Reducing the environmental footprint of cities

Helping cities lead the way on sustainable development

Reducing the environmental footprint of cities

The challenge

More than half of humanity now lives in cities and this is projected to rise to 70% by 2050 – representing a doubling of the global urban population by mid-century. Much of this growth will happen in fast-growing cities, principally in Asia and Africa.

In these regions, city planners are still implementing large infrastructure projects to respond to urban expansion and population growth. In most cases this infrastructure does not take into account the challenges of increased urban poverty, pollution, vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change.

To make our cities fit for the 21st century and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the consequences of traditional urban development need to be addressed.

The potential of city planners, decision-makers and urban citizens to be catalysts for reducing the global environmental footprint is seen as key to unleashing huge benefits in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, increasing energy security, and boosting economic growth and employment.

The response

Since 2012 WWF’s Sustainable Cities flagship initiative, the Earth Hour City Challenge has encouraged cities to submit data to the Carbon Climate Registry on carbon reduction commitments, actions and investments to allow the ongoing assessment of urban governance, vision and impact.

A project in which the Luc Hoffmann Institute is a partner analysed the data and metrics collected via the Earth Hour City Challenge and, through extensive stakeholder collaboration, has identified high-impact solutions that can reduce the global urban footprint and promote the range of associated benefits.

The project works involves the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge and the Local Governments for Sustainability organisation, ICLEI. This partnership is both a resource for unique data on cities and a platform to promote and replicate key lessons on leverage points to reduce footprints.

The impact

As the project comes to a close there are informal commitments that its approach will influence the Earth Hour City Challenge Award methodology and Cities to Cities networks run by ICLEI.

The project built and published the largest research-ready, self-reported inventory of sub-national commitments and trends comparable across borders. The methodology and data developed informed One Planet City Challenge analysis and helped ICLEI build capacity in the area of carbon emission trends analysis. Stakeholder engagement and decision-making tools developed for the project will be piloted by Monteria in Colombia and Boulder, Colorado, US.

Main Image: © Edward Parker / WWF

Project partners

WWF Sweden (Carina Borgstrom-Hansson), Aarhus University (Prof Benjamin Sovacool), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (Joseph Wladkowski), IIIEE/Lund University (Kes McCormick), Mistra Urban Futures (David Simon).

Project leaders

Fouad Khan (Luc Hoffmann Institute), Carina Borgstrom-Hansson (WWF Sweden), Benjamin Sovacool (Aarhus University) and Malika Virah-Sawmy (Luc Hoffmann Institute).

Advisory group

Simon Fraser University (Mark Roseland), University of Texas Austin (Allan Shearer), University College London (Michael Batty), University of Waterloo (Amelia Clarke), and Tilburg University (John Dagevos).

Related reading

Luc Hoffmann InstituteReducing the environmental footprint of cities