Game Changers Deep Dive: Glasgow’s Climate Action Story

Glasgow’s Climate Action Story

By Gavin Slater, Head of Sustainability,
Neighbourhoods & Sustainability, Glasgow City Council

Overlooking the River Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo courtesy of Glasgow City Council.

The City of Glasgow has experienced constant change and evolution. In 1765, James Watt, while walking on Glasgow Green, conceived of the separate condenser to the steam engine and, thus, set about an acceleration of the evolution of the industrial age and inadvertently enabled the acceleration of climate change. In the years that followed, Glasgow became an industrial powerhouse.

The ripples from that one moment in time here in Glasgow lapped the shores of the entire world, changing it just as much as it transformed us.  Since then we have generated new ways of urban living, but with them has come the generation of the greenhouse gases that have come back to haunt our legacy. Now we look to atone for the sins of the carbon age and to open a new chapter in our city’s journey to a cleaner, greener future. Indeed, now we look once more to draw upon that native Glaswegian spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to create a new economy and society, one being forged in the crucible of the renewables revolution.

The Need for a Just Transition

Social justice and the just transition are at the heart of this approach.  The Council manages the most extensive programme of domestic energy efficiency support in the country in order to tackle fuel poverty and helps to provide affordable warmth for its most vulnerable citizens. Further plans by the City Government for an energy services company and more low carbon heating systems will contribute to this important agenda.

Engagement with communities in the age of climate change is also particularly significant and the Council has helped to lead a pilot project called Weathering Change in the north of the city to grow local action in partnership with communities on climate issues. The city is also fortunate to have a unique global resource at Glasgow Caledonian University, called the Centre for Climate Justice, which works to support what Mary Robinson calls ‘a just transition to a safer world’.  It reflects the city’s outward-looking and internationalist perspective on this issue, as well as acknowledging the post-colonial legacy of Glasgow’s role.

The Roadmap: Assessing and Goal-Setting

Glasgow has since set about reinventing itself as an important member of the world’s leading cities in addressing climate change. In 2010, the city established the Sustainable Glasgow partnership, an innovative partnership between the public, academic, and private sector, tasked with supporting the city in achieving a reduction in its carbon emissions of 30% by 2020, based on a 2006 baseline. In 2010 this was visionary, and a step ahead of the 20% target for 2020 set by the EU and, by 2017 (data are always reported 2 years in arrears), Glasgow had successfully reduced reduced CO2 emissions by 37%, meeting and exceeding our target years in advance.

During the years that have passed since 2010, Glasgow has been very active in establishing various different measures with which we can tackle climate change, both through adaptation and mitigation.

In 2014, the city established its Energy & Carbon Masterplan (ECMP) which examined energy use in the city in great detail and utilised spacial mapping of consumption aligned to social metrics, such as poverty, to devise 33 actions that, if implemented, would reduce Glasgow’s CO2  emissions by 30% by 2020 on a 2006 baseline.

As of 2017, the city had successfully reduced emissions by 37%. The ECMP pioneered a number of approaches to energy planning, one of which was the development of heat mapping to visualise how much heat was being consumed and where. Initially this was done through the use of data bought from credit card companies and building surveyors.

We have come a long way since then: these data are now collated nationally, providing a much better visual of heat consumption and allowing much better planning of new heating systems that enable less expensive, and less carbon intensive, heat production, distribution and consumption for those most in need.

Furthermore, the council, working with internal and external partners, is assessing the risks of projected climate change to the city and the city council. Specifically, they are looking at the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment report for Scotland, 15 key consequences of climate change for Scotland, and the Climate Change Risk and Opportunity Assessment for the city region.

Flourishing in the Face of Climate Change

A climate adaptation action plan is being created that aims to address climate resilience in the city, ensuring that the most vulnerable in our city aren’t disproportionately impacted by impacts of a changing climate, such as flooding, overheating, food unavailability/high costs, or access to good quality housing and transport. The strategy aims to help Glasgow’s people, economy, natural environment and key infrastructure to flourish in the face of a changing climate.

The City Council is also one of the founding members of the Climate Ready Clyde Partnership managed by SNIFFER. Partners include Clydeplan, Glasgow & Clyde Valley Green Network, Local Authorities in the Clyde Valley, NHS GG&C, Transport Scotland, SEPA and Scottish Power Energy Networks. The council plays a role alongside other partners in developing a climate adaptation strategy for the city region.

The city has issues with fuel poverty, in which people spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills. This is often due to the perfect storm of low income households living in poorly insulated homes with inefficient heating systems. This is unacceptable and the council has been working hard with stakeholders to replicate the innovative district heating systems found all across Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.

Glasgow is now home to a number of innovative district heating systems that utilise gas CHP and air source heat pumps to deliver low carbon, low cost heating to help reduce the carbon impact of heating and to alleviate those in fuel poverty by providing affordable warmth, ensuring those in most need get the help they require.

Future district heating systems will likely be mostly heat pump driven, as electricity in Scotland has a very low carbon coefficient and heat pumps have such a high coefficient of performance. The developing Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategy will identify where new district heating schemes will be placed to continue to minimise the carbon cost of heating in Glasgow.

In addition to district heating, the city has deployed renewable energy in a big way. Social housing in Glasgow is owned and operated by Resident Social Landlords or Housing Associations. Many of these have deployed solar PV to supply low cost and low carbon energy to their tenants and to reduce their carbon footprint. Again, the purpose is to provide alleviation of fuel poverty, a key principle of Glasgow City Council, as it transitions towards a sustainable future in a just way.

As well as solar PV, Glasgow City Council, in partnership with Scottish and Southern Energy, installed a 3MW wind turbine in the city, which is a major feat in a dense city situated close to an international airport. Revenue generated by this turbine is shared with a local community trust to be used to develop more local renewable projects and community benefit projects and ensure that the benefits are retained in the local area, an area which scores high on many indices of deprivation. This is another way in which the city is trying to ensure a just transition to a low carbon future.

Other projects are being developed with community groups that follow a similar model, with the council providing buildings that community groups can use to install renewables and benefit from energy sales.

Addressing Future Climate Risks: Floods and Food Systems

Another way in which climate change is affecting Glasgow specifically is in local flooding. Glasgow City Council is a lead partner in the Metropolitan Glasgow Strategic Drainage Partnership (MGSDP –, a non-statutory, collaborative, partnership and NPF3 National Development, with the aim to Sustainably Drain Glasgow.

Collectively, the partners have delivered over £500M of projects to date, to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and enable sustainable economic development in the Glasgow region.

Working with partners, key projects that GCC has led successful delivery of include the White Cart Flooding Project, the Camlachie Burn Overflow, Toryglen Regional SuDS Pond, Cardowan Surface Water Management Plan and Glasgow’s Smart Canal.

With climate change increasing flood risks and impacts, the partnership continues to deliver projects, with GCC leading the design and construction of a number of surface water management projects across Glasgow, many with Glasgow City Region City Deal funding, that will reduce flood risk through the delivery of sustainable blue-green infrastructure.

GCC also has the role of Lead Local Authority for the Clyde and Loch Lomond Local Plan District, and is working closely with SEPA to develop the 2nd Flood Risk Management Strategies for public consultation at the end of this year (it may be pushed back six months due to Covid-19), with the aim of identifying further projects to increase resilience to existing and future flood risk.

The future of food is another pressing issue for the citizens of Glasgow. More and more people are becoming acutely aware of the impact of food production and consumption on the planet and are very concerned about how the city can address this in a way that is just and equitable.

Glasgow recently held an Inquiry and a Food Summit involving over 100 community and other food groups, and international representatives from the Milan Urban Food Pact Policy Partnership of which both cities are members. A co-design process has followed and a strategy and City Food Plan is in development with the umbrella body Glasgow Community Food Network.

Glasgow City Food Plan is an ambitious cross-sector piece of work that aims to transform Glasgow’s food system to one that is integrated, holistic, healthy, fair and sustainable. This draft strategy – called “Let’s Grow Together 2020-25– includes reducing carbon emissions. The Circular Economy features quite strongly throughout the plan and in the community and enterprise elements especially. Addressing poverty, particularly children’s poverty, is a key part of this, as exemplified by the Council’s Children’s Holiday Food programme.

The Council is working with GCFN to develop a partnership between six community food organisations around the city which will enable communities to participate in and lead on aspects of the upcoming City Food Plan.

In summary, all of these strategies and policies are designed to transition the City of Glasgow from its carbon based heavy industry to a sustainable, carbon neutral future, in a way that is just and equitable for all of the citizens of Glasgow.

