Like Vancouver’s focus on circular economy technologies, cities must leverage their authority and resources to promote disruptive technologies and innovative financing partnerships to combat climate change. On the supply side, cities need to help innovators overcome obstacles—regulatory hurdles, industry economics, entrenched incumbents—to spur innovation at the speed and scale necessary to curtain climate change. For instance, nearly a third of the surveyed cities stated that they are encouraging submission of unsolicited proposals and open pitching sessions from partners to provide ideas to cities. On the demand side, cities may struggle to influence demand through purchasing, but can influence it with innovative financing methods. The survey shows that cities are trying to move away from the traditional government-based borrowing and private sector financing to more focused vendor financing models in the near future to fund smart city projects.
Although the impacts of climate change will be felt globally, they will not be experienced equally. Climate change poses the greatest threat to those who are the most vulnerable, with the fewest resources to counter it. For instance, shifting monsoon patterns would impact the poorest farmers in developing nations the most, while rising sea levels would have the biggest impact on vulnerable populations in coastal towns and cities.31
As cities move forward with plans to combat climate change, they should consider their actions through an environmental justice lens—evaluating not just the environmental impacts of their decisions and programs, but also their likely social, health, and economic outcomes.
Bogota, Colombia, for example, has been trying to create mobility solutions that are both sustainable and inclusive. With a population of 7.8 million and 1.2 million vehicles, the city has been suffering from congestion and related pollution for the past three decades. In 2019, Bogota had some of the worst congestion in the world, with riders spending more than 191 hours stuck in traffic that year.
According to one mobility survey conducted in the city, the majority of residents felt the public transportation was unsatisfactory. Furthermore, the city’s most vulnerable populations faced the most hardship due to low coverage in certain neighborhoods, varying frequency, long wait times, and multiple transfers required to reach a destination.
Bogota focused its energies on addressing these challenges through multiple mobility initiatives. First, it reduced the monetary burden on low-income families by providing more public transport options at cheaper rates. Second, it focused on reducing the time to access public transit—both the time it takes to walk to stations and stops and waiting time—by increasing the frequency of shuttles and launching new routes.
Bogota’s public transport authority also increased its public transit capacity by adding more buses. The city added 596 electric buses to its fleet in early 2021, bringing its total fleet to 1,485—the largest in the world outside of China. This move is expected to allow Bogota to eliminate 83,433 tons of CO2 and 9.63 tons of particle emissions each year.32
Cities will have to play a leading role in combating climate change in the coming decades. However, city governments don’t need to fight this battle alone; in fact, they can’t fight it alone. Climate change is one of the most challenging problems of our times and it will need a broad ecosystem—the private sector, technology firms, academia, citizens—to converge on this wicked problem.
We will see new governance models evolve in cities to tackle climate issues. But, more importantly, cities will have to play the role of a convener in this broader ecosystem—building consensus, improving coordination, and building collaboration. This can reduce the risk of different stakeholder groups working at cross-purposes and ensure that climate actions are focused on the key climate goals of the city.