Cities of the future. What happened at COP 26

Published on Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Climate change is a global problem, but many initiatives to address it have to be developed at the local level. Therefore the issue of cities and their role in the fight against climate change is current, and cities are becoming aware of their ability to take a leadership role.

The recent COP 26 devoted a full day (November 11) to meetings regarding contributions made at a city and regional level towards the environment and success of the Paris goals. Talks stressed the need for collaboration between different levels of government, public and private sectors, and the significance of securing the necessary resources for cities to cope with change while reaching for zero emissions and, therefore, more resilient cities.

The COP hosted the launch of two studies on cities: the first by the OECD on Glasgow, the second by Enel, Enel Foundation, ARUP, a leading service company in the built environment sector. Also, universities such as Bogota’s Universidad de Los Andes presented the contribution of cities to decarbonization with a focus on some cities, including Bogota.

The work between the OECD, the City of Glasgow, and other partners plan to accelerate Glasgow’s transition from a purely industrial city to a zero-emission city by 2030. Glasgow had already adopted a Circular Economic Roadmap in 2020, which includes several lines of action and aims to decarbonize and create local jobs and new activities. Among the study’s key messages are to establish a cross-cutting working group across all municipal departments; Build a circular vision of key sectors with strong potential, especially tourism, built environment, food and events industry; Raise awareness among residents and key economic actors through communication campaigns; Align local objectives on the circular economy with regional ones for a coordinated vision at all government levels.

The study conducted by Enel Foundation, Enel and Arup, analyzed four pioneering cities implementing circular economy solutions (Bogota in Colombia, Glasgow in the United Kingdom, Genoa, and Milan in Italy). The study examines how a series of interventions affected emission reduction in three high-impact sectors in cities: built environment, mobility, and sustainable energy systems.

The quantitative analysis indicates the potential reduction of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the implementation of interventions in each sector by 2030. One of the main findings was that greenhouse gas emissions did not only occur within cities, but emissions may be higher beyond city limits due to higher consumption of products and resources. For this reason, cities must be concerned about the impact that they can create through their supply chain when carrying out their decarbonization plans.

The study also highlighted that decarbonization could be an opportunity to improve the lives of citizens if designed on time. Taking mobility as an example, adopting pedestrianization, electric public transport, and electric car-sharing not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also improves air quality, reduces the number of vehicles, and can reclaim space from parking lots and roads to develop shared public spaces.  It also allows for easier and safer transportation worldwide (thus representing an opportunity for social inclusion).