Game Changers Deep Dive: Amsterdam Launches Climate Neutral Roadmap 2050

Launch Of Amsterdam’s Climate Neutral Roadmap: An Interview With Deputy Mayor Marieke Van Doorninck

Q: Many cities aim for climate neutrality in 2050 – what makes Amsterdam’s roadmap special?

A: Cities are making a major contribution to climate change. Aside from the great responsibility, we also have more opportunities to take action to fight it, as there are lots of people living in close proximity. And we get a nicer city in return – not only for the current generation, but also for the generations to come. Cities are particularly unpleasant places to be in the heat and in the massive rain showers caused by climate change.

In 2050, Amsterdam will still be a great city in which to live and work. A healthy, prosperous and green city for everyone. And it will also be a city without coal, gas or oil, and it will have been free of polluting cars for twenty years. A city where energy is used economically, energy is generated sustainably, and raw and other materials are reused in a never-ending cycle.

The Amsterdam Climate Neutral Roadmap 2050 shows that this energy transition is possible, that it will bring opportunities, and that work in the city is already well underway. But the Roadmap also shows that the transition will be complex and risky.

The Roadmap marks the start of an irreversible, flexible process. The city is engaged in intensive cooperation, experimentation, data-gathering and learning. We’ll update the Roadmap every year in the future, including the climate budget.

Amsterdam is an ambitious and green frontrunner. We want to cut carbon emissions by 95% in 2050, compared to 1990, and to phase out natural gas completely in the city before 2040. As a step on the way, we’ll cut carbon emissions by 55% in 2030. Meanwhile, the Dutch government is aiming for a 49% reduction. We are ahead, and we hope that the government and the EU will follow us.

The Roadmap identifies four transition paths with accompanying measures: the built environment, electricity, mobility, and harbour and industry. We have made detailed calculations for all of the measures in Amsterdam, in order to lay a solid foundation for the coming years. In principle, these measures will lead to the intended 55% cut in carbon emissions in 2030, in ten years’ time.

The climate budget is our monitor and our steering instrument. Annual monitoring allows us to keep a finger on the pulse, so we can make adjustments and come up with new measures if necessary. We reflect on the past and look to the future.

For a compact, historical European city such as Amsterdam, the energy transition is a major challenge. Lots of space is needed to generate, save, store and transport energy – and such space is scarce in a growing and increasingly densely-built city.

With the Roadmap, Amsterdam is showing that the energy transition is possible in a compact city.

The energy transition is not only a technical transition; above all, it is a social transition. In our vision, it will only succeed if we view the energy transition as a social transformation, we adopt climate justice as a guiding principle, and we work together.

In order to kickstart the movement in the city and maintain it, the municipality is playing different roles. We are working from the top down and the bottom up, and focusing our efforts and resources on the four transition paths.

Q: How does this fit in with the Amsterdam Climate Agreement?

A: The Amsterdam Climate Agreement marked the start of the New Amsterdam Climate platform. Almost 200 initiatives in the city are taking joint responsibility for building a climate-neutral city, and the movement is growing. The platform provides an overview, inspires people, and helps them to join in.

The Amsterdam Climate Agreement was established in 2019. We organised approximately 700 discussions, meetings and events across the city. We’re making inventories of what’s already happening and what has been planned. This bottom-up movement forms the basis of the Roadmap. Without initiative-takers in the city, without frontrunners, there would be no movement. The municipality is directing the process and has translated the overarching strategy into a roadmap. 

Q: This year has been christened the year of the sun — how can the municipality be so confident that it will happen, and what project-related success have you had so far?

A: Amsterdam has a lot of roof surface, and we want to use this space optimally to generate sustainable energy. In the longer term, electricity can be generated on roofs for 400,000-500,000 households.

The advantage of solar panels is that installation is technically straightforward, and this also tends to be a profitable investment. Between 2012 and mid-2019, the number of solar panels in Amsterdam grew by 54% each year. If we maintain this growth of 54% in the coming years, we will meet the target of 250 MW in 2022. Growth will not be automatic, by any means; it will require a programmatic approach. Our aim is that no roof should remain unused.

We have opted for an approach whereby we inspire citizens and remove obstacles, so the opportunities created by solar energy generation can be used more effectively. The key parties for the generation of solar energy are the owners and users of buildings in the city. 

If we don’t succeed in persuading the large roof-owners, in the longer term we’ll want to make the use of commercial roofs mandatory – but we’ll need the Dutch government and the EU for this.

We also need more support from central government for large solar projects. The autumn 2019 round of the sustainable energy subsidy (Stimuleringsregeling Duurzame Energie, SDE+) was heavily oversubscribed last year. As a result, 6,000 solar projects across the country were turned down. This could jeopardise our ability to meet this year’s climate targets. For Amsterdam, it could mean a potential decline of 62 MW in 2020. We are encouraging SDE+ subsidy-holders (whose applications have been approved) to redeem them and not allow them to expire. 

Lots of great projects are underway in the city. There is considerable support among Amsterdam’s citizens. Solar panels have been installed on eighteen schools in Amsterdam Nieuw-west, in partnership with the municipality. These schools have jointly installed 6,000 panels, and fifty other schools are in the pipeline.

Three hundred and sixteen solar panels have been installed on the roof of the Hermitage Amsterdam. This is generating a considerable amount of electricity, comparable to the energy consumption of around thirty households. The Hermitage is the first monumental museum building in the Netherlands to install solar panels. Its monumental status made the process somewhat longer, but not impossible. Much more is possible than you’d think.

In addition to the solar energy programme, Amsterdam also has ambitious targets for generating wind energy. In the summer of 2019, we had 38 wind turbines with an installed capacity of 66 MW. After the summer, sixteen small wind turbines were removed. Ten large wind turbines will be installed in their place by 2022, bringing the total to 77 MW.

An illustration from the Roadmap of the different parties involved in transforming the city from fossil-fuel dependency to using 100% renewable energy.
Q: How are you keeping Amsterdammers on board with your far-reaching plans?

A: If we do nothing, the citizens of Amsterdam will be hit hard by the consequences of climate change. Around the world, floods, changing temperatures and drought are having a big impact on societies, public health and the economy. When areas become uninhabitable due to a lack of drinking water or the inability to cultivate food, the prospect of war and refugee flows increases.

There is great support among Amsterdam’s citizens. Around 70%of citizens support the transition to sustainable, clean energy, and feel responsible for playing their part in the transition. This is shown by research by the municipality’s research department. Almost 60% of Amsterdam’s citizens think that climate change will have a major impact on Amsterdam. Only 5% of citizens think that climate change is exaggerated. Just over half of Amsterdam’s citizens have already taken sustainability measures. We are responding to this with the Climate Agreement and the New Amsterdam Climate platform.

We will also work to raise awareness among citizens, in order to highlight the urgency of the task. When it comes to saving the climate, there’s no time to lose. The steps towards the future need to be taken today.

Q: How does the notion of climate justice impact your ambitions? What is Amsterdam doing to ensure that the benefits and opportunities presented by the energy transition are the same for everyone

A: Greenhouse gas emissions are causing a fall in the quality of life around the world. Despite having the smallest share in global warming, poorest countries are being hit the hardest. The same is true of our children and the generations to come. In our city, the consequences of the energy transition are not equal for everyone, either. Some residents or neighbourhoods are more vulnerable or will benefit less from the opportunities offered by the energy transition. The Municipality of Amsterdam wants the energy transition to be a fair transition.

We have translated this into three aspects:

  • First: the City Council believes that the strongest shoulders must bear the heaviest burdens. The basic principle of our policy is that low- and medium-income households should not incur extra living expenses as a result of the transition to clean energy.
  • Second: in addition, we want all citizens to have access to decision-making processes relating to the energy transition.
  • Third: the transition to sustainable and clean energy will lead to the disappearance of certain jobs, but at the same time it will also deliver new, ‘green jobs’. We will help people to find ‘green jobs’.
Q: Why should businesses follow this plan? What extra incentives are there to make the shift?

A: Like all great challenges, this transition will lead to opportunities and innovation. Opportunities and innovation are good for business. We’ll see that over time, the companies that are unable to adapt to the changing environment (client preferences, social debate, stricter regulations, the increasing cost of energy and raw materials) will be less successful. The extent to which companies are able to keep developing will determine their success. Companies in Amsterdam’s harbour, for example, see major opportunities for capitalising on the growth markets for sustainable electricity, sustainable heat, green hydrogen and various sustainable fuels.

