Evaluating Climate Change Activities in Cities

On December 4th, 2012, after two days of meetings running in parallel to COP17, 114 mayors from across the globe signed the Durban Adaptation Charter; a political commitment to strengthen local resilience to climate change. Yesterday at COP 17 ICLEI hosted a side event on cities and climate change entitled “Building Low-Carbon, Climate Resilient Cities as an Essential Element of Global Efforts” to discuss the importance of integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation activities into city planning, and C40 Cities, along with the City of Johannesburg, hosted a Side Event on “Climate Actions in megacities.” Today the Gold Standard Foundation hosted another city-related side event on “Empowering Global Cities for local Climate Change Action,” and if viewing the program of side events at this year’s COP it is clear that Cities’ role in the climate change regime has definitely been a hot topic. While it is, to some extent, still uncertain what may come out of the high-level negotiations at the COP, what is certain is that mayors and cities are making steps much faster than nations in achieving goals that help mitigate climate change and build resilience.
 
Cities and climate change is clearly a hot topic. Cities are rapidly growing as urbanization rates are picking up worldwide. About half of the world’s population now lives in cities, which is expected to rise to 70 percent by 2050. Cities are major consumers of commercial energy accounting for about 60-80% of commercial energy worldwide. Similarly, they are major contributors to climate change (accountable for 70% of global GHG emissions) due to high emission rates caused by economic activity, buildings, transportation and a wide variety of other activities.
 
On the flip-side, cities are also some of the most vulnerable areas to climate change. Because of the historic importance of water as a route of transportation, most of the world’s largest cities are located near the water and thus prone to being affected by increasing natural disasters (hurricanes, flooding), and in the long-run sea level rise. Adding to this are general characteristics of cities such as being densely populated, often containing weak non-climate resilient building structures, and often portraying high levels of poverty, particularly in developing countries where urbanization is currently growing at a pace of seven times faster than in developed countries. Cities are also the center of most economic activity which is likely to suffer significantly in the event of both slow-onset and rapid climate change occurrences.
 
Cities can play a pivotal role in mitigating climate change, and fortunately city officials have not lingered on these issues. Besides the many activities presented at this COP, 138 mayors, including mayors from the US (which is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol) signed the Mexico City Pact on combating climate change last year shortly before COP16. After following the activities by cities presented during the past week at COP17, I say with confidence that mayors from cities worldwide are doing more and collaborating better to reach a global consensus on mitigating and adapting to climate change compared to ministers at the state levels. The ICLEI event reported that it has been estimated that about two-thirds of the policies available to a country to reduce emissions are already implemented at the city level. The C40 report on megacities presented a host of initiatives implemented by cities ranging from improving building standards, energy efficiency, and transportation to urban agriculture, urban land-use and water management.
 
The focus on cities in many of the side events and at COP 17 in generally, has made me ponder the success of climate change related activities in cities; whether related to adaptation or mitigation. The mayor of Durban put it very well when he, at today’s event, called for linkages from the implemented activities to actual performance. In other words, let us measure what we are actually delivering. I would personally add to this some questions on what makes cities successful. Are the initiatives improving the lives of all citizens in the respective cities? What are the structures of the collaborative efforts; i.e who is involved? Where is the funding coming from? What is the process of implementing climate change activities in cities? What makes cities inclined to implement measures on a purely voluntary basis? Why do cities seem more willing to move forward and collaborate globally? What lessons can we learn and can we implement similar initiatives elsewhere?
 
It is easy to assume that cities’ ability to carry out these activities may be easier because of the smaller size of a city and it may be less complex than a state government. I do not believe this is the case, though. Megacities with more than 10 million people are bigger than many countries, and often just as complex. It could also be assumed that a city is not obligated to satisfy a set of international standards making it inclined to simply implement what it can or cannot do. Or, maybe city mayors are simply seeing the value of building a low-carbon economy and resilience for their citizens. In essence, it would be interesting to evaluate the implementation of mitigation and adaptation activities in cities as these seem to have proven successful. Could the international community potentially learn something from this? Should we re-structure and leave it to cities to work out a global climate deal since they seem to be doing a fairly good job, and making progress?
 
A quick online search on evaluations in cities did not produce many results. OECD called for an evaluation of green growth policies to determine policy best practice in cities in 2010, and have since run studies on assessments through their program on Green Cities. The Department of Urban Planning in Istanbul along with the Free University of Amsterdam have carried out an evaluation of the use of green spaces in cities across Europe concluding that they indeed comprise high ecological, economic, and social benefits. However, it may also be possible to draw on related studies not directly focused on cities. For example, energy efficiency is often central to mitigation policies implemented in cities, and here the note presented by the Evaluation Corporation Group on Overcoming Barriers to Energy Efficiency, also presented at the COP during a side event hosted by the GEF Evaluation Office, may be useful.
 
Considering the few evaluations of these activities, it would be interesting to hear from the community of practice the thoughts of evaluation experts on carrying out more studies, how to produce effective evaluations, and how to compare green elements of different characteristics across cities worlwide.
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* The views and opinions expressed in this blog is not reflecting those of the GEF Evaluation Office or Climate-Eval.
* Reports consulted for this blog includes the “First Annual Report” of the Global Cities Covenant on Climate: The Mexico Pact, and “Climate Action in Megacities” by C40 and Arup.

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