingvardson and Nielsen found no significant difference in how BRTs, LRTs or metro impact land value. Land value increases ranged as high as 30 percent for BRT corridors; 32 percent for LRT; and 20 percent for regional rail and metro corridors. In several BRT and LRT cases, no increase in land value was observed; for the Coaster rail corridor in San Diego, a negative value was recorded.

Land value comparisons are difficult, however, because of varying assessment methodologies, distances to stations, and before and after time periods. It’s likely these conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt. The particular mass transit mode is less important than other factors, like access conditions, the urban environment, and service characteristics (e.g., frequency, speed, comfort and pricing). For the 41 projects with quantitative data, the differences in land values achieved by the different modes are not significant.

BRT, LRT and regional rail also show increased residential and commercial development around stations. Nevertheless, the improved access provided by transit is an insufficient driver of better land use. Other complementary activities, like changes in regulations, government support for investment in real estate, and investment in pedestrian connectivity, are required to achieve urban development goals. The most recognized case is Curitiba, Brazil, where 45 percent of the long-distance motorized trips in the BRT vicinity use the buses. There is also evidence of positive urban development impacts from the BRTs in Ottawa, Boston, Cleveland and Los Angeles.

There Is No Superior System

Ingvardson and Nielsen recognize that there are limitations in the data collected, analytical methodologies and even in the distinction between transit modes. There isn’t always a clear difference between light, regional or metro rail, for example, or between bus rapid transit and bus priority corridors.

Despite these limitations, the researchers conclude that BRTs can improve travel times, modal share and urban development at rates similar to those reported for light rail and metro. This evidence contradicts conventional wisdom. It is not possible to categorically say trains have greater benefits than BRT; they are not always superior. Context matters, not just the material of the wheels or the permanence of the tracks.

Dario Hidalgo is Director of the Integrated Transport Practice for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Fortaleza and São Paulo Experiment with Street Transformations

Wed, 2017-10-18 13:13

Temporary street redesigns in São Paulo and Fortaleza transform spaces for cars into spaces for people. Photo by Victor Moriyama/WRI Brasil/Flickr

Who has the right to the city? While giving priority to pedestrians may seem obvious, many cities have been built around reliance on the automobile and now struggle to reclaim streets for pedestrians or fail to see the value in doing so. Temporary and short-term redesigns are one low-risk way some cities are experimenting with taking back streets for pedestrians.

Following a growing trend, last month, Brazil converted two car-dominated areas of Fortaleza and São Paulo into pedestrian spaces, demonstrating the benefits of more human-centric urban development.

‘City of the People’

Cidade da Gente, or “City of the People,” is the first traffic-calming street transformation intervention in Fortaleza. In Cidade 2000, a residential neighborhood with local markets by day and a bustling restaurant district by night, the project reversed traditional road priority from vehicles to pedestrians. Cars were not completely excluded – one lane of traffic and parking spots were still available – but Cidade da Gente turned 1,200 square meters of parking space and traffic lanes into a pedestrian area for 15 days.

The city wants to involve residents in shaping their public spaces and measure how people interact with the new space. The transformation used paint, potted plants, benches and cones to create a bigger and improved area for pedestrians, expanding previously narrow sidewalks and adding street crossings and curb extensions to improve safety. One traffic lane was removed and the speed limit was also reduced. During the first weekend, the city administration used the area for musical performances, professional workshops and health screenings.

The goal of the initiative was to cultivate champions of human-oriented urban design and to show residents and cities what can be done to enhance public space. For two weeks, residents were able to provide feedback on the new urban design through an online platform developed by the city in partnership with the University of Fortaleza. Public opinion was overall positive, petitioning for the intervention to remain after the pilot period. Initially planned for 15 days, the city is now continuing the changes indefinitely.

“This is the first place in the city that we transformed from a car area into a large square,” said Mayor Roberto Claudio. “We took advantage of the flat infrastructure and put in a number of facilities to create a high-quality public space. We started with a pilot project so everybody can experiment and evaluate; then we will listen to the population. If we have support, our obligation will be to expand the policy. We believe this idea will thrive and go to other places in Fortaleza.”

Residents of all ages found new uses for the space in Fortaleza. Photo by Rodrigo Capote/WRI Brasil/Flickr

WRI Brasil, as part of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, partnered with the Global Designing Cities Initiative and Vital Strategies to provide technical support for the project. “It was incredible to see people getting back that space,” said Rafaela Machado, a road safety specialist for WRI Brasil. “Just after the initial paintings, people were already using the street furniture, taking pictures and asking if it would be permanent. It is a pleasure to see a place that used to be a parking lot turn into a joyful and vibrant public space.”

A Safer São Paulo

In São Paulo, another temporary intervention caused residents of the Santana neighborhood to reconsider the way they relate to urban design. In response to a challenge posed by the 11th São Paulo Architecture Biennial, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and Citi Foundation conducted a temporary urban intervention in partnership with WRI Brasil, the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, Global Designing Cities Initiative, and city-run Traffic Engineering Company, CET-SP.

The intervention near Santana subway station and bus terminal, a very busy commercial area, included bright patterns and colors on street surfaces, with different types of traffic-calming measures, such as widening the pedestrian refuge medians, curb extensions and creating a mini roundabout. Two parking areas were turned into active areas, and obstacles like potted plants and traffic cones were positioned so people could not cross the street in dangerous places. Together, these changes organized traffic flows and reduced vehicle speeds, improving pedestrian safety.