The Municipality of Amsterdam is taking its responsibility seriously by playing a leading role in the transition. But we cannot make the difference alone. We also expect other parties to take up their part of the challenge. And we’ll help the city’s businesses as much as we can. For that reason, the Roadmap includes supportive measures for companies that want to develop sustainably and go beyond existing legal norms.

Various financial facilities are also being made available, such as subsidies and loans. If parties fail to take action or do too little, the municipality will ultimately turn to regulations. We certainly see a role here for the EU, too, and we are keen to work together.

Q: Is there anything else you feel that I should know about Amsterdam’s ambitions in this area?

A: We are keen to work with other cities and the EU to achieve our ambitions. At present, we are trying to do this by inspiring, stimulating and facilitating. But this has its limits. If we don’t succeed in persuading parties, we will need legislation (and a level playing field), and that will also need to come from the EU. Take the incorporation of solar panels into buildings, for example, but also guidelines on new heating technologies, such as low-temperature waste heat (aquifer thermal energy or waste heat from datacentres). A lot of new infrastructure will be needed for this. We still need to design the new heating system: what role will the grid operator play, and what’s the situation regarding fair prices for consumers or new forms of governance?

The Climate Neutral Roadmap is primarily about the energy transition, but we’re also working on a strategy for the circular economy, which we will present later in the spring. Here, too, we see many areas where the EU can and should play a major role with a view to product design, an equal playing field for used materials and much more. I’d like to see the circular economy reflected in the green deal, and I hope we can work on this together.

An illustration of the Roadmap’s energy transition journey. Read the full Roadmap here.

Game Changers Deep Dive: NYC’s Strategy to Dismantle & Replace Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

NYC’s Strategy To Dismantle & Replace Fossil Fuel Infrastructure

By Daniel Zarrilli, Chief Climate Policy Advisor & OneNYC Director, Office of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

From left to right, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio (center), with Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Bill McKibben, Co-Founder of
Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office / Benjamin Kanter

New York City Doubles Down on the Green New Deal

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City recently launched the second wave of NYC’s Green New Deal, expanding on the success of legislation passed last year with the City Council to retrofit the largest buildings in the city and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In his annual State of the City address, de Blasio set out the following ambitious commitments:

  • End the use of fossil fuels: By 2040, we still stop using natural gas and other fossil fuels in large building systems in New York City, starting in government buildings. This will accelerate the transition to clean heat and very low emissions buildings across the five boroughs. Working with lawmakers, we will ensure that new permits for building systems are aligned with our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.
  • Stop new fossil fuel infrastructure: We are not just transitioning our buildings, we are transitioning our city away from fossil fuels by stopping any new infrastructure, such as power plant expansions, pipelines, or terminals that expands the supply of fossil fuels in our city. The Mayor signed an Executive Order codifying this policy on February 6, 2020.

Ramping Up Investment in Clean Energy

In addition to ending our reliance on fossil fuels, we are ramping up investments in clean, renewable energy. That includes:

  • Major wind investment:  Off-shore wind is coming to our region. To accelerate its growth, with our New York State and Empire Wind partners, we will equip the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park as a new hub for staging, installing and operating turbines across the tri-state area. We’ll create 500 green jobs and support clean wind power that would reduce emissions equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.
  • Doubling solar power: Solar power saves homeowners money on their electric bills, but the up-front costs continue to hold people back from installing rooftop solar panels. New York City will launch a new program to defray those upfront costs, letting homeowners pay for them over years out of the savings on their energy bills. We can help install solar panels on 50,000 one-to-four family homes, doubling the amount of solar power produced in New York City and creating 5,000 green jobs.
  • Bring hydropower to NYC: This year, we will secure an agreement to bring more zero-emission hydropower to New York City, which will help run City government operations on 100 percent renewable energy.
  • Make ALL city vehicles electric: The City will rapidly convert or replace thousands of cars, trucks and buses to operate on electric power. By 2025, 4,000 vehicles will be converted or replaced to electric, and by 2040, we will work to make the entire City fleet—every garbage truck, every ferry, every ambulance and every police cruiser fully electric. The first electric school buses will hit the streets this year.

Major Milestone in Divestment  

Not only do we need to take bold actions to tackle emissions and invest in renewables, we also need to stop financially supporting the companies responsible for the climate crisis. That’s why the de Blasio administration is moving to divest billions of dollars from fossil fuels. Last month we announced the selection of advisers to evaluate options and recommend divestment actions to three of our five pension boards, making New York City the first city in the nation to take this major and necessary step to address the financial and environmental risks of fossil fuel holdings.

The City pension funds are on track to have actionable plans to divest from fossil fuel reserve owners by late 2020.  The expectation is that the pension fund boards will be able to adopt a plan and begin execution in 2021.

Toolkit and Divest/Invest Forum

In addition to the progress mentioned above, the City is working to leverage our national and international partnerships to inspire other municipal leaders and governments to take similar actions, scale up their climate actions, and help to create a more inclusive economy for everyone. As such, New York City launched a toolkit in close partnership with the city of London and C40 Cities.

From March 16-18, 2020, city leaders will come together in New York City to share their progress and experience in divesting from fossil fuel companies and increasing investment in climate solutions.

New York City has been taking step after step aggressively to protect us against climate change, to do our share. Cities all around the country are doing the same. Join us!

Cutting Emissions by Reducing Food Waste

Game Changers Deep Dive: Cutting Emissions by Reducing Food Waste

By Michael Shank and Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo

Michael Shank is the Communications Director for CNCA, and Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo is the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Michael Shank attended the Vatican City conference mentioned below, which was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The article was first published in TIME Magazine and is reprinted below and updated to reflect post-conference timing.

Food Waste Might Be Finally Getting the Focus It Deserves

From Washington D.C. to the Vatican, world leaders are stepping up their efforts to reduce food waste. In Washington D.C. last month, the US government announced a new Food Waste Reduction Alliance to formalize federal agency, food manufacturer and restaurant association collaboration to reduce food waste 50% by 2030.

Trash basket filled with thrown out food. Photo via Getty Images/iStockphoto / Peder77

And in Vatican City last week, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a major summit on reducing food loss and waste, putting the issue front and center for the Catholic Church. This builds on Pope Francis’s mantra that “to throw food away means to throw people away” and the Catholic Church’s teachings to ask for daily food for all – that it’s a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has enough food, which includes avoiding food loss and waste.

This doubling-down on food waste by world leaders is heartily welcomed. We’re wasting too much food, money, opportunities and resources. Around the world, roughly one-third of all agricultural land produces food that is lost (in the production phase) or wasted (in the retail and consumption phase). That’s more than 1.3 billion metric tons of edible food. And the entire supply chain is responsible, from poor climatic conditions to produce damaged at farms to improperly stored food to eating habits and more. When this food goes uneaten, we waste the water and energy needed to produce it, harvest it and bring it to market. And the economic, social and environmental impacts of this practice are devastating.

Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts

Economically speaking, this costs our communities dearly. Industrialized countries are losing $680 billion and developing countries are losing $310 billion. The financial hit to our economies, of this lost or wasted food, runs nearly $1 trillion dollars. To put this financial loss in perspective: If we wanted to deliver clean water and sanitation to the world for a year, it’d cost only $150 billion. What a preventable waste, then, that could free up new monies for essential poverty-alleviating projects, which is the focus of the next section.

Socially speaking, the food wasted could feed the world if we better managed the food supply chain. The Food and Agricultural Organization found that “consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”. What an incredible waste, then, especially when over 800 million people go hungry. We must do better. The World Bank estimates that just a 1% reduction in post-harvest losses could yield gains of $40 million each year, the majority of which would go directly to small farmers growing the food while helping local economies. That’s a win-win socially and economically.

Environmentally speaking, if food waste were a country it’d be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the U.S., a fact reiterated by a senior UN climate official attending this month’s international Zero Waste Summit in Istanbul. The carbon footprint is formidable. Food waste and loss contributes to approximately 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. To put that in comparison, that’s equal to the apparel industry, which also contributes 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and greater than the airline industry, which is roughly at 2.5 percent of global gases. Food is the low-hanging fruit, then, in the carbon-reduction agenda. It’s much easier to tackle immediately.

What We Can Do to Reduce the Impact of Food Waste

How do we save our economies, societies and environments from the deleterious impacts that come with food waste and food loss? A good overhaul of the food system is needed but let’s start with a few concrete next steps.

