Cities and Urbanization

It's down to cities to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2030 

A slum area in Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia – the kind of fast-growing megacity that will need to carefully plan its development. Image: REUTERS/Beawiharta

Jennifer Lenhart
Global lead, WWF Cities
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Cities and Urbanization

The science on climate change, and the scale of action needed to address it, are crystal-clear. People are rising in cities around the globe in direct consequence. We urge local leaders to respond to their concerned citizens, especially since newly released tools are available to support local decision-makers – tools to help cities align with 1.5°C maximum global warming.

The evidence piles up

Three reports sounded alarm bells at the end of 2018. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned we have until 2030 to halve climate emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C. What an enormous responsibility! Unchecked, climate change could undo much of the economic and social progress since the end of World War II. WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report revealed unprecedented global wildlife loss, a 60% decline in the size of populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians in just over 40 years, through habitat loss, climate change and other challenges. The 2018 UN Environment Emissions Gap Report indicated countries are far from meeting the promise of the Paris Agreement, or its 1.5°C goal. Meanwhile, 2019 kicked off in a similar tone: WEF’s Global Risks Report 2019 centered on climate change and rising geopolitical tensions as the primary threats.

Despite these challenges, there are reasons to be hopeful, so long as hope equals action. The IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C does not shut the door on meeting this mark, but it calls for unprecedented efforts to do so. Similarly, the report Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, launched in September 2018, offers us a pathway to how. Both stress the need for far-reaching transitions in urban infrastructure, including buildings and transport.

The people are rising

In the wake of these reports and political stalling, a 16-year-old climate activist, Greta Thunberg, decided enough was enough. What started as a lonely school strike in August 2018 outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm has snowballed into a movement in cities across Europe and further afield with hundreds of thousands of protesters: in Sweden, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Australia. It is, however, unrealistic that we expect citizens alone – especially our children – to act without an adequate response from our elected leaders.

Could city leaders offer the right political space to demonstrate that meaningful, science-based climate action is possible, through efforts to align cities with 1.5°C pathways – pathways these youth are desperate to call attention to? Not just one city, but a plethora across the globe, together calling for stronger commitment and demonstrating that change is possible, thus incentivizing a scaling up of climate ambitions among other stakeholders and government levels?

Science, solutions and tools align for the first time

We find ourselves at a crucial juncture. Limiting further global warming will be the great challenge of our lifetime and a moral imperative for future generations. Equally, solutions – especially in cities – are more abundant and expanding at scale, and tools to guide cities to align to 1.5°C are emerging. Is this great climate challenge not also a hidden opportunity? After all, ambitious climate actions in cities often have co-benefits for people and the planet, vis-à-vis better air quality, less traffic, new job opportunities, greener, more biodiverse urban spaces. Current examples are in abundance and escalating. Increasingly, these actions are also backed by the alignment of policy and data gathering.

A few items contributing to this:

Global frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, the IPCC, and even multilateral development banks, support the 1.5°C goal.

Standardized data reporting platforms will allow for global comparisons, as cities report their goals, actions and emissions through the same key performance indicators (KPIs).

Efforts are underway to support setting science-based targets in cities on climate change and sustainability concerns, as well as guidance for urban policymakers to meet 1.5°C.

Setting science-based targets and evidence-based climate action – in a growing data set of cities – will encourage achievement at scale. Equally, this transition to align with 1.5°C should also strive to be just by incorporating consumption-based emissions for cities in wealthier nations. With this inclusion, a more accurate picture of 1.5°C alignment can be achieved, enabling a faster transition towards this ambitious mark.

Have you read?

We can tailor solutions to every single municipality to support 1.5°C alignment
The good news is that every single local government can soon benefit from a tailored assessment against recommended emission-reduction pathways, as well as guidance to the most impactful climate actions, via WWF’s One Planet City Challenge – a world-unique framework based on IPCC data. With such an assessment available, city leaders can then consult investors, businesses and their citizens to share ideas, build capacity and reach consensus on what is collectively possible.

If 2018 was the year of the wake-up call, we welcome 2019 as the year our cities and their citizens – representing 55% of global population and 70% of carbon emissions – decided to align to science-based solutions, especially since the tools exist to help them do so. As our children march for their future, let’s show them hope, the only way they will accept it, by action.

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Cities and UrbanizationFuture of the Environment
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