Climate Change, Connected Cities, New York, Paris, Sendai

You might have read recently about a climate march in your city, like the one in New York pictured above. You might have even taken part. Why now? What’s going on?

2015 is a big year for climate policy. People the world over – politicians, campaigners, businesses and individuals – are gearing up for a year of important negotiations, which will set the future agenda for mitigating climate change and adapting to its impacts. In fact, many people have been working specifically to inform and influence these discussions for several decades already.

Naturally, much of the focus is on the COP-21 conference in Paris at the end of 2015, which (it is hoped) will conclude a new global climate deal. But Paris is not the only show in town.


Preparing for the risks posed by extreme weather events is a major element of adaptation to climate change. In March, Sendai, Japan will host the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. This will finalise a new agreement to succeed the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) that was agreed in 2005, setting out a new, concerted global approach to managing disaster risk.

Nations have reported significant improvement over the last decade against some of Hyogo’s priorities – around monitoring, early warning, and preparedness – but there has been slower progress around addressing the underlying drivers of risk, including patterns of development.

A post-Hyogo framework will ideally provide a stronger mechanism to embed understanding of risk into development. It is critical to ensure that the significant investment flowing into low-income countries in the next two decades enhances resilience. The new framework is likely to include a new emphasis on the knowledge and capabilities of local actors (including cities) in mitigating disaster risk, recognising that the localised nature of impacts can be at odds with nationalised approaches to preparedness.

AECOM has been supporting the preparatory work for the new framework in a number of ways. We have supported the Disaster Reduction Private Sector Partnerships (DRR-PSP) working groups 1 and 2, and have developed the UNISDR City Resilience Scorecard in partnership with IBM. As part of our partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, we are also helping to develop resilience strategies for cities around the world, including in San Francisco, Christchurch and Quito.

New York

The next big event for the year is in September, when nations will meet at the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York to agree a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period 2015-2030. This will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have been in place (with mixed success) for the last 15 years.

Although the MDGs included a goal focused on sustainability that referenced the need to reduce carbon emissions, the current draft of the SDGs go further to include ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ as a goal in itself – with sub-goals focused on building resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards.

Properly aligning the SDGs on climate with the post-Hyogo framework, and the forthcoming global agreement on carbon abatement is recognised as essential to the success of all these efforts.


Finally the show will roll on to Paris in December. The 21st UN Climate Change Summit (COP-21) will set out to agree a legally binding accord for post-2020 emissions reductions across all nations, as well as voluntary pledges for immediate action before 2020.

The process concluding in Paris is different from previous climate negotiations for some important reasons. Rather than drawing a distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘transition’ economies, this will be a universal agreement applying to all 196 countries. And it combines the traditional ‘top-down’ emission reduction targets with ‘bottom-up’ frameworks for action known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). In doing so it is intended to allow countries to take action to cut emissions in the certainty that all other countries will be doing the same.

Cities in the lead

Interestingly, while the spotlight at Paris will be on the national delegates, cities and municipalities have increasingly been driving the agenda with their proactive steps to cut emissions and promote low-carbon development.

The Compact of Mayors, announced at the September 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York, brings together over 200 cities (home to 436 million people) pledging voluntary emissions reductions of 13 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is backed up by ambitious action plans and transparent measurement and reporting through the new Global Protocol for Community Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC), itself launched at COP-20 in Lima in December 2014.

Mayors were conspicuous in Lima, representing their cities alongside ministers at high-level dialogues, and releasing the Lima Communique, which called for an ambitious post-2015 climate programme driven by action from cities and sub-national governments.

Lima also saw the launch of NAZCA (Non-State Actors Zone for Climate Action), a data platform showcasing mitigation actions by cities, businesses and sub-national actors. This builds on the Carbon Climate Registry run by ICLEI, UCLG and C40 cities, which now reports on the mitigation actions of more than 500 members.

AECOM is also working with cities around the world to support their efforts to reduce emissions, which must remain a priority, alongside efforts to adapt. In partnership with the World Bank, we are in the process of developing the CURB (City Action for Urban Sustainability) tool, which can help cities identify and prioritise carbon abatement opportunities. This will be officially launched in April 2015.

Happy New Year!

Taking this all together it is easy to see how 2015 could be a watershed year in the global response to climate change. Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recently stated that 2015 would be the “year of Sustainability” and the “most important” year since the founding of the UN itself 70 years ago.

But there is plenty more hard work needed to get there – to keep up the momentum and shape the best possible outcome. We are looking forward to it.

To learn more about climate change action, contact Ben Smith ( for Europe, Middle East, Africa; Claire Bonham-Carter ( for Americas; and Michael Nolan ( for Asia, Pacific.


Roland HeadshotRoland Chanin-Morris ( is a senior consultant in AECOM’s London-based Economic Development team. Working closely with the design and planning groups, Roland provides analysis of the large-scale and long-term economic drivers of cities and urban regions.

Originally published Jan 7, 2015

Author: Roland Chanin-Morris