First, we need to change social norms that exacerbate food waste. It’s too easy to waste food as there are no consequences for throwing food away. That needs to change. We can all shop smarter and stop over-serving ourselves and others. Big portions lead to big waste. Our shelves – whether at market or at home – don’t have to be stocked full all the time. And with better access to daily or weekly local farmers’ markets, it’ll be easier to get what you need for the next few meals, avoiding the waste that comes from stocking up for weeks. Additionally, let’s eat more ugly fruits and vegetables, which are tossed out for cosmetic reasons. The preference for a straight carrot versus a crooked one is part of a norm that generates high percentages of food waste. These norms are changing, thankfully, and there’s a growing market for ugly fruit. But more is needed.

Second, we need to rethink arbitrary expiration dates in places like the United States. Most people don’t realize that these dates are set by companies, not health agencies, with the intention that you buy more food. The lack of federal standards leads to vast inconsistencies, and often means food that could still be eaten ends up in the trash instead.

Third, our local governments, which are often responsible for the collection of household scraps, can play a major role in reducing food waste. In San Francisco, for example, which has a zero waste goal by 2020, they’ve diverted waste from the landfill by over 80 percent, and they’re transforming food waste into compost and selling it back to farmers. That’s good for soil health and its ability to retain water, and it cuts down on irrigation as well as fertilizers and pesticides. San Francisco’s approach to food waste as a resource – which is what cities in the global south, like Rio de Janeiro, are also doing by salvaging food waste – is a win for the city, its economy, its farmers and the environment.

Fourth, we need better refrigeration to prevent food spoilage. Many countries don’t have the capacity to keep food cold when it’s stored or transported. If they had the capacity to build a “cold chain” – with the necessary refrigeration along the way – a lot less food would be wasted when moving food from farm to market. Countries that already have refrigeration need to significantly increase their energy efficiency so that this expansion is done sustainably elsewhere.

This, and more – like switching to plant-based diets – is the way forward, which is why the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance helped co-found the Cool Food Pledge to scale up climate-friendly foods. It’s good that global leaders are finally putting this front and center on their policy agendas. The world is watching, and now it’s time for us to stop wasting.

How Hamburg Regained Control of its Energy Utility

Taking The Power Back: How Hamburg Regained Control Of Its Energy Utility

By Anselm Sprandel, Director-General for Energy and Climate, Ministry of Environment and Energy, City of Hamburg

A Case Study on How to Remuncipalize a Utility: How the City of Hamburg regained control of its utility and the tools to advance the city’s climate protection and energy transition agendas.

Background on Hamburg’s Privatized Past

In the 1990s and the early 2000s, the Hamburgische Electricitäts Werke (Hamburg Electricity Works or HEW) was sold to the Vattenfall Group to balance the city’s budget. The selling of city assets to balance budgets was not uncommon at the time. Many cities have done it globally but many more are reconsidering their options and returning assets to city control.

Wind and solar are part of the green power supply of Hamburg Energie. 

At the time of Hamburg’s sale to Vattenfall, HEW comprised electricity and district heating operations as well as gas supply through its subsidiary HeinGas. (The sale took place before the unbundling, reorganization and regulation of the German electricity market, and the gas operation was later sold by Vattenfall to the E.ON Group.)

The sale was controversial politically and socially. Not only was Vattenfall’s poor corporate image problematic for the public, but so was the construction of the coal-fired power station in Hamburg’s Moorburg district. People quickly realized that privatization was a mistake and that the city had lost a great deal of influence as a result.

In response, the municipal company “Hamburg Energie” was established in 2009 to provide households with green power and be active in the renewable energy sector. And in 2011, the City of Hamburg negotiated with electricity, district heating and gas grid companies to take over a 25.1 per cent share. The movement to remunipalize had the foothold it needed to succeed.

The Return of the Utility to City Control

Two years later, in 2013, there was a referendum on the energy networks, initiated by stakeholders in Hamburg. The referendum called for a complete public buy-back of electricity, district heating and gas grids, with the binding goal of a socially just, climate-compatible renewable energy supply under democratic control.

They won. The referendum was a success. And so the Hamburg Senate began implementing the referendum decision by drawing up contractual agreements with Vattenfall and E.ON. The following year, 2014, witnessed the complete remunicipalization of the electricity grid, and the takeover took the form of a share deal and included the acquisition of the workforce.

Opportunities Offered by Remunicipalization

With the remunicipalization, the City of Hamburg now has energy companies that fully cover the energy value chain. It consists of the following companies:

  • Electricity grid: Stromnetz Hamburg GmbH (formerly Vattenfall-Gruppe)
  • Gas grid: Gasnetz Hamburg GmbH (formerly E.ON-Gruppe)
  • District heating : Wärme Hamburg GmbH (formerly Vattenfall-Gruppe)
  • Hamburg Energie GmbH: (for the production and sales of renewable energies)

The city of Hamburg once again has important tools at its disposal to advance climate protection and the energy transition in Hamburg. As the owner, the city can control the development of the energy supply in the interests of consumers, security of supply, climate protection and the energy transition.

An energy company owned by the city is the best protection against excessive prices, as public companies are not geared toward maximizing profits. Additionally, synergies with other public companies can be pursued, and the city has access to favourable financing, which also has a positive effect on consumer prices.

Next Steps

The binding goal of a socially just, climate-compatible renewable energy supply under democratic control is next. The real work is ahead. For example, sustainable strategies must be developed and implemented for the following:

  • Customer advisory boards
  • Climate protection strategies in energy companies
  • Renewable energy expansions
  • Energy poverty solutions
  • Role modeled approaches for the industry

The next strategic steps will be to develop a heat and energy supply concept for Hamburg that takes into account the areas of electricity, district heating, gas and important innovation topics, such as sector coupling in order to advance climate protection and energy transition in Hamburg.

Concrete decarbonization measures must also be implemented. Coal is one of the clearest decarbonizing opportunities here. The Hamburg Coal Phase-Out Act, which passed in June of this year, requires municipal energy utilities to shut down coal-fired power plants by 2030 at the latest. The Wedel coal-fired power plant is to be shut down by 2025 and the HKW Tiefstack by 2030.

Energy supply companies owned by the city will no longer be allowed to purchase coal heat, effective immediately. With the acquisition of the district heating company, the City of Hamburg now has the opportunity to replace the coal-fired cogeneration plants, which is good for climate protection and good for social justice.

Planning for the replacement of the Wedel coal-fired power plant is now in full swing. The Wedel coal-fired power plant will be replaced by a combination of renewable or climate-neutral heat sources (waste incineration, industrial waste heat, and waste heat from a sewage treatment plant process) and a gas-based combined heat and power solution.

Preliminary planning for the replacement of the Tiefstack coal-fired power plant will begin in 2020 as part of a participation process for which a committee of experts is planned.

Lessons Learned for Remunicipalization Efforts

A recommunalization project is demanding. A few of the many tasks and topics that are needed and necessary:

  • Time, patience and money
  • Project management skills
  • A competent team within a public administration. Ideally, this team should have direct access to the mayor
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Consultants for legal, corporate law, business management issues, company valuations and due diligences

If your city is interested in discussing further how we remunicipalized our utility, what pitfalls to avoid and what additional best practices to employ, please reach out to us as we’d be happy to share additional lessons learned and tips for making the process as seamless as possible.

Set a Climate Budget to Drive Deep Decarbonization

How The City Of Oslo Manages Carbon Like It Manages Money

By Morten Nordskag, Special Advisor for International Climate Cooperation for the City of Oslo

Too often, climate pledges are made with a target date set far into the future, requiring someone else to be responsible for the meeting of that target. With our climate budget for the City of Oslo, Norway’s capital, we do the opposite. Just like a financial budget has a ceiling on how much money the city can spend, our climate budget sets a ceiling on the volume of carbon dioxide that can be emitted in the city in the same year. It’s not a separate document that collects dust on office shelves, but fully integrated into the most important document of any city, or nation for that matter: the fiscal budget.

Here’s How We Did It – and What Happened as a Result

We first introduced it in 2016, the world’s first at the time. Since then, the climate budget has energised climate action throughout our entire municipality. Yes, climate change was already high on Oslo’s political agenda, but this new governance instrument transported the issue from the periphery of environmental departments to the centre of attention, and mainstreamed it into daily operations and decision making.

Key Ingredients That Made This Possible

First, we made it completely in accordance with the most aggressive temperature targets in the Paris agreement, which limits warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. To do this, you need to know your baseline (from what year you’re measuring), and your target (where you’re headed). In Oslo, our ambition is to become a virtually zero-emitting city in just 11 years. Our baseline is 2009, so that means we need to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 95% by 2030. So, that was our starting point.

