Cities and Urbanization

A net zero carbon future for cities

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Cities must step up to reach net zero carbon emissions

Cities must step up to reach net zero carbon emissions Image: iStock


Accelerating the Decarbonization of Buildings: The Net-Zero Carbon Cities Building Value Framework

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Cities and Urbanization

  • Cities house more than half of the people in the world and account for more than two-thirds of global CO2 emissions
  • Rapid transformation across business models and policy is needed to achieve an integrated net zero carbon future
  • The Net Zero Carbon Cities programme brings together leaders from public and private sectors to accelerate urban transitions to a net zero future

The impact of achieving net zero carbon cities.

Cities across the world account for most of our carbon emissions and energy use, yet they cover only 3% of the earth’s land surface. As the global population grows, so does new construction, energy consumption, and carbon emissions.

The World Economic Forum's Net Zero Carbon Cities programme brings together businesses from 10 sectors with city, regional and national government leaders to accelerate urban transitions to a net zero future. By convening committed global leaders who are implementing a toolbox of solutions through city sprints, it aims to localize progress on net zero.

From the re-purposing of a 1970’s university building to re-use its carbon in Singapore, to an innovative district heating network connected to almost 90% of buildings in Stockholm, Sweden, the solutions include a wide range of policy, business and finance models for reduced carbon emissions.

The Net Zero Carbon Cities programme is creating an enabling environment for clean electrification and circularity that will result in urban decarbonization and resilience. It does this by fostering public-private collaboration to bridge the gap across the energy, built environment and transport sectors.

What's the challenge in achieving net zero?

The impacts of climate change will be experienced by the world’s 8 billion people, most of whom live in cities.

Cities house more than half of the global population and account for 70% of the CO2 emissions that lie at the heart of the climate crisis. By 2050, 68% of humanity will live in cities, resulting in higher energy consumption, greater infrastructure needs, and increased carbon emissions. Rapid transformation across business models and policy is needed to achieve an integrated net zero carbon future.

Buildings can play a key role in combatting climate change. Construction and the operation of buildings are responsible for 38% of global emissions, and there is an urgent need for solutions to help accelerate the decarbonization of the urban built environment to limit the global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.


Our approach for a net zero carbon future.

At the Davos Agenda 2021, representatives from government, business and civil society highlighted the approaches needed for cities to transition to a net zero carbon future. The Forum responded by convening a range of stakeholders with a role to play for global cities to have a chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050.

The Forum’s Net Zero Carbon Cities programme, co-chaired by Enel’s CEO Francesco Starace and Schneider Electric’s CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire, is working to localize net zero and enable integrated, multi-stakeholder environments which can deliver a decarbonized, highly electrified and resilient city ecosystem through ultra-efficient buildings and smart energy infrastructure.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

The Forum, in collaboration with Accenture, developed a Toolbox of Solutions in 2021, a digital platform containing more than 200 leading practices and case studies to boost sustainability and reduce emissions in cities. The platform focuses on solutions from 110 cities around the world that are addressing clean electrification, efficiency and smart infrastructure across sectors including energy, buildings and mobility.

The Toolbox is free for city leaders, national governments, and businesses to use and is particularly powerful when combined with the City Sprint process, a series of cross-sectoral workshops bringing together business, government and civil society leaders to enable localized decarbonization through clean electrification and circularity. City Sprints help jumpstart and/or accelerate net zero planning and action by shortlisting relevant policies and business models. The City Sprint process has already been implemented in Cagliari, Italy; Freetown, Sierra Leone, Manchester, United Kingdom, São Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China, Singapore, Surat, India and was demonstrated at COP26.


In January 2022, the Net Zero Carbon Cities programme launched a Building Value Framework to help speed up the investments needed to deliver a greener urban-built environment. By integrating a holistic approach in the decision-making process, this framework aims to facilitate capital flows towards decarbonizing projects and solutions.

The Building Value Framework was developed to highlight the broader benefits that result from integrating non-financial values into investment decisions, while also evaluating how digital technologies can enable the decarbonization transition.

Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman, Schneider Electric

The Net Zero Carbon Cities programme supports industry transformation through an Integrated Approach to help cities rethink urban ecosystems, ensuring that they are sustainable and resilient while bridging the gap across the energy, built environment and transport sectors.

Integrated energy systems in net zero carbon cities Image: Net Zero Carbon Cities: An Integrated Approach, 2021, World Economic Forum

How can you get involved?

The Net Zero Carbon Cities programme is an initiative of the Forum’s Centre for Urban Transformation.

Companies are invited to join one of the above platforms to help shape city ecosystems to become net zero carbon.

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Related topics:
Cities and UrbanizationClimate ChangeFuture of the Environment
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