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Sensing opportunity, cities seek business backing for climate change efforts

How can the private sector help cities tackle climate change with renewable energy and other projects?

Cities around the world, including in developing nations, are increasingly grasping the economic opportunities generated by the need to tackle climate change and are pursuing concrete partnerships with business, a climate research group said.

In a report based on environmental data disclosed by 533 cities this year, London-based CDP said 277 of those cities had identified 720 climate change-related projects they hoped to work on with the private sector, worth a combined $26 billion.

They include South Africa’s Cape Town, which plans to expand a scheme for companies to buy wind-generated power via green energy certificates; and Quito in Ecuador, which is seeking $800 million to deliver a project to treat waste water using gravity rather than electric pumps, as well as producing hydropower.

Kolkata in India wants business backing for renewable energy projects including solar-powered heating and street lighting.

“Cities have a clear appetite for collaborating with the private sector on climate change, and they see it as an economic opportunity,” said Maia Kutner, head of cities at CDP.

Of the cities that reported on their climate change action to CDP, 299 said they were looking to grow new industries, such as clean tech.

Moving from sharing knowledge and ideas, many cities are looking to launch more tangible projects with the private sector and secure financial investment, she added.

Cities have a clear appetite for collaborating with the private sector on climate change, and they see it as an economic opportunity.

Maia Kutner, head of cities, CDP

The most popular areas for potential collaboration are in energy efficiency, retrofitting buildings, renewable energy and transport, the report said.

“What we’ll see is a shift towards more hands-on work on emissions reductions and joint work on financing for these projects - because as we know, that is a big challenge,” Kutner told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Need for finance

The investment needed in cities for low-carbon transport, energy, water, waste and telecommunications infrastructure is estimated at $57 trillion between now and 2030, the CDP report said.

Interest is rising in “blended” models of finance, in which public-sector institutions such as development banks can reduce investment risk for businesses, Kutner said.

“Cities and businesses working together are more likely to be able to attract private-sector finance, because right now (it) just isn’t flowing into cities enough,” she added.

Another reason for working together more closely is that even though the world’s cities are responsible for some three-quarters of global climate-changing emissions, municipal operations produce just 3 per cent of total citywide emissions.

The rest comes from sources city authorities do not control or own directly, such as buildings and private transport.

“San Francisco would not have been able to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions without working collaboratively with numerous environmental partners including our business community,” said the city’s mayor Ed Lee.

Cities that work with the private sector are more likely to have an emissions reduction target, the report said. Of the 190 cities with a target, three-quarters partner with business.

Conversely, the low proportion of cities in Africa and Latin America with an emissions-cutting goal could deter businesses from getting involved in municipal projects, the report said.

“In African and Latin American cities, they are less advanced in, for example, setting emissions reductions targets or reporting on their plans or providing comprehensive disclosures,” said Kutner.

“So there is some work that needs to be done.”

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

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