Climate Change, Connected Cities

At this year’s United Nations Climate Conference (COP 20) in Lima, Peru, there is strong recognition of the critical role cities will play in global climate protection efforts. Over the past week of events, many nations and international organizations have made commitments to support low carbon planning and infrastructure development at the sub-national (regional or city) level.

One of the new concepts to emerge at this COP is that cities’ sub-national-level actions should be able to count toward national emission reduction commitments. If agreed upon, this is anticipated to create funding opportunities for city carbon reduction initiatives within Annex 1 (major emitter) countries. Maybe even more importantly, this could expand access for cities in the developing world to climate financing from sources such as the Green Climate Fund. This could greatly facilitate implementation of urban sustainable infrastructure projects in the cities that most need them.

While the role of cities in global protection efforts is broadly recognized, some key barriers will need to be overcome before city climate action can be effectively integrated into national emission reduction programs. These barriers include:

  • A lack of guidelines and standards for city-level carbon emissions reduction quantification, monitoring, reporting, and verification;
  • Low levels of capacity within many cities to identify reduction opportunities and financing options.

On Tuesday, at a forum with representatives from some of the largest cities in the world, the World Bank presented a pre-launch demonstration of its City Action for Urban Sustainability (CURB) Tool (photo above shows Steve Hammer, World Bank, speaking at this presentation). AECOM developed CURB in partnership with the World Bank. The tool will enable cities in developing and developed nations to identify and prioritize carbon abatement opportunities within their communities. It will be formally launched in January 2015 and will be beta tested with cities globally.

Earlier in the week I attended a United Nations Habitat meeting as a representative of the America Planning Association. The group of practitioners laid out a plan to develop a set of guidelines for climate action planning that will harmonize methods used by cities, facilitate their access to climate financing, and better communicate the co-benefits of urban carbon abatement efforts such as air quality, sanitation, and mobility improvements. On Monday, World Resources Institute, C40, and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability launched the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories. Learn more from this video.

COP 20_2

The author (foreground-left) with Scott Muller (foreground-right), who helped the city of Lima implement a number of emission reduction initiatives, and city staff from Johannesburg’s climate team (background) at a stop Lima’s Metropolitan BRT system Monday evening.

2015 will be an important year for the advancement of city action within global climate protection efforts. As part of the UN Compact of Mayors initiative, a large number of cities are anticipated to create baseline inventories and pledge emission reduction commitments before next year’s Climate Conference is held in Paris. In the next two to five years there will likely be a major opportunity to assist cities globally in all portions of their carbon reduction efforts. Considerable new funds from climate financing are likely to enter this space, and cities will be looking for assistance in all areas from strategic planning to development of low-carbon infrastructure projects. Ensuring cities have the capacity to turn their pledges into on-the-ground actions that reduce emissions and improve communities is the next essential task and opportunity.


Culley Thomas ( is a senior strategic planner, climate and sustainability, for AECOM.



Originally published Dec 10, 2014

Author: Culley Thomas