Low-Carbon Cities Program as part of Sustainable Smart Cities

Maryke van Staden,
Low-carbon Cities Program Manager,
ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), World Secretariat
Email: maryke.van.staden@iclei.org


With half the global population living in cities today a growing trend sustainable development at the local level is essential to offer continued quality of life to inhabitants, business and industry alike. Local governments are key players in leading and driving community development, in shaping sustainable smart cities. Urban low-carbon development, from planning to implementation and monitoring, is part of this process. ICLEI offers eight City Agendas as different entry points for local governments all leading communities towards sustainable development. These Agendas include: biodiversity, green urban economy, resource efficiency, smart urban infrastructure, resilience, low-carbon, healthy and happy community. Addressing the combination these can be viewed as “smart”, exploring sustainable smart cities.

Urban low-carbon development from strategy to action

An Urban Low Emission Development Strategy (Urban LEDS) defines a pathway to transition a city to a low-emission, green and inclusive urban economy, through its integration into city development plans and processes.

The Urban-LEDS project1 funded by the European Commission (EC), and jointly implemented by UN- Habitat and ICLEI, supports local governments in emerging economy countries (Brazil, India, Indonesia and South Africa) to address these issues from a climate change mitigation and sustainable development perspective. The overall objective is to integrate low-carbon strategies into all sectors of urban planning and development, by defining and approving an Urban-LEDS.

In this project ICLEI’s Green Climate Cities (GCC) program is used as a comprehensive climate change support program for Local Governments. It offers a comprehensive process and 3-phase methodology for all types and sizes of cities in the Global North and South, centralizing technical support for delivering effective Local Climate Action both for start-up and advanced levels. The GCC explicitly addresses urban Low Emission Development, making the program also highly relevant to fast-growing cities around the globe.

In the Urban-LEDS project 8 cities are guided, developing into Model Cities, with more than 20 Satellite Cities observing, learning and sharing their own developments regarding strategy elaboration ,priority setting, action planning, as well as implementation and monitoring processes. Eight experienced cities form Eurpe are sharing their know-how – making this a valueable peer exchnage,networking and capacity development project, in additon to an implementation project.

Role of local gogvernment

The role of local government is central in this whole process. Engaging as an important level of government that is closest to citizens, it is in a position to inform, guide and lead local inhabitants, businesses and industries in the low-carbon development process. The local government is also an accountable level of governance that outlines and implements policy, deals with urban planning, is a focus for community identity, provides services to meet community needs, facilitates and coordinates local efforts and resources in pursuit of common community goals.

All these areas of action can very effectively be used when addressing low-carbon development, especially when considering that climate change policy is a cross cutting issue that involves all the sectors in economy; energy, waste, water and sanitation, housing, transportation, urban planning and land use, as well as procurement. Increasingly local and other levels of governments are exploring this in a more coordinated, coherent and strategic manner.

“Smart” in this context implies a concerted effort to address: (i) energy savings (reducing energy “waste” by raising awareness and changing behaviour); (ii) improving energy efficiency (e.g. by using efficient technologies and strategies, such as optimizing building design, applying sustainable materials and technologies), and (iii) stimulating renewable energy use, ideally from local resources that can generate a local income and stimulate the green urban economy.

Global advocacy process for and with cities

This is also the vision pursued within the Local Government Climate Roadmap, an advocacy process aimed at recognizing, engaging and empowering local governments within the global climate regime. Climate change is one of the major issues of grave global concern. It is not only an environmental challenge, but also a security socio-economic and political challenge. The local impact of a changing climate, and the impact of communities on climate change clearly make this a local government and community relevant issue. The Roadmap aims to raise the global level of ambition when addressing climate change, through local climate action.

The 2nd phase of the Local Government Climate Roadmap was launched at the World Mayors Summit of Climate Change in Nantes in September 20132. The Declaration, among others, urges national governments to ensure synergies with other multilateral processes including the Sustainable Development Goals, high level political fora, the UN Environment Assembly, the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction Phase-2-2015, HABITATIII 2016, and the Nagoya 10-Year Plan of Action for Biodiversity.

This call is central to help realize smart, sustainable cities in the near future.

Analyze, Act, Accelerate – a process

ICLEI’s GreenClimateCities methodology covers all aspects of policy planning, implementation and monitoring of local climate and energy action managed by the local government. The three key phases of the methodology are: analyze, act and accelerate. These outline the overall approach, and in turn each phase is sub-divided into three steps. It represents a logical process when planning and implementing local climate action as dealt with by the local government. The methodology follows a clear process, though not a linear process with different steps overlapping and repeated over time until climate neutrality is achieved.

The first phase, analyze, aims to understand the current status and create an initial political and public commitment to kick-start the process, followed by formation of institutional structures to ensure effective decision-making. By analyzing sectors and potential stakeholder groups, and exploring their involvement in the process, this is a crucial phase. Not only would the involvement of relevant stakeholders help to drive acceptance, but the different sectors are all highly relevant to low carbon development across the whole community. In this context HEAT+3, a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions quantification and monitoring software, is used by the local governments. The GHG inventory is helpful in identifying priority areas of action, with a key step identifying LED strategic priorities concluding the analyze phase and creating a solid basis for action.

The second phase, act, aims to use the analyzed data and build a plan based on the commitments for emissions reduction, job creation, improved air quality, etc... A Low Emission Development strategy and action plan is prepared by the local government, using expert guidance. The Solutions Gateway – an online entry point under development for the local governments can also help to identify appropriate low emission strategies. Generic solutions are recommended (though to be unfolded in a specific context), covering a wide range of disciplines and sectors, addressing options for:

  • Policy,
  • Regulations,
  • Organization,
  • Financing,
  • Technical Solutions,
  • Capacity Building,
  • Awareness-Raising, And
  • Stakeholder Engagement

In the light of the identified solutions, a detailed project and/or business plan is then prepared together with identification of possible financing opportunities.

The third and the last phase of the Green Climate Cities methodology is to accelerate. Monitoring the implemented actions and reporting these actions to the carbonn Cities Climate Registry (cCCR)4 as the international reporting platform ensures the measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV) structure of the implemented actions under the developed low emission development strategy plans. Continuous reviewing and enhancement of the urban low emission development strategies will keep the process up-to-date and ensure the long lasting benefits of the strategies that were put into action.


Following years of intensive advocacy efforts, led by ICLEI as focal point of the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMAO) Constituency at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), local governments are now recognized as “governmental stakeholders” in the global climate regime.

Their planning, implementation and reporting of low emission development will not only support national plans but also effectively contribute to global climate change mitigation and to local sustainable development. The diversity of local action has the potential to achieve substantial CO2 equivalent reductions, encourage behavior change and shape a sustainable future.

ICLEI and its partners offer guidance and support to local governments, from global protocols to greenhouse gas emission inventories and action planning. However, it is up to the local governments, local leaders and the community to engage and shape their communities development into smart sustainable cities. The technical know-how and support is available. The will to engage is yours...

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