Identifying High Impact Leverage Points for Footprint Reduction in Cities

By 2050, a little more than 30 years away, it’s expected that 70% of the earth’s population will live in cities. This represents a doubling of the global urban population by mid-century. This is both a challenge and an opportunity


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 developing and implementing large infrastructure projects to respond to urban expansion and population growth but in most cases such infrastructure does not take into account the challenges of increased urban poverty, various forms of pollution, vulnerabilities to natural disasters and climate change. In order to transform our cities for the 21st century and meet the UN agreed Sustainable Development Goals, these externalities of traditional urban development need to come into clearer


Since 2012 WWF’s Sustainable Cities flagship initiative, the Earth Hour City Challenge has been encouraging cities to submit data to the Carbonn Climate Registry on carbon reduction commitments, actions, strategies and investments to allow the ongoing assessment of urban governance, vision and impact. Cities that submit data to a certain criteria become Earth Hour City Challenge candidates and the most ambitious cities compete for the title Earth Hour Capital of the year.

Our project is analyzing the data and metrics collected via the Earth Hour City Challenge and, together with extensive stakeholder collaboration, is identifying high impact solutions that can reduce the global urban footprint at the same time as they amplify co-benefits – such as human health – from the reduction of air pollution.

To identify high impact leverage points, the project has the following objectives:

  • The analysis and prioritization of actions and sectors bringing substantial footprint gains. The data analysis will initially look at urban footprint reduction commitments and actions from cities and characterize them according to the sector, nature of commitment, actors and level of success.
  • Defining Urban Typologies. Any identification of high leverage points for global urban footprint reduction must take into account the varied nature of cities. Therefore, part of the research agenda is to identify the different urban typologies that will need to adopt different transition pathways. This will also include the prioritization of commitment action types for each urban typology.
  • The identification of ‘soft’ drivers of change through knowledge co-production. For any given typology of cities now, qualitative analysis will try to identify the ‘soft’ drivers of change – not captured through quantitative indicators – that may have been the cause of success or failure in terms of adherence to low footprint commitments and actions.  This will include an analysis of governing structures, urban resource distribution and political and individual influence. The analysis at this stage will be informed by the findings of extensive surveys conducted with local governing institutions regarding the nature of sustainability actions implemented at the community and city level. To this end the project presented key findings at multiple sessions and bilateral meetings at Habitat III (October 15-20, 2016, Quito, Ecuador). In bilateral meetings with the city representatives of Tshwane (South Africa), Boulder (USA), Umea (Sweden) and Monteria (Colombia) the pathways were very well received and used as a basis to provide extensive detailed input. The relationship will be broadened and expanded with further interaction with multiple cities.
  • Identification of high leverage points for global urban footprint reduction. The high impact leverage points for footprint reduction will emerge from the identification of the most transformational low footprint commitments and actions for given urban typologies and ‘soft’ drivers of change that may render those actions effective.
  • Analysis of co-benefits of actions. The co-benefits of the actions shall be analyzed to see where they are augmenting the process of footprint reduction and how they are aiding in achieving the Sustainable Development goals.


The project is working with the WWF Earth Hour City Challenge and the Local Governments for Sustainability organization, ICLEI. It will use 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.


  • A peer reviewed publication on high impact leverage points to implement low footprint solutions in cities employing an analysis of Earth Hour City Challenge data
  • Peer reviewed publication on the ‘soft’ drivers of change focusing on similarities and differences between same type of cities(given natural, economic and social stocks)
  • A WWF/ICLEI Knowledge product on urban typologies and transition pathways in different city types, including a decision tree for city practitioners
  • A WWF/ICLEI knowledge product including case studies from partner cities exploring the efficacy of the analytical work


The project is expected to have four orders of outcome. Of these the first three will be monitored through key performance indicators during the project lifecycle while the fourth one is long term impact expected to occur beyond project life.

  1. A framework for identifying high leverage points for urban footprint reduction collaboratively developed with partners from practice and academia.
  2. The incorporation of the framework into the analysis and capacity building activities of key partners including WWF EHCC and ICLEI.
  3. The incorporation of the project’s output and findings into the decision making processes of model urban practitioners.
  4. Urban footprint reduction at a higher efficiency and rate through the application of project framework and tools.


Collaborative Research Team: 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). 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)

Project Leadership

Carina Borgström-Hansson (WWF Sweden), Fouad Khan (Luc Hoffmann Institute Fellow), Malika Virah-Sawmy (Luc Hoffmann Institute).

LHI Cities CRT presenting at Habitat III


Testing the efficacy of voluntary urban greenhouse gas emissions inventories
Khan F and Sovacool BK (2016)
Climatic Change 00:1–14.

Using the Earth Hour City Challenge to identify high leverage points for footprint reduction in cities
Khan F and Borgstrom-Hansson C (2015)
Journal of Cleaner Production 123(0): 42–44

Main image: Photo: © Edward Parker / WWF

Chris JohnsonIdentifying High Impact Leverage Points for Footprint Reduction in Cities