Second, we mapped out the annual carbon math for each year. We identified what a realistic emission ceiling would look like for the forthcoming budget year and here’s what we came up with. For the year 2019, for example, this ceiling was set at 932,000 CO2-equivalents. In comparison, our 2016 ceiling was 1,085,000 CO2-equivalents. The recent proposal for 2020 is 809,000 CO2-equivalents. This aggressive annual agenda ensures that climate action is not postponed and that action is taken now.

Third, we created a list of emissions-reducing actions that we’ll take each year, the estimated impacts each action is projected to have, how much more will be spent that year on each action, and which government entity is responsible for implementation. This is the critical part. If you do this thoroughly, it’ll stimulate public awareness and discussion and support for climate-action planning, evaluation, and adjustment. In Oslo, we identified more than 40 measures and instruments at different scales: national, regional and local. We expect some to directly reduce emissions, while others are softer instruments, such as communication and engagement.

Fourth, we created a feedback system to monitor and evaluate if our climate budget is working properly. To inform us whether we are on/off track in delivering expected reductions in real-time, we developed “a climate barometer”. Our barometer has 14 indicators that are updated three times a year. It tracks any changes in activity – for example, the number and type of vehicles passing through the toll-ring, delivery of fuel for consumption in the city, bicycle traffic and number of passengers using public transport.

The barometer has proven useful in identifying any need for increased action. It helped us identify a not-insignificant gap in how we measure carbon, for example – a gap that represented 100,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalents. This illustrates just one of the many benefits of our climate budget. When a gap is identified, the system triggers the need to take immediate action.

Fifth, we made sure the climate budget communicates quality-of-life benefits to city residents. Our budget describes how climate actions contribute to making Oslo a better city in which to live. And we make it easy for city residents to follow the progress in decarbonizing the city and to understand what it will take to achieve deep reductions in the long term.

Sixth, and finally, we made sure the climate budget sits in the right city office. By allocating responsibility for the climate budget process to the Vice Mayor of Finance, Oslo managed to create cross-municipal ownership of the climate agenda. Every agency or unit needs to report on progress, as they would need to under a financial budget. The climate budget defines who’s responsible to act and at what cost.

A Flexible and Adaptable Tool

In sum, we can’t think of a better tool for cities to adopt; it’s extremely flexible and adaptable and can accommodate any policy instrument, at any scale. For us, the climate budget is now efficiently managing our mitigation measures, ensuring that they are identified, prioritised, and costed, and that effects are measured and reported. And it’s pushing our city government to show how it will deliver, year-by-year, on our longer-term climate strategy.

No more punting of targets to future leaders, allowing frivolous carbon spending in the short term. The time to start budgeting is now.

12 Principles for Climate-Centric Behavior Change Communications

By Michael Shank
Communications Director, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance

This article is available to download as a PDF document and may be used as a resource to help guide your communications, campaigns or community engagement activities. It is based on the social impact research of and connects key psychological principles of applied behavioral science to the climate and sustainability work of CNCA member cities. Download a PDF version here.


In order to quickly move cities towards carbon neutrality, one social science game changer that needs to be scaled up is behavior change communications. Few of the more technical game changers – enumerated in CNCA’s Report – will be possible unless public and political will is mustered, mobilized and maintained.

This article delves into 12 behavioral science-based principles to consider when rolling out sustainability initiatives in cities. These principles are well-known to the fields of sociology, psychology and behavioral economics (and explained succinctly by ideas42) and will be helpful in thinking through how we apply them to our work.

These 12 principles offer useful guidance in the rolling out of any of our game-changing strategies. With each principle, we’ll take a look at how a CNCA city’s climate and sustainability initiatives are relevant and how they’re organized and communicated to the public. Let’s begin.

#1 Choice Overload

It’s not uncommon to find CNCA member websites advocating for myriad actions and initiatives, because the work is massive in scope. Whether it’s big building retrofits, green energy installs, public transit improvements, waste management, bike lane build-outs, or household weatherization, there’s so much that needs to be pursued now. But is there a way to deliver this to users that doesn’t cause choice overload? And is there a way to deliver it, as ideas42 put it, that decreases the number of choices presented and increases the meaningful differences between them? What if CNCA members’ climate webpages offer a featured action of the month? And we encourage users to take that one action during that one month. And all of our communications center around that one action. And then, the next month, we roll out a new action that we want residents to take. Residents who are ahead of the curve can always explore more actions: the website could have in the background (off to the side) an easy-to-navigate catalogue of the 12 actions (that run concurrently with the calendar year) that all residents can take to help the city and homes/communities be greener, more efficient and healthier.

Exercise: Take a quick look at your city’s communication materials to see if a user might feel choice overload and, as a result, feel too overwhelmed to take action. How could you simplify so that users are directed to one or two priority actions that they can take now?

Example: New York City’s “Bring It” campaign has a singular ask – to bring reusables wherever one goes – and the entire website is devoted to that ask. It avoids choice overload by prioritizing and featuring only one ask, one activity, in this campaign. You can see on their website that even the navigation bar is avoiding choice overload, identifying one problem and one solution. It’s empowering for people to get involved in singular campaigns like this; the completion of the task feels more fulfilling when there’s not a laundry list of tasks that follow.

#2 Cognitive Depletion and Decision Fatigue

There’s plenty of research in the social science field on how fatigue makes for bad decision-making. Considering this when we reach out to the community to build public and political will, are we cognizant of when and where they might be fatigued (and thus less equipped to support our climate initiatives)? And when we’re hosting events, are we bringing food so that we’re enabling the community of decision-makers to be well-equipped to get on board a sustainability decision?

Mindful, also, of how our communities are often underserved in their ability to receive and maintain proper nutrition, how are we managing this food insecurity and working with other city departments to help ensure that the community has what they need? This is a great example of how social and environmental sustainability are interconnected and how we must work together to ensure the community has the resources they need to make the healthiest decisions they can.

Example: Partnering with restaurants, bars and beverage companies can help with cognitive depletion and decision fatigue as Yokohama did here in their partnership with Starbucks for the “Nothing is Charming” campaign. The campaign was held inside Starbucks coffee houses to raise awareness about the benefits of using less electricity.

#3 Hassle Factors

How do we make green choices easy for our community? If we want them to ride the bus more, bike more, eat more plant-based foods, waste less, weatherize more, and buy heat pumps and solar power, how do we make it hassle-free or close to hassle-free?

Can we make it more enjoyable, more affordable, or more accessible? People might be more willing to undertake the effort and expense needed if they’re doing it in friendly company, with free food, while having a fun time. If we can’t reduce the hassle any further (and let’s do everything we can to make it hassle-free), let’s at least make it fun, family-friendly, with free food.

Exercise: Let’s vet our sustainability initiatives to see how hassle-free it is for a representative resident of the community. Are there ways that we can make any of these processes slightly less cumbersome? Recognizing that some of these green initiatives are heavy lifts, are there ways in which we can offset some of the hassle with positive reinforcement?

Example: Helsinki is making it easy for residents to discard waste with these convenient vacuum-sucking disposal systems. Not only does it make waste disposal near hassle-free for the resident, it’s also fun to do and avoids hassle-heavy trash bins that often fill up quickly and spill over.

#4 Identity

Since not everyone considers themselves an environmentalist, how do we tap into and resonate with other identities that might be attracted to our climate policies? When we think of the myriad ways in which our communities self-identify, what are the principles that matter to them? Parents, for example, would have, as part of their identity as guardians, a desire to keep their children safe from harm and to provide for their household. In that one sentence, we’ve covered health, security and economics. Are we mindful of this when messaging and mobilizing our climate initiatives? And in the words of ideas42, how do we “prime positive identities to encourage socially beneficial actions”?

Exercise: If you were to do a scan or audit of your climate communication vehicles (printed materials, speeches, websites, social media, etc.), how are you being mindful of your community’s many identities and how are you tailoring your message to be respectful of and resonate with these worldviews? Ultimately, we want everyone to see our work and connect with it. That means we’ll want any and all of our behavior change-related communications to be sensitive to and respectful of the identities that are coming to our events, our websites and our action requests. Let’s make sure they see themselves in our work.

Example: Vancouver taps into city/resident identity and city/resident pride with their “greenest city” framing here. This identity framing appeals to people’s – and the city’s – competitive spirit and desire to be first.

