North American Cities Should Pay Attention to UK Approaches to Climate Action
LONDON and NEW YORK, NY, December 17, 2020 — Five years into the Paris Agreement—and in the lead-up to the 2021 UN climate negotiations in Glasgow—UK cities are taking bold climate action. Cities worldwide have much to learn from their UK peers’ successes and challenges, according to a new report released Thursday by the 1000 CITIES Initiative, which aims to mobilize 1,000 cities to respond to the climate crisis.
“We are currently off track to limit global warming. Cities in North America and around the world need to get more aggressive about cutting emissions,” said Rebecca Foon, co-founder of the 1000 CITIES Initiative. “When it comes to climate action, British cities have some of the most ambitious goals in the world. There is much North American cities can learn from the UK as they strive towards the Paris Targets.”
Many UK cities have adopted goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2030, according to the 1000 CITIES Climate Action Best Practices in UK Cities report. In contrast, many leading North American cities have action plans that aim to reach the same goal by 2050. Others are planning for an 80% or smaller emissions reductions over the next three decades—an aspiration that we now know will not prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
“One of the key messages which Glasgow is issuing to the world as host city for COP26 is that it is cities which are leading on the delivery of national ambitions for a low-carbon and climate resilient future,” said Duncan Booker, Chief Resilience Officer and COP26 Stakeholder Manager at Glasgow City Council. “It was our cities that generated the first industrial revolution and it will be our cities that lead a just transition to a greener, cleaner economy and society.”
One notable strategy that has enabled British cities to set ambitious targets is their approach to community engagement, according to the report, which is based on research on 12 UK local governments, including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, and Somerset. The research was carried out by Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), a leading North American climate planning consultancy, and funded by the Rothschild Foundation, a UK-based charitable trust focused on the arts and humanities, the environment, and social welfare.
“Almost every city we studied had some sort of community coalition or engagement process that brought together charities, businesses, academic institutions, and other local groups. The communities collectively take ownership for climate action by advising the local government, helping to write climate action plans, and, in some cases, monitoring their implementation,” said Julia Meyer-MacLeod, Principal at SSG, the climate planning consultancy that conducted analysis for the report.
“In North American cities, the public has traditionally given input on climate plans, but not gone as far as taking part in writing or monitoring them,” added Meyer-MacLeod. “In leading British cities, deep public engagement creates support for ambitious goals and makes it possible for cities to hit the ground running with climate actions that are pre-approved by local industry and community groups.”
For example, in 2019, Oxford became the first city to create a citizens assembly on climate change. The assembly, which was livestreamed on social media, brought together a group of people representative of the City, including members from all major political parties, climate and social scientists, business sector representatives, and community organizations. Their recommendations prompted the City to commit an additional £1,040,000 to its climate action efforts and laid a foundation for it to undertake one of the most ambitious smart grid trials in the UK.
Applying a “climate lens” to all Council decisions is another best practice highlighted in the report. The City of Leeds, for example, requires all reports to Council to provide details on the climate implications of proposed decisions. In addition, a report is presented at each Council meeting outlining progress towards emissions reduction targets.
“Climate lenses help ensure that city governments stay accountable,” said Meyer-MacLeod. “The most aggressive cities have taken their accountability measures to the next level by creating carbon budgets that set a cap on how much greenhouse gas they can emit—ever.”
More than half of the cities in the report have implemented or are considering carbon budgets, which set annual, declining caps on GHG emissions, aligned with the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Only a handful of North American cities, including Edmonton and New York, have adopted the approach.
“By implementing carbon budgets, cities like London, Manchester, and Oxford are doing their part to significantly limit the severity of extreme heat, sea level rise, and other effects of global warming,” said Meyer-MacLoed. “It is critical for cities around the world to follow their lead to limit catastrophic climate change.”
The complete 1000 CITIES Climate Action Best Practices in UK Cities report can be found here.
Rebecca Foon, Co-Founder of Pathway to Paris & the 1000 Cities Initiative
+1 207 522 0694
Julia Meyer-MacLeod, Sustainability Solutions Group
About the 1000 CITIES Initiative
The 1000 CITIES Initiative for Carbon Freedom was launched in 2017 by Pathway to Paris at the United Nations Secretariat as a global solution to turning the Paris Agreement into action. The initiative is based on the idea that if 1000 cities around the world develop and implement ambitious climate action plans, we will achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement and beyond. 1000 Cities is developing a global network advocating for a renewable world while connecting cities to the leading best practices and innovative financing mechanisms. To celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement, 1000 CITIES partnered with Earth Speakr, a digital art project founded by world-renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, to engage youth to share their vision for the future of cities.
SSG is Pathway to Paris’ technical partner on the 1000 CITIES Initiative for Carbon Freedom and a leading North American climate change planning consultancy for local governments. Since 2004, SSG has completed community energy and emissions plans and climate action plans for more than 60 municipalities across North America.