In this Issue #1 

    • What’s happening in the lead up to climate talks in Paris
    • What does the Fifth Assessment from IPCC mean to municipalities
    • Featured network: Covenant of Mayors

The lead up to Paris

COP Paris 2015 is considered an opportunity to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on our climate. This will allow countries, states and municipalities to move ahead with strategies and policies for carbon emission reductions while knowing others are doing the same without incurring a competitive disadvantage. The agreement will provide a predictable framework for a global low carbon economy and enable developing countries to transition away from fossil fuels and adapt to climate change. It will also help to clarify the contribution of provinces, states and municipalities.

The negotiations will be intense and ongoing. What are some of the issues at play?

  • GHG emissions reductions pledges
    Countries will each commit to emissions reductions targets. Will these targets be enough to prevent more than 2 degrees of warming?
  • A legal framework for accountability
    How will countries hold each other accountable to their targets?
  • The role of equity
    Some countries have become wealthy while contributing significant GHG emissions into the atmosphere. Other countries are becoming wealthy now and their GHG emissions are increasing. Other countries are poor and have limited capacity to reduce GHG emissions. What then is an equitable distribution of GHG emissions reductions?
  • The role of finance
    How do wealthy countries support poorer countries in adapting to climate change and transitioning to low or zero carbon economies.
  • The impact of deforestation and agricultures
    The forests are the lungs of the planet and preventing deforestation is critical. How can countries work together to stop deforestation?

Why we think there is some optimism for an agreement: 

    1. There has been a significant shift in the position of the most influential countries China and the US from hostility to cooperation, culminating in the Joint US-China Statement on Climate Change in 2013.
    2. There has been a clear timetable established by the UN Secretary General and negotiations have been proceeding incrementally towards Paris.
    3. The case for action is better understood and global companies are increasingly onside.


The IPCC sees hope in cities, and there is much to learn

Every five years the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes a report on the latest findings on climate change science, mitigation strategies and adaptation. Last Sunday, the Fifth Assessment report was published, with for the first time, a chapter on strategies to reduce GHG emissions in cities. Cities are unique because they represent a confluence of transportation, buildings, industries, waste management and agriculture so integrated strategies are required.

In Chapter 12: Human Settlements, Infrastructure and Spatial Planning, it states each week the global urban population increases by 1.3 million. Drawing on the results of hundreds of scientific studies, the Chapter provides insights into urban energy use and GHG emissions reductions possibilities. The importance of urban areas cannot be understated, as they account for between 71% and 76% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use and between 67-76% of global energy use.

One of the most important observations is that the key urban form drivers of energy and GHG emissions are density, land-use mix, connectivity and accessibility. There is consistent evidence that co-locating residential and employment density, along with public transit and mixed land-use can lead to greater emissions savings than pursuing any one strategy in isolation. The authors also point to the notion of lock-in which results from the high capital costs, increasing returns and network externalities related to infrastructure that provided services to cities. Land-use planners are, one can thus argue, the lynchpin in global efforts to reduce GHG emissions.

A major challenge is that while the greatest opportunities for future GHG emissions reductions are in rapidly urbanizing countries, the required governance, technical, financial and institutional capacities are limited. Yet, rapidly growing cities can leapfrog to new technologies, perhaps bypassing some of the lock-in found in mature cities.

There are also a range of co-benefits associated with reduced GHG emissions in cities including public savings, air quality and associated health benefits and productivity increases in urban centres.

The report does acknowledge little scientific understanding of the magnitude of emissions reductions possible from altering urban form and that there has been few evaluations of climate action plans and their effectiveness.

This chapter is likely to become the defining reference manual for communities seeking to reduce GHG emissions.

Featured network: The Covenant of Mayors

The Covenant of Mayors is a ‘club’ of European mayors that commit to undertake a GHG emission inventory, a Sustainable Energy Action Plan with a community target that exceeds the EU’s target of a 20% reduction by 2020 and implementation plans.  More than 6,000 Mayors have signed on and more than 3,000 Sustainable Energy Action Plans filed.  Check out this video on their efforts.

Next briefing

  • Stern’s new report- economics, climate and cities
  • The feasibility of eliminating GHG emissions by mid-century
  • And more!