New and continued efforts are needed to strengthen and extend the ambition of current national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to close the gap between the current global emissions pathway and a trajectory consistent with a 2°C target. This paper argues that cities have an important role to play in deepening the ambition of global climate targets.

Cities have unique and strong influence over several policy levers – from urban planning to public transportation – that make them critical actors in reducing GHG emissions, avoiding further carbon lock-in, and decreasing the cost of future abatement. The authors find that urban actions could decrease global GHG emissions by 3.7 Gt CO2e in 2030, compared with a reference scenario, and by 8.0 Gt CO2e in 2050. The greatest reductions arise from deep improvements in residential building energy efficiency and from a transition to efficient public transport for personal urban mobility.

Realizing the full potential of these actions would involve bold and swift action by the world’s cities, and would likely need to be aided by new sources of finance and national policy support. At the same time, because few of the actions considered here are explicitly included in current national pledges, pursuit of this abatement could help raise the ambition of those pledges, or help nations deepen new commitments currently under consideration.

Even greater reductions could be possible if cities were to demonstrate low-carbon lifestyles for categories of consumption not covered by this analysis, such as product purchasing and food consumption.

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