#5 Limited Attention

When our communities don’t immediately respond to our climate requests it’s not because they’re not interested. Perhaps they only heard it once from us, perhaps they never heard it at all, or perhaps other priorities took their attention at the time. Mindful of our own limited attention spans, and being cognizant of all that’s taking priority in residents’ lives, how do we make it easy for them to hear from us by repeating and reiterating our work through every possible channel that might reach them? Are we simultaneously using radio, television, billboards, community newspapers and newsletters, local associations and advocacy organizations, religious halls, phone and email, text and other ways to communicate with the public?

While this may sound time-intensive (and it is), it’ll be necessary if we want to truly engage the community and transform the policy. Surrogates and liaisons can be helpful here, as we don’t have all the inroads and we don’t always have the credibility as communicators that more local leaders might, so employ others if/when possible. But we have to reach our audience often.

Exercise: Take an audit of the frequency of your city’s communications. How and when are you repeating and reiterating and is it resonating? And if not, let’s pre-test and focus-group these messages to ensure that it’s the right wording and the right messenger for the right identities.

Example: San Francisco’s recycling page understands the limited attention span of internet users by directing the eyes to the desired action. They use white space (or negative space) to turn the user’s attention to the desired actions.

#6 Loss Aversion

People have an intrinsic disdain for loss. We get attached. And we hold onto that attachment – be it emotional, relational, physical or spiritual. So, how do we communicate our climate work in such a way that it’s mindful of the public’s proclivity for avoiding loss? When we think about what people care about – quality of life, standard of living, ego, money, health, and physical security – are we articulating our work in such a way that is mindful of what they don’t want to lose?

Habitat or species loss quickly translates here, as does the quality of life lost, the money lost, the health lost and the security lost from fossil fuels, global heating, and extreme weather. But can we also build new attachment to the kind of world we’re trying to build? For example, after a city turns a few previously road-trafficked blocks into a pedestrian-only zone, full of beautiful park amenities, and encourages active public engagement in that new space, it’s much more likely that the public will become attached to this new reality and want to replicate the experience elsewhere.

How do we show that life is better in this new greener world? There’s a lot of natural, intrinsic fear in letting go of the known fossil-fueled experience. One way to offset this fear is to provide experiences for people to build new attachment to the new reality that we’re trying to create. Most people who have a personal experience and bond with something that’s impacted by global heating – a polar bear, a vulnerable community, a seaside view – are more likely to do everything they can to protect it. In our messaging and mobilizing, let’s give them something specific to protect.

Example: Oslo’s climate website talks first about hidden swimming gems as a way of discussing the importance of protecting water quality. The webpage doubles down on the emotional attachment so that the user will then want to avoid the loss (of these swimming gems) that could result from poor water quality.

#7 Primacy Bias

There is a bias towards information that’s presented first, versus information that’s less visible. How does that bias impact how we message climate, then? Is it presented in a highly visible way on our websites and do we have social media channels specifically devoted to our climate and sustainability work (to send a message to the public that this is a priority)? Are our mayors and city staff leading with the climate message or are they placing it last on a list?

Exercise: Mindful of primacy bias, it’s worth scanning city communication vehicles to see if climate is presented prominently and if not, is that negotiable at all within the city? How can we inch up the city’s climate offerings so that, from a behavior change communications perspective, we’re on the top, not the bottom, of any city list?

Example: See how Stockholm presents itself to the world in this picture. On the landing page, it prioritizes its green leadership as one of its key selling points, alongside “most connected” and “fastest growing”. This sends the message to the world that being a “green capital” is an enduring priority and selling point for Stockholm.

#8 Procrastination

Everyone procrastinates on something at some point in their day/week/month, which is why any far off “2050” framing for our climate initiatives is potentially problematic. Even 2040 or 2030 seems far off. People will wait until the last minute to do whatever it is we’re asking them to do. It’s why it’s problematic for us to talk about future impacts; it merely reinforces the proclivity to procrastinate. We need to talk about impacts that are happening here and now. We need to offer easy, bite-sized steps that anyone can take now. And we need public-friendly short-term climate goals and deadlines to balance our plethora of long-term climate goals.

People are more likely to take action now if it’s easy now, they can see the difference now, and the goals are relevant now. We need to refocus our communications and public engagement on the 2020 and 2025 realities so that people’s penchant for procrastination is countered by near-term realities and possibilities.

Example: Boulder’s “Four Actions with Impact” aims to get people moving now with simple actions they can take now. The videos show normal residents taking simple actions in four areas. This helps the user feel like it can be done, that it’s pragmatic and possible, and helps prevent the procrastination that often comes with climate action due to feelings of overwhelm or inefficacy.

#9 Social Norms

We all know the power of social norming. Approval matters. We all know the study that shows that if your neighbor has solar panels, you’re more likely to get solar panels. And if your neighbor is saving money on their utility bill, due to some energy efficiency measures, you’re more likely to pursue the same or better savings by taking similar action. Given this, how can we use our city communication vehicles to show that a movement is happening in our cities and that our public and private sectors are changing the game? How are we reflecting back community actions so that residents and building owners see their peers taking action across the city and are motivated to do what others are doing?

We recognize that it’ll take time to present a picture of what the new (green) social norm is within the community. Reflecting back the green actions happening within the community not only works from a social norming perspective, but in the field of climate action, where people can feel like their individual action won’t make a big difference, this reflecting back can also lift people up emotionally, provide inspiration and hope, and counteract defeatism.

Example: Sydney, in its partnership with the Better Buildings Cup, is working to create social norms for greener living and greener buildings. By creating competitions that track waste and energy management and then mirror back the results and the winners on their media channels, this effort is conveying to the public that many people are doing this and, thus, so should you. Their sites show lots of activity in this space, show people having fun, and show plenty of diversity (in action taken and persons taking action) so that the user feels represented in this space.

#10 Status Quo Bias

Default settings are powerful. We like routine. If a status quo has been established, we’re less likely, in general, to deviate from that. So, how does this principle impact our city-based, climate-focused behavior change communications?

Let’s reach people within their routine, versus asking them to find us, which is often outside of their routine. Let’s meet them with our messages and messengers and go to where their routines take them. Let’s set up default settings that are more sustainable, with opt-out versus opt-in options (since the former produces significantly higher participation rates than the latter). And let’s take this further so that the new status quo is increasingly sustainable.

Example: This Portland partnership presents “ideas for making simple changes in everyday choices”. No big leaps here. It’s about living more and saving more. This is something people can stomach and it understands people’s proclivity for keeping the status quo. It gets a foot in the behavioral door with small bite-sized steps.

#11 The Availability Heuristic

Our publics may think they’ve never experienced a climate impact before, or if they have there’s only been a few events, not many. This is due, in part, to the fact that the press and often policymakers aren’t contextualizing extreme weather events within a global warming reality. The availability of our climate memory, and how easily things come to mind where the climate dots are connected, is limited. This is a problem because, as ideas42 put it, “we judge probabilities based on how easily examples come to mind.”

How are we chronicling for our communities, then, the repeated climate impacts so that the public is able to calculate more realistic probabilities because examples are more readily available to them? Can we use our media channels to document the climate impacts so that people have a more realistic assessment of probability? Similarly, how are we repeatedly showcasing solutions so that people have constant and common examples of the kind of behavior we’re encouraging? So that when they think of “going green”, there are plenty of highly public examples that come to mind.

The more we individually and organizationally message this – so that the public is seeing the city mayor and staff going green, too, in what they eat, drive, fly, wear and power – the more the public has available examples for mental and memory recall.

Example: Copenhagen’s partnership with “State of Green” to showcase the green initiatives happening across the city helps the user feel that there’s a lot happening. This site is presenting back to the community all of the activity in the climate space so that there’s ample available evidence and data for resident learning and discovering.


#12 The Planning Fallacy

Humans rarely account for and allocate sufficient time for a given task. We’re overly optimistic about how much time it will take to accomplish a specific task. This has huge implications for any of our sustainability targets and timelines for 2030, 2040 and 2050. And why it’s essential to be very clear about how much time these tasks will take. Reorient the deadlines so that it’s an easier estimable planning period for the public (since we aren’t often planning other tasks in 20 or 30 year timeframes). Admittedly, since city-scaled game-changing will take time, we want to be both clear about the necessary planning and positive about our ability to accomplish the task so that the public isn’t overwhelmed by the amount of time needed.

Give examples of similar time requirements (associated with other behaviors in their lives) so that any green initiative we’re requesting has a salient comparison. By helping our communities know how much planning is required to make the necessary shifts, we help set expectations. And doing it in shorter increments (versus 2050 timeframes) may be helpful in making sure those expectations are realistic, the short-term planning is reported and made public, and everyone is witnessing what’s involved.

