Sustainable cities adapting and mitigating climate change

Muir-LinkedIn-CalgaryBy Magdalena A. K. Muir, Associate Professor, Aarhus University and Advisory Board Member, Coastal and Marine Union (EUCC)


Cities can be at the forefront of both adapting and mitigating climate change. They can also play an important role in present and future climate negotiations. Global urbanization and the growth of megacities is well known. However the participatory and decision making role of cities for climate change is less well considered and known.

Cities are where half of the world’s people live, with that number expected to increase in the future. Though these cities only occupy 2 % of the world’s land, they account of 60 to 80 % of energy use, and 75 % of carbon emissions. Many of these cities are located on coasts and watersheds, and especially vulnerable to climate change.

This growing pattern of urbanization can stress local energy and water resource and causes contamination and ecosystem degradation. However, the density of cities permits energy and water efficiency, and technology and societal innovation to reduce energy and resource uses and carbon footprints.

The ecological interaction of cities and surrounding areas is long known but climate change creates greater urgency in addressing. There are a variety of pathway by which cities can be more sustainable and respond to climate change. A few pathways are summarized here, along with suggestions of how cities can influence global climate negotiations.

International Sustainable Cities Initiatives

Organizations of cities work together and mutual supporting efforts for greater sustainability including carbon reduction, renewable energy, and energy and water efficiencies. The ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives) ( is the largest organization with over 1000 cities participating in sustainable development, including low carbon agenda with themes such as air quality, greenhouse gas reductions and low carbon development.

The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) ( are 58 affiliated mega cities with 18 % of the world’s gross national project and a twelfth of the world’s population, that leads on over 4700 initiatives to address climate change.

Another is Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI) (, a network of forty cities, some of which who participate in the SCI Energy Lab which has a renewable energy, energy efficiency and carbon reduction focus.

Sustainable Tourism Destinations

Many tourism destinations are seeking to become sustainable, including climate adaptation and mitigation In order to become sustainable tourism destinations, the community must comply with energy, water and climate criteria and indicators.

QualityCoast ( is the largest international certification programme for sustainable tourism destinations. Since 2007, more than 1000 destinations have been assessed with 125 tourism destinations on coasts and islands of 23 countries being selected for a QualityCoast Award. QualityCoasts’ quantitative and qualitative criteria and indicators include climate adaptation and mitigation

On November 1, 2013, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) issued the first version  of the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria for Destinations (GSTC-D) (, which ensure consistency for destination criteria across sustainable tourism destination assessment and award programmes.

Smart Sustainable Cities

Similarly to smart grids for energy, the concept of smart sustainable cities has evolved to respond to unsustainable urban development. Information Communication Technologies play a key role in developing smart cities. The United Nations’ Information Telecommunication Union (ITU) is leading a Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities ( Commercial initiatives occurring in parallel ( with the IBM Smarter Cities being a  leader (

Carbon Neutral Cities

Increasing cities seeking carbon neutral status for greenhouse gas emissions, and in so doing improving environmental status and attractiveness. Copenhagen is moving forward on its goal to be carbon neutral by 2025, already achieving 2015 targets ( It will achieve this by 2025 by ensuring all electricity is generated by renewable sources or wastes, and through focusing on energy efficiency in new buildings.

Promoting Green Business and Technologies

Cities focusing on the encouragement and development of green business and technologies, which in turn create lower carbon cities. Leading US cities are extensively documented by Clean Tech Nation (  Similarly, European cities compete for and are recognized are Green Capitals ( Singapore and Toyko are leading within Asia for intelligent city infrastructure, and finance and economic development respectively (

How Cities Can Influence Global Climate Negotiations

With all the economics and innovation occurring in cities, how can they not influence global climate negotiations? As cities house, employ and feed increasing proportions of the world’s multitudes, they wbecome the de facto climate decision makers within nations and internationally. The Rio + 20 conference provided an unprecedented scope for civil society discussion, including cities, on sustainability. The breadth and creativity of cities must be included in the global climate discussions if they are to be re-vitalized and meaningfully implemented.