Cities and Nations Must Align Policies to Achieve a Low-Carbon Future

A new research report, “What cities do best: piecing together an efficient global climate governance,” released today explores how city actions to combat climate change will be enhanced and expedited with support from national governments. The report notes that greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions in urban areas will require concerted actions at all levels of government, and increased policy coordination and “vertical integration” are necessary to achieve deeper GHG reductions.

The report, written by the Stockholm Environment Institute with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies using data prior to the INDC commitments, noted that urban mitigation actions – specifically, actions that most city governments have the power to undertake – could contribute up to 15 percent of the global GHG reductions required to stay on a 2°C pathway.

The report recommends the following roles for cities:

  • Cities as policy leaders and architects – For approximately 20 percent of urban GHG abatement potential, cities should be policy leaders and architects with efforts focused on the transportation sector.
  • Cities as critical implementers – For another 40 percent of urban abatement potential, the ideal role for cities is to be critical implementers of nationally applied policies. Opportunities here are greatest in the residential and commercial buildings sectors.
  • Cities as strategic partners – For the remaining 40 percent of urban abatement, cities can be strategic partners, taking crucial independent actions to enhance the effectiveness of policies enacted at higher levels of government. For these diverse opportunities, cities could enhance national efforts through incentives, education, permitting, and infrastructure development.

National engagement is critical, because even where cities have political will and resources, they may face realistic limits to their ambitions, especially if a majority of other cities are not similarly engaged and coordinated in pursuing GHG reductions.

The report views the vital role of national governments as follows:

  • Establishing national policy frameworks and incentive structures. National political and policy direction is often a strong enabler of urban GHG mitigation, especially when accompanied by efforts to coordinate policy formulation at multiple levels of government. Fiscal and political incentive mechanisms can also be effective for enabling city-level action.
  • Providing, or improving access to, financial resources. Often, city governments are best positioned to undertake mitigation measures, but they are budget constrained. National governments can address this shortcoming by providing direct funding support and enacting reforms to improve cities’ access to private capital.
  • Strengthening capacity and improving governance structures. Through training and outreach programs, national governments can assist local governments in obtaining the technical capacity they need to effectively undertake specific kinds of mitigation actions. National governments can also promote better sharing of information and expertise among different levels of government to enable smarter policy design and implementation.
  • Aligning policies and eliminating conflicts. In some cases, national or state policies may actively conflict with city government priorities, or otherwise inhibit city-level actions. Aligning policies and properly delegating authority can enable cities to pursue urban mitigation more effectively.

The report explores case studies on vertical integration in the U.S., China and Brazil, providing a survey of priorities across those three countries.


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