Big cities are engines of culture, community and innovation. They are the natural leaders who can grasp the climate opportunity to enhance the liveability of their citizens. How could they use climate actions to take their leadership to the next level? 🚀
Challenges of a big city
Big cities (here defined as cities with more than 200k inhabitants) face enormous pressure from rapid urbanisation. Land -and other resources such as water or food- are under constant competition. Yet, big cities have what it takes to take the lead on climate action.
Internally (big) city teams struggle to demonstrate the urgency of climate plans and push them through the ever-changing political agenda. In this landscape, competing priorities are always on the horizon. On top of this, big cities have many plans, policies, budgets... and cross-sectorial collaboration might be hard to seize.
Big cities offer the perfect seedbed for innovation. Many technological and social innovations are already happening every day in the streets. Yet, city teams can’t keep track of all the innovations and might miss the chance to upscale quality ideas.
Externally, the sectorial climate challenges of big cities are complex. Every big city has its own profile: more industry, more tertiary services, or more touristic. However, there is a clear top 5 sector challenges when it comes to emissions: 1) mobility, 2) households, 3) tertiary, 4) industry and 5) government. Big cities are natural leaders who can grasp the climate opportunity to enhance the livability for their citizens. Our take for big cities: scale-up mature measures and support further development of new measures.
Top climate measures for a big city
Start by scaling up the measures of our starter pack for a medium city. Those measures are mature and bring substantial economic savings to your citizens. Then, let the real challenge for big cities begin. Let’s focus on impactful measures to take your big city to the next level in each sector:
The focus of mobility in big cities should be simple: connect as many dots as possible. Supply local needs and use soft mobility as much as possible. Public transport is preferred over private transport, and ultimately a technological shift to electric vehicles is advised.
- Modal shift to public transport. With densely populated big cities, public transport is preferred to optimise space. Action example: Tallinn, Estonia (413k inhabitants) implemented free public transport for the citizens.
- Modal shift to biking/walking. This measure aspires to replace the use of cars by bicycles (or to walk) for short journeys. Action example: Sintra, Portugal (380k inhabitants) is developing 39 km of cycling ways in the city (PT).
- Reduction of superfluous mileage in traffic. This measure aims to take care of local needs, to avoid extra kilometres.
🚀 Support further development:
- Mobility as a Service*. This measure focuses on integrating transport systems into one service. This offers a more friendly experience to commuters while increasing the efficiency of the transport system. Action example: Antwerp, Belgium (500k inhabitants) joins the MaaS Alliance to bring this service to its citizens.
- Technological shift (electric buses and cars). This measure aims to replace fossil-fuel private and public for electric ones. Action examples: Dijon, France (250k inhabitants) is on the way to make its bus fleet 100% electric; and learn from Olso, Norway (700k inhabitants) about how the city managed to be the EV capital of the world.
- Database for exchange of services. This measure provides for the use of an online database/platform through which users can exchange services that would have required travel.
- Grouping the transport of goods for a collective delivery. This measure ensures that the transport of goods is grouped together in such a way to raise sustainability and efficiency. Action example: Helsinki, Finland (628k inhabitants) saved between 4 and 14 M€ by optimizing the transport of excavation waste.
- Car-free zones. This measure reduces the use of kilometres driven in personal cars. Action example: Birmingham, UK (1 M inhabitants) has a Clean Air Zone policy for disincentivising the use of the car.
(* = measure currently being developed in our database)
Buildings (households and tertiary)
Big cities often face heterogeneous building conditions. One thing is certain: climate measures can save energy bills to both households and businesses. Additionally, these measures can bring extra comfort and property value.
- Houses and apartment* renovations (wall, floor and roof insulation; relighting). This bundle of measures aims to reduce the need for energy by insulating houses, apartments and business buildings. Action example: Leuven, Belgium (100k inhabitants) has successfully completed large renovations in collaboration with the organisation Leuven 2030.
- Reduction of electricity consumption by more energy-efficient appliances. This measure ensures that households with old electrical appliances and house lighting, get replacements so that their energy usage is reduced. Action example: Murcia, Spain (500k inhabitants) invested 8 Mio for financing the acquisition of energy-saving appliances.
- Sliding doors (tertiary). This measure ensures the installation of sliding doors in shops to reduce the amount of heat lost at the entrances.
🚀 Support further development:
- Green roofs. Green roofs are vegetated surfaces that provide insulation to the building while benefitting biodiversity and water retention. Action example: the city of Basel, Switzerland (180k inhabitants) successfully engaged stakeholders to make 23% of all flat roofs green.
- Better glazing. This measure provides for the replacement of poor glazing with better insulating glass. Action example: the Fingal County Council, Ireland (300k inhabitants) completes a single glazing replacement programme in the social housing stock.
- Heat pump instead of gas or oil boilers. This measure ensures the (additional) installation of a heat pump for heating both spaces and sanitary warm water for families, as a replacement for a gas or oil boiler. Action example: South Tyneside, UK (150k inhabitants) has invested in 140 air source heat pumps to tackle fuel poverty.
