Action by city governments is essential for achieving deep reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Previous research has shown that cities – using policy levers already at their disposal – could reduce annual GHG emissions by up to 3.7 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2e in 2030, and up to 8 Gt CO2e in 2050.

Many cities are already engaged in pioneering efforts to achieve these reductions. Greater support from national governments could help realize this potential more fully, quickly, and cost effectively. Maximizing GHG reductions in urban areas will require concerted actions at all levels of government. With greater policy coordination, cities could focus on roles and actions for which they are highly capable and best positioned. We find that under a coordinated approach designed to achieve deep GHG reductions:

  • For about 20% of urban GHG abatement potential, cities should be policy leaders and architects. The greatest opportunities here are in the passenger transport sector, and include improved spatial planning, promotion of walking and bicycling, enhanced transit system development, and more efficient transportation management.
  • For another 40% of urban abatement potential, the ideal role for cities is to be critical implementers of nationally applied policies. Opportunities here are greatest in the residential and commercial buildings sectors.
  • For the remaining 40% of urban abatement, cities can be strategic partners, taking crucial independent actions to enhance the effectiveness of policies enacted at higher levels of government. For these diverse opportunities, cities could enhance national efforts through incentives, education, permitting, and infrastructure development.

A vital role for national governments will be to help coordinate and enable effective action by cities in all of these capacities.

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