Example: London provides ample options, which appeals to citizens of all sorts. It gives multiple time-sensitive and time-specific actions so that people can participate based on the time they have available to them. And we know that once we get them involved in one thing they’re more likely to take action in other areas.

Next Steps

We encourage you to check out ideas42’s full explanation of these 12 principles (they’ve got all of the study/research links for further sourcing). We’ve hyperlinked each page here for quick retrieval of each section.

Choice Overload
Cognitive Depletion & Decision Fatigue
Hassle Factors
Limited Attention
Loss Aversion
Primacy Bias
Social Norms
Status Quo Bias
The Availability Heuristic
The Planning Fallacy

Some, or all of it, will likely be very familiar to you and, hopefully, a helpful reminder as we work to improve our behavior change communications. If you want support in brainstorming how any of these 12 principles are relevant to your city, please reach out to me. I’m happy to help here. Thanks!

Continue reading “12 Principles for Climate-Centric Behavior Change Communications”

Centering People and Equity

Rethinking Climate Action in Portland

By Alisa Kane, Climate Action Manager, City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability

Portland, Oregon, a city of nearly 650,000 people in the Northwest corner of the United States, has been working to address climate-related issues for over 25 years. As the first U.S. city to adopt a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 1993, Portland’s legacy of climate-friendly policies and programs targeting transportation, energy, land use, natural resources and solid waste have contributed to Portland’s steady decrease in carbon emissions. As of 2017, Portland’s per-capita emissions were 38% below 1990 levels.

While Portland is often recognized as a leader in the U.S. on climate action, it doesn’t tell the full story. Portland is the whitest major city in the U.S., with white residents making up 77% of the population. However, white Portlanders are generally not the people already experiencing the harmful effects of climate change. Rather, people of color, low-income residents and Native Americans living in Portland are on the frontlines of climate change. These are the same frontline communities that have largely been denied the benefits that have historically flowed from years of investments in climate-friendly programs, policies and infrastructure and are facing disproportionate climate impacts that take a real toll on their families and communities.

Decades of institutional racism and gentrification have pushed Black, Asian and Latino communities from the central city to outer neighborhoods. Punctuated by freeways, a deficit of trees and parks, and inequitable investments in infrastructure, these areas are also farther from job centers leading to longer commute times and distances, and increased transportation costs. As a result, frontline communities disproportionately experience the negative health effects of dangerously poor air quality, urban heat islands and unsafe transportation connections. This is the Portland climate story that has not been told and is why the update to Portland’s Climate Action Plan will center on prioritizing high-impact carbon emission reduction strategies that are focused on improving the health, prosperity and resilience of Portland’s frontline communities.

Asking Different Questions

In the coming months Portland will begin hosting collaborative conversations to draft new actions for an updated climate action plan. Through one-on-one conversations, workshops, forums, events and technology, local government staff will engage climate justice leaders, industry groups, environmental organizations and community-based organizations to develop actions that both reduce carbon emissions and create community benefits for those who have been left behind. The goal of this engagement is to uncover new ways of approaching climate action planning.

Here’s an example of how we’re rethinking climate action planning in Portland: Transportation accounts for 42% of Portland’s carbon emissions. In prior climate action plans, the focus has been on increasing walking, biking and mass transit use. Billions of dollars of investment in transit and transit-oriented-development, and bike and pedestrian infrastructure, helped keep downward pressure on emissions. But in recent years, the trend has reversed and is ticking upwards with year-over-year increases resulting in a 14% increase in transportation emissions from their lowest levels in 2012. Portland’s traditional climate planning approach to this problem would be to set even more aggressive targets for increasing bus ridership to reduce vehicle miles traveled, congestion and air pollution.

But does this approach account for the needs and experiences of frontline communities? Before we make increasing bus ridership a signature goal of our next climate plan, we need to ask more questions. Using John Powell’s Targeted Universalism concept, Portland is seeking to move beyond traditional one-size-fits-all approaches which tend to exacerbate existing inequities. We’re looking to develop climate actions that simultaneously aim for a universal goal (e.g., increasing transit ridership), while also addressing disparities in opportunities among frontline communities. So, instead of asking ourselves questions like “how do we get more people on the bus?” we should instead be asking more probing questions like, “who can’t ride the bus safely, and why?”

We’ve known that people using buses over cars is better for the climate, even more so if those buses are powered by clean-fuels like electricity, and if frequent routes serve the places where people live, work and play. Equally important is that there is a connected network of sidewalks, crosswalks and accessibility features so that people can arrive to the bus stop safely. Like most other CNCA cities, Portland typically designs our climate action plans – and measures our success – around these well-defined physical elements of a world-class transportation system. But that doesn’t tell the full story, and we run the risk of continuing to advance solutions that, in the end, won’t get us to our ultimate carbon goals.

A recent report by Portland’s transportation division, “Walking While Black,” found that Black pedestrians are more likely to be stopped by police while walking, and they experience 32% longer wait times at crosswalks than white pedestrians before drivers yield to them. In addition, almost half of all traffic fatalities in Portland are pedestrians, and unsafe crossings and the lack of sidewalks in many frontline communities put people, especially youth and people with disabilities, at higher risk of injuries or even death by automobiles. Finally, we need to acknowledge that there are real dangers to riding transit. Misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression don’t disappear once the door of the bus opens. From verbal harassment to physical attacks, Portland’s transit system is far from safe for everyone.

What Can Local Governments Do?

Without addressing these underlying systematic issues, we’ll never get enough people riding the bus to greatly decrease our carbon emissions. Doing what we’ve always done (e.g., more transit routes, electric buses) but just doing those things harder, faster or with better messaging isn’t going to work. Fortunately, local governments are uniquely positioned to employ new approaches to address the intertwined challenges of both climate change and social injustice. In Portland, the local government significantly influences and/or runs the transit system, manages many transportation infrastructure projects, invests in affordable housing and homelessness services, and oversees the police bureau. This may mean that Portland’s next climate plan will include actions that address racial profiling by police, or penalize car drivers that don’t yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in frontline communities.

Simply by asking different questions (e.g., “who can’t ride the bus safely and why?” versus “how do we get more people riding the bus?”), Portland’s new approach to climate action planning is poised to redefine what successful climate action looks like. To fully address the urgency of preparing for and mitigating the disastrous impacts of climate change, Portland will need to strategically focus on actions that significantly reduce carbon emissions, create just and equitable solutions, and offer tangible benefits to the frontline communities most impacted by climate change.

Empower Local Producers and Buyers of Renewable Electricity

The Melbourne Renewable Energy Project

By Deb Cailes, Manager, Urban Sustainability, City of Melbourne

Globally, we are seeing the lack of national and international action kick city governments into action. The City of Melbourne has long recognized the need for cities, corporations and individuals to take action on climate change. The Council’s first “Zero Net Emissions” strategy was endorsed in 2003 and led the way globally for ambitious emissions reductions for local governments.

While our strategies, programs and actions have evolved (we now have a Climate Change Mitigation Strategy that aligns our targets with the Paris Climate Agreement, for example), the fundamentals of the early Zero Net Emissions goal and the Council’s ambition have not.

Origins of the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project

As a local government in Australia, we have no policy control or ownership of our electricity generation assets or grid. So, we set out to find a new way for the city and other large energy users in Melbourne to take voluntary action to accelerate the decarbonisation of the grid, regardless of the policies of state or federal governments.

This gave rise to the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project (MREP), an Australian first that brought together a group of local governments, cultural institutions, universities and corporations to collectively purchase renewable energy from a newly built facility.

Renewable energy developers face barriers in securing finance in the face of an uncertain regulatory environment. To secure finance to build their projects, renewable energy facility developers usually require a ‘bankable’ long-term stream of income from an offtaker to underwrite the debt. These contracts are referred to as Power Purchase Agreements, or PPAs.

How the Model Works

The City of Melbourne and its MREP partners, in response, recognized that we could use our purchasing power and credit strength to provide sufficient certainty to enable the construction of a large scale renewable energy project.

We worked collaboratively with 14 partners from a wide range of sectors, from banks to universities, alongside local governments and state government bodies. To set the project up for success, we needed to agree on a way to work together and a clear decision-making framework in the early stages. We developed a participant agreement to provide clarity on issues such as governance and structure of the group and decision making processes.

