Reducing the environmental footprint of cities

Helping cities lead the way on sustainable development

Reducing the environmental footprint of cities

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.

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.

The Luc Hoffmann Institute Cities project analyses the data and metrics collected via the Earth Hour City Challenge and, through extensive stakeholder collaboration, is identifying high impact solutions that can reduce the global urban footprint and promote the range of associated benefits.

The project works with the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge and the Local Governments for Sustainability organisation, ICLEI. It uses this partnership both as a resource for unique data on cities and as a platform to promote and replicate key lessons on leverage points to reduce footprints.
As the project comes to a close there are informal commitments that the approach will influence the Earth Hour City Challenge Award methodology and Cities to Cities networks run by ICLEI. Interest is also being shown by city representatives of Tshwane (South Africa), Boulder (USA), Umea (Sweden) and Monteria (Colombia) in testing the framework.

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), Prof 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

Main image: Photo: © Edward Parker / WWF

Chris JohnsonReducing the environmental footprint of cities