There is now a clear understanding of what the decarbonisation of cities will entail. The Coalition for Urban Transitions has set out a vision of clean, connected and compact cities, supported by mass electrification, materials efficiency, and better mixed land uses. The message is clear: the shape and constitution of cities directly impact their carbon outputs.
But much of the debate so far has centred on sector-based strategies – see the aforementioned action on energy, industry, transport, property, food and waste. Such sector-based work is, of course, essential. But on its own, it is not sufficient. We need similarly robust place-based strategies and leadership.
Why? What is it that cities and place leadership bring to decarbonisation? I see seven essential ingredients of local leadership in this decarbonisation process.
First, cities can play a unique and specific role in setting local vision and ambition and sequencing otherwise disparate efforts. In order to set the pace of overall decarbonisation at a municipal level it is necessary that actions are motivated and coordinated. City leaders are perfectly placed for this – we have already seen such work reaping dividends in Oslo, Tokyo, Medellin and Auckland.
Second, cities and their leaders can inform and shape citizen decision making – for example on consumption, waste, retail or mobility choices. They can promote behaviours that accelerate the clean energy transition and foster positive market responses. A major recent development in this respect has been the move towards active travel in many cities.
Third, cities can shape and regulate local business behaviours that facilitate and accelerate climate adaptation. This can be done via planning policy, procurement frameworks and on-the-ground environmental regulation. Devolution arrangements differ from nation to nation but in many places, cities have the regulatory and purchasing power to make a real difference.