As the MREP model was innovative and hadn’t been tested in the Australian market previously, the City of Melbourne had to work closely with proponents during tendering, evaluation and negotiation phases to ensure that the solution was fit for purpose for both customer and supplier.

Launching the Project

MREP members have committed to purchase 88 GWh of electricity per year from the Crowlands Wind Farm under a 10-year power purchase agreement. This commitment has enabled the construction of the 80 MW wind farm at Crowlands, a 3-hour drive from the City of Melbourne. The wind farm is owned and operated by Melbourne-based clean energy company Pacific Hydro. As the wind farm will generate significantly more energy than the purchasing group needs, it will bring additional renewable energy into the market.

The MREP contract demonstrates innovation by enabling customers to hedge their electricity costs over the 10-year period while creating additional renewable energy in the National Electricity Market. The deal delivers a competitive product compared to regular electricity purchasing along with some budget certainty for the customers.

Benefits of the Project

The project did achieve more than just new renewable energy and significant reductions in participants’ greenhouse emissions. It is also creating around 140 construction jobs, along with eight ongoing operational jobs in the local area. In addition, Pacific Hydro’s Community Fund will provide a long term funding stream to the local community and a solar and battery storage system has been donated to the Crowlands Shire Hall.

As of 1 Jan 2019, the Crowlands Wind Farm began supplying energy to power town halls, bank branches, universities and street lights across Melbourne. Council is now powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

We believe in the power of coming together. The MREP approach enables cities, corporations and institutions to take an active role in securing renewable electricity supply and take action on climate change. It provides long-term price certainty, enabling customers to mitigate the risk of increased energy costs in a volatile market. It will also be critical to increasing the speed of the transition to a renewable energy supplied grid and play a key role in achieving zero net emission targets.

MREP has been recognised as a game changing procurement model and the project team has actively encouraged replication of the model to others.

Replicating the Model and Next Steps

With support from the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, the team has presented at a range of industry forums and published a guide to renewable energy procurement, drawing on the insights from MREP.

Since the final deal with Crowlands Wind Farm was concluded, a raft of other corporate PPAs have been announced in the Australian market. Large multinationals, universities and other local governments are all recognising the opportunity and stimulating billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy in Australia. The impact of our project is far wider reaching than just securing low cost renewable energy for our Council, it has catalysed sector wide change that is only getting started.

Since the success of MREP, the City of Melbourne is actively facilitating other organisations to follow in our footsteps. While many other very large energy users have signed a PPA since MREP was announced, there is still a need for someone to bring mid- to large-sized organisations together. To build on the success of MREP, the City of Melbourne is now facilitating a second PPA to aggregate those mid-sized energy users that benefit most from this kind of partnership.

Designate Car-Free and Low-Emissions Vehicle Zones

Stockholm’s Experience with Reducing GHG Emissions from Transport

By Anne Bastian, Strategy and Analytics, City of Stockholm Traffic Administration


To improve air quality, reduce congestion, and ultimately reduce GHG emissions from transport, Stockholm uses a mix of regulation and charges.

Gaining Support for Congestion Charges

The idea of congestion charges in Stockholm started out with low public support and carried high political risk, a trend not uncommon in many cities. This shifted in a series of events, with the introduction of congestion charges for a trial period only, which was offered as a political compromise. The charge system was carefully designed, using transport models, as a cordon around Stockholm’s inner city.

From day one, the charges resulted in substantial congestion reductions, even beyond the charge cordon. And after the trial period ended, Stockholm voted yes in a referendum on permanently re-introducing the charges. At that point, the residents of the Stockholm region had already experienced the congestion reduction and had, somewhat, gotten used to the charges. Other factors that also contributed to public support: communicating the environmental benefits of the system rather than funding or efficiency aspects, earmarking the revenues for transport investments in the region, and ensuring that the automated charge system operated smoothly.

The traffic volume reduction achieved by the charges has remained surprisingly stable over time, considering the rapid growth in the region’s population and economy. In 2016, the charge level increased for the first time and a major bypass was included in the system. In response, public support for the charges decreased slightly but remained positive. Today, 12 years after the charges’ permanent introduction, their existence is not questioned. The question is rather how the charge system, and other policies that restrain car traffic, should evolve.

Improving Air Quality via Heavy Vehicle Fleet Renewal

Air quality in Stockholm is now continuously improving, and much of this is due to vehicle fleet renewal. Since 1996, a low-emission zone bans the most polluting heavy vehicles from driving in Stockholm’s inner city. A national framework determines which heavy vehicles to ban, announcing the successively stricter requirements years in advance. This advance notice gives operators time to plan their fleet, which helps to reduce their adaptation costs and facilitate compliance. Compliance is still limited, however, because manual police controls (and soon parking penalties) are the only enforcement mechanisms.

Heavy vehicles today contribute just over half the nitrogen oxide emissions from transport in Stockholm, but comprise less than 10 percent of traffic. The year 2021 will mark an important step for further improving air quality in Stockholm’s inner city: Heavy vehicles will need to comply with the Euro VI emission standard, which reduces nitrogen oxide emissions per kilometer more than 10-fold compared to the current Euro V requirement. Thankfully, the busses operating in Stockholm largely already comply with this coming requirement.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through New-vehicle Choices

Cities also have a powerful role in affecting the demand side of vehicle technology change. Firms and households in the Stockholm region purchase one third of Sweden’s new vehicles, and they often sell the vehicles to other parts of the country within three years. Stockholm’s inner city is also the economic and social center of the region and attracts vehicles from a wide geography: every fourth Swedish vehicle visits the area at least annually, many come only a few times per year. So, regulations in Stockholm have a reach beyond the region itself.

Stockholm also sees how possible regulation for air quality can have negative long-term effect on GHG emissions. This became apparent in 2018, when a public debate regarding a possible ban of diesel cars in central Stockholm – but also other factors and negative international news – contributed to a dramatic drop in the sales of new diesel cars in Sweden, substituted with petrol cars. From a climate perspective, the shift towards new petrol cars is problematic, because petrol engines are less energy efficient than diesel engines. Adding to this, in Sweden, diesel also contains a larger share of biofuel than petrol.

Ultimately, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions the uptake of zero-emission vehicles and reducing urban car use is preferable to both petrol and diesel. Stockholm has not decided on any zero-emission zone yet. The announcement of a zero-emission zone plan – and the specifics involving the how, when, and where – may encourage zero-emission vehicle uptake and charging infrastructure, lower second-hand values of other vehicles, encourage new distribution solutions, and so on. However, the costs for vehicle owners, businesses and visitors can be substantial and need to be weighed against the benefits. Some aspects to consider in limiting these costs would include sufficient pre-notice periods, potential impacts to local streets versus regional traffic flows, integration with other policies, and the alternatives drivers and vehicle buyers will seek under various scenarios.

Differentiated Charges Versus a Ban

One way to substantially lower these downsides is to charge vehicles varying amounts for driving in a zone depending on their emission level, as opposed to introducing a ban. Differentiated charge levels encourage uptake of clean vehicles among regular visitors to the zone, but also among other vehicle buyers via higher anticipated second-hand values for compliant vehicles. Charges discourage trips that are least valuable to travelers, and they provide a pay option to others who want more time to change vehicles or who make infrequent visits that are especially difficult to avoid. Stockholm already has some relevant experience here. During the first years of the congestion charge operation, some alternative fuel cars were exempt from paying the charges. This was intended to stimulate the market introduction of these vehicles and proved effective.

Suggested Next Steps for Cities Contemplating Vehicle Access Regulations

  • Start with defining clear objectives and constraints to guide policy planning, versus starting with ready-made answers
  • Expect public opinion on congestion charges to improve when their positive effects are experienced. This, of course, requires that the system delivers benefits, which requires effective design, implementation and operation
  • Build and maintain public trust. Reduce ambiguity about coming policies. Own the positioning
  • Think global on greenhouse gas emissions. Effect size matters. Shape travelers’, vehicle buyers’ and investor’s expectations
  • Think local on air pollution. Start with heavy vehicle fleet renewal and enforce these regulations. Reduce (through-passing) traffic in core areas, for example with pricing, bypasses, route-restrictions, parking regulations
  • Integrate vehicle access restrictions with other measures. Prioritize space-efficient modes (walk, cycle, transit), efficient goods transport, and space-making in the urban environment. Work towards mixed and compact land-use

To exchange learnings or partner on innovation, Stockholm host study visits, collaborates with peer cities, and looks forward to hearing from more cities. To read more about Stockholm’s congestion charge experience, this FAQ is a good place to start.