Research Spotlight: Demonstrating city impact on national emissions reduction targets

In this third installment of the C40 Research Spotlight series, we hear from our very own Kerem Yilmaz, Director of Research Projects, on new research that C40 is conducting to demonstrate the potential contribution of cities to national emissions reduction targets. – Seth Schultz, C40 Director of Research, Measurement & Planning

As part of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, nations of the world agreed to work towards limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2020 in order to reduce the most severe risks and impacts of climate change. Since then, regular assessments of progress have consistently shown a significant gap between the level of emissions necessary to meet this target and the current “business-as-usual” trajectory. Most of these assessments, however, strictly focus on national programmes and policies and, according to more recent studies, may have been too conservative.  

At C40, we know that cities play an important role in mitigating emissions and reducing climate risk – through local action they are having a global impact. Although the conversation around cities has picked up, the impact of their climate actions are still under-studied and under-appreciated. C40 is looking to change that – together with the Stockholm Environment Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, we are working to expand our understanding of the role cities can play in helping nations to meet the 2° target, and bridging the current “emissions gap”.

Previous efforts like C40’s own Climate Action in Megacities (CAM) 2.0 show that cities are already taking significant action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This latest research will build upon CAM 2.0 findings to quantify the potential contribution of cities to reducing global GHG emissions over the next two decades. We will look in particular at what is possible by the years 2020, when most existing national pledges come due, and 2030, a year that could be a key focus for targets to be discussed in the run-up to the UNFCCC meeting in Paris in late-2015.  We also aim to identify how enhanced and expanded actions in cities could help deepen the ambition of national targets and GHG abatement. The analysis here will indicate how much more cities could contribute and in what sectors, technologies, and practices to global GHG reductions.

C40 believes this is a critical piece of work and we aim to release our findings in time for Climate Week NYC. Not only will this research help to convey the important role of cities in major international climate discussions like the UN’s Climate Summit, it will also allow nations to integrate city actions into their climate action plans, and understand where -- in what actions and in what types of cities -- the greatest emission-reduction potential is concentrated.