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Cities, Climate Science and Collaborations to achieve a 1.5°C Global Warming Target

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Home to over half of the world’s population and responsible for over 70% of global CO2 emissions, cities are central to acting on climate change. Despite their emission loads, cities also have great potential to drive transformational change – and are doing so across the globe. As such, cities have been central within recent science and policy decision-making processes.

In its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) released in 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified that many climate risks concentrate in cities, causing vulnerabilities to urban citizens and infrastructure. The IPCC concluded that rapid urbanization has increased the number of vulnerable urban communities, while recognizing cities’ potential to mitigate emissions in the building, energy, transport sectors, as well as find synergies between these sectors.

More recently the IPCC agreed to better integrate urban adaptation and mitigation opportunities, produce a special report on cities, and host a Cities and Climate Change Science Conference to bring climate scientists, practitioners and policymakers together. This conference, held 5-7 March 2018 in Edmonton (Canada), took stock of scientific data and knowledge on cities and climate change.

Cities pursuing a 1.5 Degrees Target?

The Cities IPCC conference highlighted the imperative role that cities need to play to mitigate the worst climate impacts. Given their collective populations and contributions to climate change, it is crucial that cities aggressively reduce their emissions, if the world is to meet the Paris Agreement goals and avoid the worst climate risks (i.e. to stay “well below” 2°C in global temperature rise, with efforts toward 1.5°C degrees of global warming).

Leading cities, such as New York, Mexico City and Paris, are developing and implementing plans to do just this—decarbonizing using  “science-based” policy and strategies. Such strategies are mapped out within C40’s Deadline 2020 approach, which highlights pathways for cities to meet their share of the Paris Agreement, aiming for a 1.5°C degrees of warming target. Notably, this leadership has put friendly pressure on other non-state actor groups, as it is currently more ambitious than like programmes to encourage companies to reduce their contributions to global temperature rise, e.g. the Science-based Targets Initiative (a partnership between WWF, CDP, WRI and the UN Global Compact). To meet such ambitious targets, cities must show true political leadership and develop innovative solutions – the type of solutions WWF highlights and rewards within the One Planet City Challenge (OPCC).

WWF at the Cities IPCC Conference

Transformative action on mitigation and adaptation requires not only the best science, but also deep collaboration between cities and other non-state actors for real impact. For cities, gaps in power and regulatory authority, finance, and political and intellectual capital, can be addressed through partnerships with business, academia and other government levels.

WWF brought this message and its framework for cross-sector collaboration to the conference, presenting its US-based We Are Still In (WASI) campaign. WASI is a “network of networks” representing local governments, businesses, states and academia in response to the US Federal Government’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. WASI’s growing constituency seeks to increase action and collaboration and serve as a foundation for increased ambition in the US.

WWF hosted a panel, entitled “We Are Still In: The political and practical potential of non-state actor collaboration,” which included the City of Boulder (Colorado, US), Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, and a University of Campinas (Brazil) researcher. It discussed how to identify and prioritize climate action enabled through such collaborations, and how cities can organize climate action planning processes, for example by spurring action from major institutions within their jurisdictions.

In addition, several OPCC cities shared their climate action strategies at the conference, including Rajkot (India), Quito (Ecuador) and host city, Edmonton. These three cities, and WASI-member Boulder, were all national winners of WWF’s 2016 City Challenge, and finalists in the 2018 edition. Via WASI and the OPCC, WWF and city partners underscore the importance of collaboration to achieve sincere and ambitious climate action. And in doing so, live up to WWF’s motto: Together Possible!

Jennifer Lenhart, PhD is Programme Manager/ Expert, One Planet Cities core team, WWF Sweden (

Chris Weber, PhD is Global Climate & Energy Lead Scientist, WWF Global Science (

Kevin Taylor is Senior Specialist, Local Engagement for WWF-US (

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