Spotlight on the C40 Climate Positive Development Program

In this post, Zach Tofias, Director, C40 Sustainable Communities Initiative and C40 Climate Positive Development Program, explains the whys and workings of a groundbreaking global program.

In 2009 the world crossed an invisible milestone, where for the first time more than half the world’s population lived in urban areas — a number on course to grow to 70 percent by 2050. Seeing an opportunity to help cities create a sustainable model for growth, C40 Cities established the Climate Positive Development Program in partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and the U.S. Green Building Council. Addressing the dual challenge of rapid urbanization and climate change, the aim was to bring together leading district-scale new-build and regeneration projects from around the world to serve as urban laboratories for cities seeking to grow in ways that are environmentally sustainable, climate resilient, and economically viable.

Now, comprised of 17 global projects that share and develop best practices, together these projects will reduce the emissions impact of more than one million people, and represent the gold standard future of sustainable urban development. But the impact of these projects does not end there. The 17 Climate Positive Development projects serve as the backbone for the C40 Climate Positive Network, an active working group of officials from C40 cities with commonly identified opportunities, interests or priorities. The cities of the C40 Climate Positive Network are working with their local projects and together as a City-official peer network to further accelerate this type of sustainable development, and to highlight best practices from the projects to help drive better, more sustainable development, faster, and avoid any potential pitfalls.

Introductory Video

The Objectives

The Climate Positive Development Program operates under three primary objectives:

  • Recognizing (and thus incentivizing) progress development partners are making towards achieving Climate Positive outcomes (net carbon negative)
  • Sharing best practices and lessons learnt amongst development partners to better equip and enable them to achieve a Climate Positive outcome
  • Enabling cities to learn from the best practices and challenges experienced and documented by Climate Positive projects in order to implement scalable projects, policies and programs which deliver a low carbon approach to development


In April 2013, Sao Paulo and Stockholm became the lead cities of the Climate Positive network, which is chaired by Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad and Stockholm Mayor Sten Nordin. Sao Paulo, a C40 Megacity, and Stockholm, a C40 Innovator City, offer an ideal combination of mayoral leadership: both have proven track records of accomplishment and share a commitment to finding replicable solutions.

How it works

Every Climate Positive Development project has a unique profile, given their distinct economic, political, and climate challenges, yet each is striving for the ambitious goal of lowering their operational GHG emissions below zero. Development Partners accepted into the Program are expected to pursue the integrated planning of energy efficient buildings, low carbon transportation solutions, and waste and water management systems at the district scale. The Climate Positive Development Program facilitates knowledge-sharing across the projects, cities and related C40 networks, so that successful strategies can be replicated, and pitfalls can be avoided. The Program also provides technical and logistical support to Development Partners by hosting learning programs and webinars, convening private sector firms to produce tools and templates for project use, increasing project visibility through various media channels, and granting access to technical experts and other partners within the Climate Positive and C40 network.

In order to get "beyond carbon neutral" and achieve a Climate Positive outcome, Development Partners earn Climate Positive Credits by sequestering emissions on-site and abating emissions from surrounding communities. There are many different paths to the Climate Positive outcome of net-negative operational GHG emissions; each project will use a different set of strategies and technologies according to its local opportunities, guided by the Climate Positive Development Framework, which lays out the four stages of the Climate Positive journey. 

The Climate Positive Development Framework

The Climate Positive Development Framework clarifies requirements and procedural guidelines for participation in the Program, and establishes a recognition platform to recognize Development Partners for their successes.

Climate Positive Framework

The Framework is designed to encourage the creativity of Development Partners. Because there is no singular path to achieving a Climate Positive outcome, and because projects of this size may take decades to complete, the Framework provides a broad structure under which Development Partners can work on creative solutions to emissions reductions and adapt strategies as needed over time.

The Framework outlines four key recognition stages associated with a Development Partners' Climate Positive journey. As projects move through the recognition stages, from Climate Positive Candidate, to Climate Positive Participant, to Progress Site, and ultimately at project completion, to being a certified Climate Positive project, Development Partners submit documentation to the Program to ensure that they remain on track, and receive feedback from program staff and affiliated technical experts.

Recognition System   Path To Achieving Climate Positive

The Impact

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post “The future we want is here, now”, network policymakers and real estate developers are coming together in new ways through the Climate Positive network, and utility providers are thinking differently and offering solutions that actually reduce energy demand. These projects represent sustainable development in practice, and show how urban communities grow intelligently — by incubating new ideas on a local level and sharing the good ones far and wide. In so doing the participating urban leaders in this network are uniquely and powerfully showing the world the future we want.

The Projects:

Two projects have completed their Climate Positive Roadmaps, detailing the strategies and tactics they will pursue in order to achieve a Climate Positive outcome. These projects’ roadmaps have been reviewed by the technical experts on the Climate Positive Roadmap Committee, and have been recognized as meeting the requirements to be awarded the second stage designation, Climate Positive Participant. These Climate Positive Participant projects are: