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 can they build a climate plan that takes their leadership to the next level?
Climate plan challenges of a big city 🏙️
Big cities (here defined as cities with more than 200k inhabitants) face enormous pressure from rapid urbanization. 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 climate plans’ urgency 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 other plans, policies, budgets... And cross-sectoral collaboration might be hard to seize.
Big cities offer the perfect seedbed for innovation, especially when it comes to their climate plan. 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 sectoral climate challenges of big cities are complex. Every big city has its own profile: more industry, more tertiary services, or more tourism. However, there are 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 livability for their citizens. Our take for the best big cities climate plan: scale-up mature measures and further develop new standards.
Top climate plan 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 actions 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 transportation is preferred to optimize space. Action example: Tallinn, Estonia (413k inhabitants) implemented free public transport for its citizens.
- Modal shift to biking/walking. This measure aspires to replace the use of cars with bicycles (or walking) 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 kilometers.
🚀 Support further development:
- Mobility as a Service*. This measure focuses on integrating transport systems into one service, offering a more friendly commuting experience while increasing the transport system’s efficiency. 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 collective delivery. This measure ensures that the transportation of goods is grouped in such a way to raise sustainability and efficiency. Action example: Helsinki, Finland (628k inhabitants) saved between 4 and 14 M€ by optimizing excavation waste transport.
- Car-free zones. This measure reduces the use of kilometers driven in personal cars. Action example: Birmingham, UK (1 M inhabitants) has a Clean Air Zone policy for disincentivizing vehicles’ use.
(* = measure currently being developed in our database)
Buildings (households and tertiary) 🏢
Big cities often face heterogeneous building conditions. One thing is sure: climate plan measures can save energy bills for 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 completed extensive renovations in collaboration with 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 to reduce their energy usage. Action example: Murcia, Spain (500k inhabitants) invested 8 Mio for financing the acquisition of energy-saving appliances.
- Sliding doors (tertiary). This measure ensures installing 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 benefiting biodiversity and water retention. Action example: Basel, Switzerland (180k inhabitants) successfully engaged stakeholders to make 23% of all flat roofs green.
- Better glazing. This measure provides for the replacement of low glazing with better insulating glass. Action example: the Fingal County Council, Ireland (300k inhabitants) completes a single glazing replacement program 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 neighborhood renovation projects aimed at low energy standards. This measure ensures a thorough, organized 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 installing 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 optimization 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 city buildings. Action example: Zagreb, Croatia (800k inhabitants) has thermally insulated already half of the municipality’s buildings.
- Reduction in emissions of municipal fleet. The city aims to bring down emissions from its fleet by purchasing more efficient vehicles (lower eco-score) or optimizing its use. Action example: the city of Malmö, Sweden (320k inhabitants) has eliminated petrol-based vehicles.
- Reduction in municipal street lighting. For this measure, the city services aim to reduce emissions from their street lighting. Action example: 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: Gothenburg, Sweden (500k inhabitants) has its cycling network that officials can use.
- PV in municipal buildings. This measure ensures the installation of photovoltaic solar panels in municipal buildings. Action example: 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 the municipality buys new electric cars.
- 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 colors).
- 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 newly built environments.
- No build zones. This measure implies defining unique 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 environmental corridors. Action example: Barcelona, Spain (1.5 Mio inhabitants) created a 1.2 km green corridor connecting its iconic parks.
- 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.
Critical learnings for big cities 🏙️
🧑🤝🧑 Having everybody on board is vital for the internal municipality and external actors such as citizens and companies. A centralizing tool for climate plans can make a big difference in a jungle of data and programs. Additionally, having comfortable and attractive communication channels with citizens can ensure they are engaged. Read how to involve citizens and how to involve decision takers in your climate action plan.
🚀 An ambition that is feasible. By choosing this list of measures with our suggested target, a fictional 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 climate plan.
💰This climate plan for a fictional city would not only save 1.2 million tons of CO2 but a lot of money as well. Significative investments (€4 billion) will be needed initially. Still, after 15 years, the net benefits (€4.2 billion) will surpass the investments, resulting 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 organize, delegate, and keep track of climate plan measures. Drop us an email if you want to see in our tool how a fictional big city can tackle emissions with our suggested list.
Antonio is the Climate Action Specialist at Futureproofed. His specialties include mitigation and adaptation measures research, urban climate adaptation, local climate data, and more. When he's not hard at work helping cities become more sustainable, he can be found cycling across Flemish fields.
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