Cities to the fore – as both problem and solution


C40 is a network of the world’s megacities that supports its members (now slightly confusingly numbering 90) in collaborating and sharing knowledge to create sustainable action on climate change. Now in its 11th year, the not-for-profit organisation connects cities representing over 650 million people and one-quarter of the global economy. 

We spoke to Andrea Fernandez, Director of Governance and Global Partnerships, and Emmanuelle Pinault, Head of City Diplomacy, about how C40 is helping cities drive their programmes, and how these city programmes fit with the NDCs of national governments.

See also our note on ND-GAIN’s Urban Adaptation Assessment project

Emmanuelle Pinault –
Head of City Diplomacy – Political Engagement, C40

When we ask the C40 team how the organisation views the Paris Agreement and the NDCs, we get a refreshingly frank answer.  “Before Paris, we thought that if the Agreement wasn’t going to be forthcoming, then cities might have to ‘go it alone’,” says Emmanuelle Pinault.  “But with the Agreement in place and ratified so quickly, that concern has gone away, and we now see cities and mayors as among the best partners for national governments to implement Paris. There is a lot still to be done in terms of engaging with cities on this agenda, but there are also many ways to engage, so the message is ‘Let’s work together’”.

That urban issues are a key element of NDCs is not in doubt.  In a report issued at COP22, UN Habitat found that urbanisation featured in 110 out of the 163 NDCs.  Given that many OECD country NDCs contained little beyond the minimum in terms of detail, that probably represents close to 100% of lower income countries having a city agenda in their NDC, and for many, this agenda focusses mainly on adaptation rather than mitigation.

Why cities are a critical part of climate action
  • By 2030, almost 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas
  • 95 per cent of urban expansion in the next decades will take place in developing world.
  • 828 million people live in slums today and the number keeps rising.
  • The world’s cities occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80% of energy consumption and 75% of energy-related carbon emissions.
  • Rapid urbanisation is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health.
  • But the high density of cities can bring efficiency gains and technological innovation while reducing resource and energy consumption

[Source:  UN Habitat, op cit]

The C40 team offered an interesting insight, however, on how their approach differs from organisations such as the UN.  “When official agencies like the UN look at cities they think about territories, areas of land”, says Pinault.  “We and other city networks think of cities as governments.  We think about the powers they have to affect climate actions through their targets, their strategies, their plans and so on.”

Andrea Fernández –
Director of Governance and Global Partnerships, C40

Or, indeed, their lack of powers, as Andrea Fernandez points out.  “Many cities don’t control large elements of their budgets and revenue streams. In London only 7 per cent of all tax paid by residents and businesses is retained by the city.  Only about half of C40’s member cities are allowed to issue municipal bonds, and this can cause a lot of frustration when potential investors are crying out for ways to invest and cities can’t create the instruments they could use to do that.”  Fernandez also notes that while a number of cities are interested in securing funding from the Green Climate Fund, they cannot get direct access and need to go through accredited entities and nationally designated authorities, which means national level politics and bureaucracy get in the way.

“When we analyse the way cities are going about developing their plans”, Pinault says, “we find that lack of coordination with national governments is one of the main barriers they cite.  And as well as the coordination between city plans and NDCs, there is often a layer of state or regional government as well.  The powers to reduce emissions are often distributed between these layers of government, and when their agendas are not aligned there is a huge loss of efficiency in climate action.”

The Pathway to 2020

The central organising principle for all of C40’s current work is its ‘Deadline 2020’ agenda. This short-term focus was driven by a sudden and shocking realisation of what the ‘business as usual’ (BAU) consumption of fossil fuels by cities would mean globally. “We worked out,” says Fernandez, “that to meet a 1.5°C target, the total carbon budget for the C40 cities, for the rest of the century, is 22 gigatons.  If our cities continue with business as usual, that budget will be consumed in 10 years, by 2025.  And again on a BAU basis, the C40 cities would use up the entire world’s carbon budget by 2060.  So the aim of Deadline 2020 is to focus on the things that need to be done by then to start to bend the curve towards the 1.5°C pathway that is our ambition and that Paris calls for.”

Most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of pre-2020 reductions needs to be done by major emitters in the global North, Fernandez says.  “But as we get towards 2030, all cities need to converge on a pathway to carbon consumption of around 3 tonnes per capita – on a BAU basis it would be 9.5 tonnes.”

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Climate Action Plans

C40 doesn’t charge cities for membership, but it is a condition that member cities meet a number of participation standards.  By 2020 these will include a requirement that they are aligned with the 1.5°C agenda and can thus show that “they can be part of this leadership group on climate change,” as Fernandez puts it.

