We are focused on advancing a number of critical areas for cities that correlate with improving human rights, labour, the environment and good governance and anti-corruption and the new Sustainable Development Goals.

We encourage action, projects, collaboration and sharing of knowledge and practice in these focus areas.

Focus Area
Climate and Energy


The world is at an important juncture in terms of climate change. Global agreements have been made in relation to climate change, including commitments to take action on decarbonisation. If these ambitions are to be realized, cities have a critical role to play. Cities are significant contributors to global carbon emissions. They are also important sites for potential action – to reduce emissions and to make the transition at a local level to renewable sources of energy.

The December 2015 landmark agreement made at the 21st annual Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris marks a critical new phase in our collective endeavours to decarbonise the global economy. The science is clear and underpins this call for concerted efforts to prevent further growth in annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report presented a number of emission reduction scenarios describing how we can respond to climate change. It argued that the scenarios likely to maintain warming below 2°C are “characterised by a 40 to 70% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050, relative to 2010 levels and emissions levels near zero or below in 2100.”

The IPCC 5th Assessment Report also introduced the idea of a carbon budget for the entire planet and argued that we should only emit 1,000 GtCO2 from 2011 onwards and have a >66% probability of limiting human induced warming to less that 2oC.

While the Paris agreement provides an initial and significant global goal for 2030—to reduce annual emissions from 65 GtCO2e under business as usual to around 56 GtCO2e—this reduction, according to analysis by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), still falls short of where we need to be in 2030 by between 12-14 GtCO2e.

The assumption underpinning the COP agreement is that our level of ambition will increase as we start to move in the right direction and as we gain confidence in our ability to reduce emissions. It is a risky strategy but, politically, it is the only practical way to ensure participation of the greatest possible number of nations.

Cities as both the problem and the solution

Cities are taking action. In an unprecedented move, a gathering of more than 400 mayors came together at COP21 under the banner of the Climate Summit for Local Leaders. Organised by both the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, this meeting aimed to discuss how cities can respond to climate change and to propose ambitious climate targets.
This meeting deliberated on the critical fact that:

  • More than 3.5 billion people live in cities today.
  • By 2050 the number of people living in cities will have increased by 2.5 billion people.
  • Urban areas account for 67–76% of global energy use and 71–76% of global CO2 emissions from final energy use.
  • Over the period to 2030, roughly $93 trillion of infrastructure is designed to be low-emission and climate-resilient will need to be built global. More than 70 percent of this infrastructure will be built in urban areas, at a cost of $4.5 trillion to $5.4 trillion per year.

From the meeting 360 of the 400 cities have proposed actions that will avoid 740 million tons of carbon dioxide annually in 2030, representing a 17% cut in emissions for those cities compared to 2010 levels. These actions are being elaborated on within the framework of the Compact of Mayors that currently includes 488 cities and is growing rapidly.

Actions and Responses

Shifting away from fossil fuels

Moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is a key part of planning to ensure decarbonisation. At the global level this has been explored through the work of researchers at MIT, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Clean Air Taskforce who have critically reviewed 17 global scenarios from bodies such as the International Energy Agency, Greenpeace, WWF and Worldwatch. There are also proposals for national actions as presented in the Deep Decarbonisation Pathways project with technical proposals for 15 countries.

At the local level in the United States groundbreaking research (initially from Stanford University) shows how every State can move to a 100% renewable energy power supply by 2050 under the framework of the Solutions Project.

There is a growing recognition that our remaining fossil fuel reserves are largely unburnable. As Christopher McGlade and Paul Ekins note (Nature; January 2015), “globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2oC.” These, and the associated financial investments, are referred to as stranded assets.

Momentum is building at all levels of government, hopefully pushing us towards a future that is 100% renewable.

Climate change and energy transitions and UN Global Compact cities

The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme has been monitoring the plans and actions of city signatories in relation to climate change and their energy transitions. The level of ambition is exemplary, as reflected in the following examples.

The City of San Francisco issued its Climate Action Strategy in 2013 with the aim to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The city is also seeking to ensure that
50% of all trips at that time will be sustainable (walk, bike, public transport) and electricity will be 100% renewable (currently 17%). San Francisco’s original Innovating project with the UN Global Compact – Cities Programme (2006) focused on rallying together the business community to mitigate climate change. This leading innovation grew into the not-for-profit organisation, the San Francisco Business Council on Climate Change (BC3), which is still in operation, some 10 years later. BC3’s numerous achievements include the Green Teams Collaboration Initiative, What’s Your Watt: Energy Use Education and the Energy and Carbon Leadership Group.

The City of Milwaukee, another Innovating city, published the sustainability plan ‘ReFresh Milwaukee’ in 2013. The city aims to generate 25% of its electricity and 25% of its transportation fuels from renewable resources by 2025. It is calculated that annually US$12.5 billion flows out of Wisconsin’s economy to import fossil fuels, including $4.3 billion for natural gas and coal.

Norway’s capital Olso, recently published their climate and energy strategy, ‘The Green Shift’ (2015), seeking to cut the city’s fossil fuel emissions in half by 2030. They intend to become fossil-free in 2050. This will be achieved through measures designed to shift the use of energy resources, as well as modes of energy production, distribution, and consumption in all sectors.

Berlin is another of the UNGC-CP original innovating cities (2005) and has set ambitious climate and energy targets. Developed in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research, a feasibility study shows how Berlin can reduce emissions by 85% by 2050. This would limit emissions to 4.4 million t CO2 by that date (close to 2 metric tons per capita). Progress has already been made. The energy-related CO2 emissions for Berlin have declined from almost 30m t in 1990 to 21.3m t in 2010 – a 27% reduction.

Another original Innovating foundation city of the UN Global Compact Cities Programme is Melbourne (Australia), which has a target to achieve Zero Net Emissions by 2020. Most recently, the City of Melbourne has put together a consortium that will work to develop local renewable energy facilities to supply 25% of the city’s electricity.

In South Africa, the City of Cape Town was the first African city to develop an Energy and Climate Change Action Plan in 2006. The plan was subsequently updated in 2011. Several of the targets in the original plan have been exceeded (i.e. 10% reduction in electricity consumption by 2012 off a business-as-usual baseline and 10% reduction in energy across Council operations by 2012).

As an International Secretariat of the UN, the Global Compact – Cities Programme is also conducting research related to Climate Change and Energy Transitions. Signatory cities’ climate change mitigation and energy transitions plans are examined in terms of their overall approach. It is envisaged that future research will involve a comparative technical assessment of the measures proposed in each city in order to bring about drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Research is also underway in the area of climate change adaptation including a project in collaboration with RMIT researchers and the City of Port Phillip in Victoria, Australia, to develop a Regional Coastal Adaptation Framework for Port Phillip Bay (Bay Plan 2070 for Port Phillip Bay).

Author: Dr Brendan F.D. Barrett

We encourage and welcome contribution of your city´s initiatives. List them as a Case study or a Commitment. Include them in your Communication on Engagement.