COP27: 5 ways cities can implement solutions towards their net-zero targets

At the Cities: Possibilities forum, key decision makers shared insights into regulatory frameworks, catalytic partnerships and solutions towards decarbonising cities that require more funding.

Cities Possibilities opening plenary
Panellists at the opening plenary session of Cities:Possibilities discussed how making cities more people-centric can nudge behaviour towards decarbonisation. From left: Meaghan See, partnerships director at Eco-Business; Singapore Land Transport Authority's Lam; Arup's Raveshia; and CapitaLand Investment's Foo. Image: Firdaus Firlany/Eco-Business

By 2050, almost 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, according to United Nations data. However, urban areas are also responsible for over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it crucial for cities to implement actions that will accelerate change.

“We have come a long way in setting up our targets, but unless we address the how and the question of implementation, we are not going to make any progress,” said Vinamra Srivastava, chief sustainability officer of CapitaLand Investment in a keynote address at the Cities: Possibilities forum organised by Eco-Business this month. 

Held in conjunction with COP27, the forum brought together the region’s key decision makers to share their insights on how cities can better implement their net-zero pledges. More than 200 in-person and virtual participants came together over the course of two plenary discussions and roundtable discussions which focused on the topics of mobility, decarbonisation, food and agricultural technology, the built environment and nature-based solutions.

According to views shared by expert panellists, here are five ways cities can implement strategies to achieve their net zero targets:

1. Put people at the heart of cities

When the Indonesian government roped in global planning consultancy Arup to design its new capital city, they realised that brainstorming using only the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) left out a key slice of the city-building pie: identity.

“We can talk about building 10- or 15-minute cities, but how do we make people own these cities? The soft aspect of designing cities beyond technology [involves] thinking about how we take people along the journey, how we attract people to move to a city,” said Chintan Raveshia, head of the Centre for Climate Action in Cities, Southeast Asia at Arup.

Raveshia’s comments about building people-centric cities were echoed by fellow panellists beyond an urban planning perspective. For Singaporean property developer Capitaland, for instance, focusing on building an experience that they want their buildings’ occupants to have guides the design and construction of their properties, said Foo Peng Er, vice president of group sustainability at CapitaLand Investment.

2. Use regulation as a push

Across key sectors and geographies, regulatory frameworks have been crucial in driving action towards decarbonisation, experts said.

“We have noticed that catalytic investments into [decarbonisation in] certain sectors are often preceded by a regulatory push by the government,” said Mike Lim, partner at climate-focused investment firm TRIREC.

In land-scarce Singapore, where even shared footpaths and cycling lanes are constrained by a lack of available space, aggressive policies against car use are aimed at nudging people towards taking public transportation, said Lam Wee Shann, deputy chief executive of Singapore’s Land Transport Authority.

The city state has also taken a government-led approach towards encouraging innovations in alternative protein, becoming the first in the world to approve the production and sale of cell-based meat. This was a “symbolic” move that catalysed private sector implementation, said Jolene Lum, head of client development at sustainable foods platform Nurasa.

Closing Plenary_ Scaling sustainability innovations for cities

The closing plenary discussion at Cities:Possibilities brought together experts to discuss the solutions needed to support different sectors in the journey towards decarbonisation. From left: Jessica Cheam, founder and managing director of Eco-Business, The Nature Conservancy’s Brzostowski, TRIREC’s Lim and Nurasa’s Lum. Image: Firdaus Firlany/Eco-Business

3. Explore partnerships across sectors

Organisations and individuals should not be deterred, however, by a lack of conducive regulations. “Old regulations can be amended following the right conversations with the right government agencies,” said Thomas Brzostowski, Asia Pacific director of strategic development at The Nature Conservancy.

Brzostowski cited the example of his organisation’s reef restoration work in Auckland, New Zealand, which initially required them to apply for the same permits as those who were extracting minerals from the ocean floor just for adding mussels to the seabed. However, these challenges were overcomed by communicating shared goals with government agencies and exploring alternative solutions.

“All stakeholders need to be part of the conversation,” TRIREC’s Lim said, pointing out that regulators must be involved for them to understand how they can assist in lowering the risks of investing in decarbonisation for the private and financial sectors.

Meanwhile, urban and precision farmers could benefit from exploring partnerships with utilities companies, as increasing costs of energy are worrying urban farming companies and investors alike, said Lum. “We need the energy sector to play a part in building a carbon neutral food system,” she said.

4. Tap on blended finance

Funding continues to be a roadblock when it comes to the implementation of more nature-based solutions, which has the outsized potential to contribute towards a third of the world’s emissions reduction targets, said Brzostowski.

“Unfortunately, we are only seeing 10 per cent of climate financing going into nature-based solutions. We need funders to see the importance of it, especially since three-quarters of the world’s megacities are situated along coastlines,” he said.

This is true especially for initial seed capital, which is typically high risk but needed to help demonstrate the use case and potential scale of nature-based solutions, said Brzostowski. “Blended finance can play a role here, where you have philanthropists and companies who are working with public funders to de-risk [investments into nature-based projects],” he said.

A promising example is Earth Security’s Mangrove 40 initiative, Brzostowski added, which focuses on developing an investment platform for mangrove conservation backed by Swiss bank UBS . Financial solutions such as these are needed to address the high cost of accurately calculating blue carbon, which is the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in ocean-based solutions, he said.

5. Integrate carbon prices when making investment decisions

The private sector also has a key role to play when it comes to implementing decarbonisation initiatives across their business activities. Established companies should focus on integrating sustainability thorughout the entire lifecycle of their operations, regardless of what sector they belong to, said keynote speaker Capitaland’s Srivastava.

This starts with making investment decisions that take a carbon pricing mechanism into account, he said. “You will always be playing catch-up if you do not underwrite what sort of capital expenditure needs to go into decarbonising your investment,” said Srivastava.

Companies also need to focus on finding complementary business models pertaining to sustainability that can add another engine of growth to the business, he told participants at the forum.

“If you are able to achieve that matching of capital (with the right use cases), that entire journey of 2030, 2050 [net zero] targets will be on autopilot,” Srivastava said.

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