As part of this strategy, all C40 members will have to produce a 1.5 degree compatible ‘Climate Action Plan’ (CAP) by 2020.  Five cities are pilots for such plans in 2017, and C40 is advocating for COP24 (in 2018) to be the platform to link city actions to the NDCs, as this is where the next ‘stocktake’ of non-state actors will be made.  The main instrument for this linkage will be standardised city inventories reported under the Global Covenant of Mayors[1], which will also establish a register of CAPs that C40 sees as a way to integrate city actions into NDCs.

There is an opportunity to create city plans that are totally aligned with NDCs …

C40 is also working with other organisations on Climate Action Plans at local and national levels in nine African countries, “and in this programme”, Pinault says, “there is the opportunity to create CAPs which are totally aligned with NDCs.”

C40 is establishing guidelines to assist with the development of these CAPs, and a key tool for cities will be the modelling tool created for the Deadline 2020 research. All guidelines and tools will be published so that they are freely available, but the format of the CAPs themselves is still work in progress, says Fernandez.

… but they need to be more than just high-level strategies

“What does a 1.5°C-aligned CAP look like?  That’s something we are still working on, and we hope it will be clear by the end of this year, but we are already very clear that the CAPs need to be more than high-level strategies.  They need to be very concrete.  They need to say, ‘These are the policy gaps, which need political expenditure.  These are the programmes that have to be run by cities, which need operational expenditure.  And this is the infrastructure that’s required, which needs capital expenditure.”

A common language
Cleaner buses are coming to Mexico City, host of the Mayors’ Summit in 2016. Photo: C40

C40 runs two programmes for city members that are directly related to finance.  The City Finance Facility (CFF) is presently running two pilots, in Bogota (promoting cycling through new cycle infrastructure) and Mexico City (where a green transportation corridor will be created with a fleet of clean electric buses). The CFF channels grant funding from the German and US governments and in-kind support from the IDB into project preparation work.  Support is provided not in direct cash but in the provision of consulting and legal assistance getting projects into financeable shape.

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative is a partnership between C40, the WRI and the Citi Foundation, and seeks to bring cities together via peer-to-peer learning, capacity building and an online engagement platform so that “a common language can be built between cities and investors.”

Fernandez points out that this ‘common language’ can have directly beneficial financial results. “London was able to secure a 10% discount from suppliers on the price of hybrid buses because of the commitment the suppliers saw from other cities  – and thus potential clients – to switch to this type of vehicle.”

It’s clear, then, that cities are not only a big part of the problem, but that they feature prominently in the NDCs and, as such, are also a big part of the solution (and the ambition) represented by the Paris agreement.  It will be important, though, that the adaptation issues faced by cities receive as much attention as the mitigation projects.  As ever, both offer a massive co-development opportunity for billions presently living in some of the worst conditions on earth. Comment

While much of the work of city networks such as C40 is at a fairly formative stage, it is encouraging that open-source networking is getting established, and that where rationalisation between actors is needed (for example the mayoral compact merger) this is occurring, rather than duplication and bureaucracy taking hold. The focus on concrete and financeable city-level ‘Climate Action Plans’ also fits well with the ethos that is emerging around national-level ‘Climate Investment Plans’ such as the kind to be developed under the IDB’s ‘NDC Invest’ platform.

[1] A merger between the Compact of Mayors and the Covenant of Mayors


Andrea Fernández serves as C40’s Director of Governance and Global Partnerships. Andrea is responsible for managing the C40’s relationship with its governing bodies, funders and partners, overseeing city diplomacy efforts, and driving new strategic priorities established by the C40 Chair. Before joining C40, Andrea worked as a consultant at Arup for 11 years. In this role, she led high profile engagements related to sustainability and climate change in the urban environment, with a focus on policy, funding, governance and delivery strategies. Previously, Andrea worked in the World Bank’s Private Sector Development Department for about five years, where she delivered investment appraisals and technical assistance for public enterprise reform and infrastructure projects in emerging economies. Andrea has a Bachelor’s degree in International Business and Economics from Concordia University and an MBA with a finance specialisation from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. 

Emmanuelle Pinault serves as the Head of City Diplomacy – Political Engagement at C40. In this role, she is responsible for assessing and implementing C40’s city diplomacy strategy in the climate global political agenda, as well as engaging C40 member cities into the Compact of Mayors. Prior to joining C40, she worked for twelve years as an independent consultant on international relations and cooperation with national and local governments in Africa and Latin America. Her latest position was senior adviser on international affairs and climate change to the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, where she designed and implemented the city’s climate change international strategy, and developed strategic mitigation and adaptation partnerships with several city networks, UN agencies, nonprofits and funders. She also managed the Cities and Climate Change Bogota Summits in 2012 and 2015, and delivered Bogota City Marketing Strategy 2013-2015, working closely to the private sector. Emmanuelle holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, from the Institute of Political Studies, Lyon (France), and a Postgraduate Diploma in Sociology, from the School of High Studies in Social Sciences – EHESS, Paris. 

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