The climate emergency demands bold policy innovations – can cities deliver? 

While the challenges of climate change and a global health crisis converge in cities, the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic now present an unprecedented moment in modern urban sustainable development. Are cities ready, willing, and able to respond? Can their leaders and citizens embrace the kind of aggressive innovations needed for them to act on the climate emergency?

With the right framing and context, transformative policy measures can deliver climate mitigation and resilience in cities. Achieving this will require a novel approach, one based on careful experimentation and testing on the ground.

“We need to innovate quickly to learn what we do not yet know how to do. We must experiment and test our best ideas, using a rigorous method for getting results in the time we have. This premise led EIT Climate-KIC and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM) to combine their efforts and convene a global taskforce to invent the policy innovations we need cities to test”, explained Thomas Osdoba, Director of Healthy, Clean Cities programme at EIT Climate-KIC. That taskforce met in early June and will be working throughout the next year.

The initiative intends to use real-time testing by cities to shorten the deliberation cycle to develop insights quickly and enable the emergence of more refined or advanced policies. The taskforce includes 19 high-profile experts from a wide range of international climate and sustainable development-focused organisations.

Creating and testing pathbreaking policy measures in the real world

EIT Climate-KIC’s experiences on the ground reveal cities generally have high-level policy goals for long-term decarbonisation of mobility and/or energy systems, usually by 2040 or 2050. These goals, consistent with the Paris Agreement, often lack the specific policy instruments required to achieve these targets.

“Even with continued calls for greater urgency in our efforts to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, little is in place – even among cities which lead on climate action – to achieve outcomes more quickly. The Policy Innovation Taskforce will move beyond reporting on ‘best practices’ in favour of moving towards an agile mode of policy invention and co-creation, systemically rethinking policymaking by cities. The inventions produced by the taskforce need to be tested in the real world and in real-time as quickly as possible,” urged Nikhil Chaudhary, Cities Advisor at EIT Climate-KIC.

The Global Covenant of Mayors and EIT Climate-KIC will draw insights and strategic lessons from this experimentation to inform even better policy ideas. There will be tightly knit feedback loops of recommendations and learning between pilot cities and the taskforce within this process.

The target cities and urban/climate policymakers willing to step up to this challenge are 15 cities EIT Climate-KIC is currently working with across Europe through its Healthy, Clean Cities programme. The 15 cities working with EIT Climate-KIC’s Healthy, Clean Cities programme are the primary target of this policy innovation experimentation. These cities are taking the first step in building a global movement of cities working more urgently to achieve the same impact in this single decade, in keeping with recent calls from the United Nations to move more aggressively to limit global warming to 1.5 C.

Once road-tested and refined within this group of cities, GCoM will lead the process of engaging mayors and city practitioners across their 10,000 signatories and 14 Regional Covenants. GCoM also plans to expand the reach of this initiative through a series of consultations through their innovation-focused programme, Innovate4Cities, and with representatives of 25 national governments affiliated with Mission Innovation.

An array of policy challenges as a starting point to tackle complexity

While the pandemic and climate emergency are daunting challenges for cities, innovative opportunities are opening that previously would have been unthinkable from a policy perspective. Under these circumstances, the initiative has identified a range of crucial policy areas relevant to cities globally, which include:

  1. Mobility systems and land-use integration
  2. Economic systems, climate budgeting and finance
  3. Citizen engagement and social sciences
  4. Climate governance, resilience and wellbeing
  5. Energy systems and buildings
  6. Biodiversity, water and natural ecosystems
  7. Public health and crisis management

The seven areas listed above create a starting point and will continue to evolve as recommendations are developed and new challenges are uncovered. Moreover, the initiative will explore the interdependencies and interlinkages of policy issues, in service of advancing systems innovation in policymaking.

Emerging conversations from the kick-off gathering

The virtual meeting gathered multiple perspectives for considering the needed policy innovations. How to classify the overlapping policy areas and consider them holistically was one of the major focal points. One key takeaway was to strike the right balance between deep-dive ‘technical’ domains and embedding cross-cutting issues like resilience, governance, finance, citizen engagement and equity.

“The problem in my view is that climate action is often considered in isolation. Climate action is contingent on industrial policy, it is contingent on how we build homes and plan our communities and so on, so we must think about it holistically.” – Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales

“We need to think about the ‘how’ – how do we approach change. There will be a need for an alignment of leadership and vision in all domains that are affected: governments, citizens, companies, NGOs. All these actors will need to be included structurally in a governance model, one that is driven by a common ambition. This could avoid exclusion and provide a broad platform for change and space for interaction and shared opinions.” – Mohamed Ridouani, Mayor of the City of Leuven

Several members also stressed the need for urgency in framing innovative policy responses in a post-COVID-19 world. The speed and uncertainty of the current times have brought an additional emphasis on themes, such as systemic risks and resilience, climate-related co-benefits of economic recovery, demand for new governance models, and decision-making.

In the coming months, the taskforce’s work shall proceed through smaller sub-committees and will zero in on developing solutions for specific policy challenges. Moving ahead, the premise is that the first set of policy recommendations may not be perfect for all cities. But the act of experimentation, co-design and collective learning will lead everyone to better inform the next generation of policies. Watch this space.

 

List of members and organisations participating in the Taskforce

Kevin Austin, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
Ani Dasgupta, World Resources Institute/Coalition on Urban Transitions
Adam Freed, Bloomberg Associates
Steve Hammer, World Bank Group
Sophie Howe, Government of Wales
Laura Humphrey, Engie
Indy Johar, Dark Matter Labs
Anna Krzyzanowska, European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation
Simone Landolina, International Energy Agency
Graeme Maidment, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (UK)
Rushad Nanavatty, Rocky Mountain Institute
Cathy Oke, City of Melbourne Johanna Partin, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance
Aromar Revi, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Indian Institute of Human Settlements
Mohamed Ridouani, City of Leuven
Mauricio Rodas, City of Quito
Seth Schultz, Urban Breakthroughs
Meggan Spires, ICLEI Africa
Josue Tanaka, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

 

You can contact the team at cities@climate-kic.org.

 
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