- Collective neighbourhood renovation projects aimed at low energy standard. This measure ensures a thorough, organised renovation of homes to bring about a low energy standard through interior wall insulation. Action example: Paris, France (2 Mio inhabitants) is collectively renovating the housing stock to reach 30% of social buildings renovated by 2030.
- Smart energy meters with direct feedback. This measure ensures the installation of smart energy meters to help residents monitor and optimize their energy use. Action example: Sabadell, Spain (200k inhabitants) provided smart meters to 100 dwellings, helping residents save 12% of energy use.
- Solar water heaters. This measure ensures the installation of a solar water heater for sanitary warm water instead of a natural gas boiler.
- Cool, reflective roofs (tertiary). This measure stimulates building owners to improve the Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) of their roofs.
- Balanced ventilation (tertiary). This measure ensures the installation of balanced ventilation in businesses.
- Purchase of 100% green electricity. This measure ensures that an additional percentage of industries (not-ETS) purchase 100% green electricity.
- PV solar panels in the industry. This measure ensures the installation of photovoltaic solar panels in businesses.
🚀 Support further development:
- Increased efficiency of electric motors. This measure aims to increase the efficiency of electric motor systems in the industrial sector.
- Smart energy meters. This measure ensures the monitoring and optimisation of the processes within the light industry.
- More energy-efficient municipal buildings (relighting, energy-efficient appliances, roof insulation). This cluster of measures aims to carry on energy-saving policies in the municipal buildings. Action example: the city of Zagreb, Croatia (800k inhabitants) has thermally insulated already half of the buildings owned by the municipality.
- Reduction in emissions of municipal fleet. The city aims to bring down emissions from its own fleet by purchasing more efficient vehicles (lower eco-score) or by optimising its use. Action example: the city of Malmö, Sweden (320k inhabitants) has completely eliminated petrol-based vehicles.
- Reduction in municipal street lighting. For this measure, the municipal services aim to reduce emissions from their street lighting. Action example: the city of Helsinki, Finland (650k inhabitants) has already replaced 35k street lights.
- Sustainable commuting traffic. This measure aims at increasing the number of city officials using a sustainable alternative to commute every day. Action example: the city of Gothenburg, Sweden (500k inhabitants) has its own cycling network which officials can use.
- PV in municipal buildings. This measure ensures the installation of photovoltaic solar panels in municipal buildings. Action example: the city of Tepebasi, Turkey (350k inhabitants) was able to meet 20% of the consumption of municipal buildings via solar PV panels.
🚀 Support further development:
- Technological shift in the municipal fleet. This measure ensures that new electric cars are bought by the municipality.
- Solar water heaters. This measure ensures the installation of a solar water heater in governmental buildings.
Adaptation in big cities
- Cool paving and building materials. This measure aims to actively retrofit buildings with materials that reflect the sunlight (light and/or reflective colours).
- Planting trees. This measure provides for the planting of trees in the built-up urban area. Action example: Barcelona, Spain (1.5 Mio inhabitants) invests €9 million in a Tree Master Plan.
- Water permeable soils. This measure aims to reduce soil sealing in existing and new built environments.
- No build zones. This measure implies defining special places where no construction is allowed. Instead, green areas can be developed.
🚀 Support further development:
- Ecological corridors. This measure aims to develop concrete actions for connecting different green areas in the city through ecological corridors. Action example: Barcelona, Spain (1.5 Mio inhabitants) developed a 1.2 km green corridor connecting iconic parks of the city.
- Reopening rivers. This measure aims to start a project for reopening waterways that have been previously closed. Action example: Oslo, Norway (1 Mio inhabitants) has already opened up 3 km of waterways previously closed.
- Smart irrigation systems in public gardens + Promotion of urban gardens. This cluster of measures aims to create and/or enhance public gardens or parks managed smartly. Action example: Antwerp, Belgium (500k inhabitants) opened up a 24 ha park in collaboration with the national train company.
Key learnings for big cities
🧑🤝🧑 Having everybody on board is key. This applies both for the internal municipality and for external actors such as citizens and companies. In a jungle of data and programmes, a centralising tool for climate plans can make a big difference. Additionally, having easy and attractive communication channels with citizens can ensure they are engaged.
🚀 An ambition that is feasible. By choosing this list of measures with our suggested target, a fictitious city of 500k inhabitants could reduce its emissions by 44% by 2030. This ambition level is similar to iconic frontrunner cities such as Stockholm. Naturally, some of our suggested measures require more investments than others. If we bundle them together using a mitigation cost curve, the result is a budget-friendly plan.
💰This plan for a fictitious city would not only save 1.2 million tons CO2 but a lot of money as well. Significative investments (€4 billion) will be needed at the beginning but after 15 years the net benefits (€4.2 billion) will surpass the investments. This results in a net present value of €180 million that goes to households, businesses and the city. This way, the climate plan saves our society money while making it more attractive and liveable.
☀️FutureproofedCities makes it easy to organise, delegate and keep track of climate measures. Drop us an email if you want to see in our tool how a fictitious big city can tackle emissions with our suggested list.
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