Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked, and are continuing to fall, in 30 major cities including New York, London and Paris.

Austin, Athens, Lisbon and Venice are the latest places to hit that milestone in the fight against climate change, according to analysis from C40, a coalition of 94 large and influential cities around the world working to limit global warming and protect the environment.

Cities are home to growing numbers of people. By 2050, 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, up from 55% today. Cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. That means they have a critical role to play in helping the world to limit dangerous climate change.

But, almost four years after nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement, the world is still seriously off-track from meeting its goals. Global emissions hit a record high in 2018.

Green leaders

The good news is that many cities are stepping up efforts to address the climate crisis.

To keep the increase in Earth’s temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has calculated that emissions must peak by 2020.

Nearly one-third of all C40 cities have already hit that target, with more projected to reach peak emissions by 2020.

And since reaching that marker, those 30 cities, which together are home to more than 58 million people, have gone on to cut their emissions by an average of 22%.

Emissions in San Francisco, California, peaked in 2000 and have been declining steadily since. The city has committed to achieving 100% renewable energy by 2030, and today 77% of its electricity supply comes from greenhouse-gas-free sources.

Emissions in San Francisco have fallen in cities since the millennium.
Image: C40

Copenhagen has cut its emissions by up to 61% from peak levels in 1991 and aims to become the world's first carbon-neutral capital by 2025.

The Danish capital is known for its wind turbines, efficient public transport and being the world’s most bike-friendly city: almost one-third (29%) of all journeys around the city are made by bike.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

But crucially, the city has also expanded its district heating system, which means it can generate heat for entire neighbourhoods rather than individual households and businesses. And it has now introduced a district cooling system.

Copenhagen recently hosted the seventh C40 World Mayors Summit, at which leaders of the 94 member cities recognized the climate emergency and gave their backing to the Global New Green Deal.

The initiative commits cities to keeping global warming below the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement, which will require peaking emissions by 2020 and halving them by 2030.

The 30 cities that have already hit peak emissions are: Athens, Austin, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Copenhagen, Heidelberg, Lisbon, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Melbourne, Milan, Montréal, New Orleans, New York City, Oslo, Paris, Philadelphia, Portland, Rome, San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Vancouver, Venice, Warsaw, and Washington DC.