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Commentary Article September 1st, 2022
Cities • Delivery • Energy • Health • Innovation

Reimagining Climate Action in Cities: How cities can lead the charge towards a net zero, resilient future

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📣 Announcing 'Reimagining Climate Action in Cities', an exciting programme by @CPI_foundation which will help local governments accelerate their transition to zero-carbon climate resilient cities.

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"The vertically siloed nature of city govts combined with the traditional, linear approach to policymaking leaves cities struggling to drive transformation at the speed and scale necessary." @Josh_Sorin

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.@CPI_foundation are working with city leaders across the globe to build the collaboration, experimentation, and learning capabilities needed to accelerate #climateaction. Get in touch to learn more!

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Reimagining Climate Action in Cities

We are working with city leaders across the globe to build the collaboration, experimentation, and learning capabilities needed to accelerate climate action.

Learn more and get in touch

The world needs to limit global warming to 1.5°C above p​​re-industrial levels. If we don’t, the global scientific community is unified in forecasting that humanity will face an increasingly uninhabitable earth, leaving our children and grandchildren to deal with the terrible fallout.

To achieve this goal, the world needs to go from emitting over 50 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. More challenging still, because greenhouse gas emissions remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, the rate of decrease matters a great deal: we need to halve emissions by 2030.

This is a vast, complex, and, above all, collective challenge without precedent in human history. Imperfect as they are, governments are best positioned to mobilise the cross-sector collective action necessary to grapple with this collective problem. Despite notable breakthroughs at the national level, such as the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and the European Climate Law, national policies on their own are not enough.

The opportunity for city leadership

Cities generate more than 70% of global carbon emissions and are on the frontlines of a wide array of climate-related risks including sea-level rise, heat waves, various types of flooding, water scarcity, hurricanes, and gale storms. With more than half of the global population living in urban areas, and more moving every year, cities represent both the biggest challenge and most significant opportunity to slow carbon emissions and limit global warming.

In addition to increasing top-down national action, there is an advanced and evolving movement among cities for bottom-up, local action. Mayors have organised themselves through network organisations like C40 and the Global Covenant of Mayors Cities to pick up the mantle of responsibility to call for a new era of city-led climate action. Local governments across the world have developed climate action strategies detailing their plans to reduce emissions and build equitable and resilient cities. These cities have ostensibly realised both the collective power and responsibility they wield in the global response to climate change.

The vertically siloed nature of city governments combined with the traditional, linear, and incremental approach to problem solving leaves cities struggling to address these barriers and drive transformation at the speed and scale necessary.

However, local government action is only effective if the public sector is equipped with the capacity necessary for effective action. While many city climate action plans demonstrate bold ambition, they face a range of technological, institutional, political, social, and cultural barriers to implementation. The vertically siloed nature of city governments combined with the traditional, linear, and incremental approach to problem solving leaves cities struggling to address these barriers and drive transformation at the speed and scale necessary. The result to date has been urban climate action that in too many places is languishing in the planning phase.

Reimagining Climate Action in Cities

Over the last seven years since CPI’s inception, we have worked as a learning partner alongside hundreds of local governments across the world, supporting them as they transform in the face of emerging challenges. One of our primary observations from this work is that the crises of the last few years have both laid bare the shortcomings of traditional governance approaches while also opening up a window of opportunity to drive transformative change. More than ever, public sector leaders recognize that the status quo is nowhere near sufficient for addressing the most complex challenges of our time, and therefore are motivated to adopt new ways of working that embrace concepts previously considered intimidating (or taboo) like failing forward, reimagining public value, learning as a management strategy, and community co-creation.

Building on this momentum, we believe there is an urgent need for cities to accelerate climate action by embracing a systemic approach that eschews one-off, project innovation, that tackles one barrier at a time, for transformative portfolio innovation that addresses multiple, interrelated barriers simultaneously. To do this, cities need to build the critical collaboration, experimentation, and learning capabilities required to grapple with complex challenges like climate change that call for a fundamental transformation in the ways cities operate and seek to drive progress. They must also invest in the associated governance infrastructure that enables a shared narrative to be developed across the entire city ecosystem, so that all stakeholders can collaborate effectively together.

But perhaps more importantly, and building on CPI’s vision for government, there is a need to reimagine the principles, values, and beliefs upon which city climate action is based - moving from a system optimised for efficiency, top down control, and incrementalism to a system that is optimised for experimentation, shared learning, and building healthy and equitable relationships between actors.

What comes next

There is an urgent desire and need for accelerating city-based climate action through experimentation and learning.

This is why we are so excited about the potential of CPI’s new global initiative, Reimagining Climate Action in Cities. In just the few short months since we’ve been developing this initiative, we’ve already seen a great deal of evidence that there is an urgent desire and need for accelerating city-based climate action through experimentation and learning. We are launching multiple projects and partnerships that are embracing this approach to urban climate action.

In partnership with the TransCap Initiative and EIT Climate-KIC, we’re exploring how city governments can make climate-related investments capable of catalysing the systems transformation necessary to meet the climate challenge.  We’re also excited to be partnering with Google.org on their Impact Challenge focused on Climate Innovation, which commits $30M to fund big bet projects that accelerate technological advances in climate information and action. Stay tuned for even more information about other exciting projects that we have in the pipeline but aren’t quite ready to announce.

But we are just getting started and there is a great need for more innovative work in this space to support cities in accelerating their efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. If this vision for climate action resonates with you (or if you think we got something wrong!), we would be excited to speak with and learn from you. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. There’s no time to waste.

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Reimagining Climate Action in Cities

We are working with city leaders across the globe to build the collaboration, experimentation, and learning capabilities needed to accelerate climate action.

Learn more and get in touch

Written by:

Josh Sorin Global Director, Climate Action
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