Cities and local authorities can champion climate change

13 July 2015 5 min. read

Cities are powerful local authorities and can fulfil the role of global changemakers when it comes to climate initiatives, research by Arup shows. Although many cities do not fully own or operate their assets and functions, almost half set and enforce its policies and regulation, as well as their vision. According to the consulting firm, cities should capitalise on their power to make climate action happen, in partnership with businesses, investors and civil society.

C40 Cities
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is an organisation of 75 affiliated cities set up to help local government authorities in some of the largest metropolitan areas deal with climate change issues in their municipalities. The cities involved are some of the largest in the world, and include Mexico City, Beijing and Amsterdam. The cities combined have an inhabitancy of 550+ million people, and generate 25% of global GDP.

C40 cities

As it stands the hopes for the continued prosperity of everyone on the planet partly rest at the national government level and the policy decisions to come out of the Copenhagen 21 Conference later this year. Yet while broad policy decisions are achievable at the highest level, the implementation of climate initiatives is in certain instances better achieved by local power holders, with cities and their local authorities some of the most powerful. In a recent research report, titled ‘Powering Climate Action’, consulting firm Arup joined the C40 Group as well as the City Leadership Initiative at University College London (UCL) to discover the power level cities have in bringing climate actions into effect.

Local powerhouses
The report highlights that cities are able to exert power locally through a variety of different dimensions of control – from creating vision to defining how assets can be utilised. To find out the distribution of the kinds of powers available to the cities in the implementation of climate mitigation strategies, the researchers used the C40 Powers data that contains data points on powers that cities hold over different sectors of city operations. These powers are expressed along four dimensions, including: own-operate; set-enforce policies and regulations; control budget; and set vision.

Owner-operator power and set enforce policies

From the data available, it was found that only 34% of cities fully own and operate their asset/functions, 28% do not own or operate the cities asset/functions, while 19% have partial control. The power to set and enforce policy and regulations is in the hands of 46% of local authorities, while 31% can influence the setting and enforcement of policy. Of the cities, 14% had no influence on the setting and enforcement of policies.

The level of power in budgetary matters too varies considerably across affiliated cities, with 38% enjoying full control, while 32% have influence over the budget of assets and functions. Just under a third (30%) however says that they have no control over assets and functions. The power to set a vision for the city, including for climate mitigation, is open to 46% of cities and a further 42% can influence the long term vision.

Control budget and setting vision power

Sector powerbase
In terms of setting the policy in specific assets/functions, different cities have different levels of control across the board. Most cities have complete control over city roads, on-street parking, pavement and sidewalks, as well as municipally owned fleets. Airports, inter-city rail and freight, ports and undergrounds, on the other hand, fall for the most part outside the four dimensions of power. Private vehicles are the least in the power of the city, with only vision and regulations applicable.

Local transport assets and functions

With the generation and use of energy a primary generator of greenhouse gasses, the level of power cities have over the generation and distribution of energy supply assets and functions may have considerable effect on the long-term policy initiatives introduced by cities to reduce their carbon footprints. From the research it becomes clear that city leaders have some influence over the way energy flows within city boundaries, with particularly distributed power generation and direct heating-cooling being able to be influenced by city authorities. The report notes that centralised power generation is the furthest from city control, followed by retail power distribution. 

Local energy supply assets and functions

Commenting on the ‘limited’ power of cities and their role in climate initiatives, Paula Kirk, Energy and Climate Change Leader at Arup, says: “When it comes to delivering action, the way cities use their power is more important than the dimensions of power they have. Limited power need not mean limited action for cities; there is enormous potential for partnerships with other cities, private businesses, investors and civil society to further climate action. We hope that the insight in the report helps to improve the measurement, management and strategic planning of climate action in cities, and helping to accelerate meaningful action on climate change.”