São Paulo residents painted a roundabout in a busy intersection of Dr. Cesar and Salete Streets, transforming the space over night. Photo by Victor Moriyama/ WRI Brasil/ Flickr

The goal of the São Paulo project was to show residents how road safety can be improved through impactful design solutions and demonstrate the enhanced experience of walking through more “complete” streets.

Diogo Lemos, a road safety analyst at WRI Brasil, said that after a bus stopped for two ladies to cross the street, one of them said, “I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 82 years, and a bus has never stopped so promptly for me to cross.”

“As the design of the street changes, so does the behavior of people – pedestrians, drivers, cyclists and all other users,” Lemos said.

WRI Brasil staff carried out research to understand how people of all ages move near the Santana subway station and bus terminal in São Paulo. Photo by Victor Moriyama / WRI Brasil/ Flickr

The WRI Brasil team took advantage of the transformation to interact with pedestrians and analyze their flow around Santana metro and bus station. The residents marked on a map how they traveled to and from the station and highlighted high-risk areas in the neighborhood.

Both interventions show that building better, safer and healthier urban environments does not require large and costly new infrastructure. Spaces like these can be built with minor investments in any city and residents quickly recognize their benefits. Though both projects were well-received, the experience in Fortaleza in particular catalyzed a bigger change. The city expects to incorporate feedback from residents into the Cidade 2000 low-speed area project and implement similar interventions in other parts of the city.

The original version of this article appeared in Portuguese on WRI Brasil.

Bruno Felin is a Communications Specialist at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

Amazon’s Challenge Shows Importance of Good Transit for Cities

Mon, 2017-10-16 13:13

Washington, D.C., a contender in the race for Amazon’s second headquarters, has extensive cycling infrastructure. Photo by World Resources Institute

Amazon’s recent announcement that it is seeking to build a second headquarters in a major North American city has sent cities from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to Toronto scrambling to outbid each other in an attempt to woo the corporate behemoth. Interestingly, as part of its request for proposals, Amazon explicitly expressed a preference for cities with access to good public transit.

Amazon is just one of a series of companies explicitly targeting urban locations with good access to public transit. Companies as diverse as GE, McDonalds, Caterpillar and Aetna are relocating from less easily accessible suburban office parks to downtown office buildings. This corporate migration to cities mirrors the overall population globally, as cities become ever more important centers of economic growth and activity.

In developed markets, in particular, generational preferences and economic imperatives in an increasingly competitive digital economy are driving the current wave of urbanization. While the baby boomer generation was known for its suburban migration, Generation Xers initiated the surge of youth into developed markets’ city centers, and the millennial generation has followed suit thanks to their preference for living in close proximity to work, public transit and entertainment. In the United States, for instance, the share of 25-34 year-olds who prefer close-in neighborhoods (within three miles of a city’s central business district) quintupled from 1990 to 2010. And young adults as a percentage of the total urban population in the United States rose from just 25 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2015.

Corporations have followed millennials into the cities as it allows them to take advantage of network effects and recruit a more highly educated workforce, both of which are crucial for continued success in today’s digital economy. Researchers have shown that innovators are more productive when living in proximity to other potential collaborators, highlighting the reason that innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley, New York, London, Tokyo and Toronto have remained among the most innovative cities for years. In fact, all of these cities are among the “global elite” on A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities Index, in part as a result of their strong ecosystems for businesses and innovation.

Amazon’s clear preference for quality public transportation highlights both the challenges and opportunities for cities during this ongoing wave of urbanization. In many cities around the world, rapid urbanization has resulted in increased congestion and strained public transit services. The New York City subway system, for instance, has experienced dramatic service challenges over the last few years as ridership has risen rapidly. Overcrowding on the London Underground has also increased steadily year over year, leading to warnings by public officials that the city’s growing population could overwhelm the system within the next 15 years.

To address congestion challenges, cities will increasingly need to implement innovative transportation solutions that meet the needs and preferences of growing urban populations. As discussed in the Global Trends 2017-2022 Report, “The Centrality of Governance,” cities are increasingly exploring the use of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles, ride sharing and drone delivery.

Cities are also repurposing older technologies to help reduce congestion and improve public transit. For instance, bus rapid transit – the use of dedicated lanes and specialized on- and off-boarding stations – is currently enjoying a popular resurgence. Dockless bike-sharing has also taken off, combining innovations such as sharing platforms and mobile devices, with the traditional transportation mode of the bicycle. Ofo and Mobike, two leading bike-sharing companies, are both worth over $3 billion and have aggressively expanded across China, Singapore, the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

There is no single answer to growing urban congestion; a mix of new technologies and systems will help cities cope with transport challenges. Those cities that are able to address their congestion issues in locally appropriate ways will gain a competitive advantage, attracting top talent and major corporations, bringing jobs, prosperity and enhanced quality of life to residents.

Paul A. Laudicina is a Partner and Chairman Emeritus of A.T. Kearney, and Chairman of the Global Business Policy Council. In addition to more than 40 years of private-sector experience, Paul has served in the public sector, including as legislative director to then U.S. Senator Joseph Biden from 1977 to 1982.


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