From promises to progress: these cities are achieving their climate goals
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From promises to progress: these cities are achieving their climate goals

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Author | Jaime Ramos

Goals relating to environmental and climate emergencies have become a transversal priority at a global level. Although the degree of awareness is higher than ever, converting good intentions into actions is proving to be more complicated. At a local level, which cities offer good examples worth following?

Cities can do a great deal to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases(mainly carbon dioxide and methane) into the atmosphere. For example, according to a study by the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, climate strategies at an urban level could reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by between 3% and 7%.


When it comes to discussing strategies to mitigate the dangers of climate change, the step towards real action has led to a new language in terms of meticulously defining policy types. Hence the transition has mutated into terms such as “climate adaptation” or “effect mitigation“. Whatever the case, the ultimate aim is to achieve final decarbonization.

This neutralization of greenhouse gas emissions affects a whole host of urban activity processes: controlling and improving air quality, making better use of resources, the challenge of establishing efficient energy models based on renewable sources, promoting sustainable architecture projects, aiming for zero-emission mobility, involving people at a community level. These are just some of the difficulties that exist, each with their own specific challenges.


When it comes to combating emissions, for years we have been identifying cities and areas that have not managed to reach their goals. In some regions, good intentions simply become empty promises. Now we are going to look at some success stories with cities that are achieving good results and the strategies they are adopting.


The Danish capital has been a global leader for over a decade in terms of reducing emissions. Mobility has always been at the center of its planning. They have been boasting for some time now that their citizens have 6.6 times as many bicycles as cars.

However, apart from this emblematic policy, Copenhagen has quite simply swung into action. In fact, the city has established an ambitious goal of being a carbon neutral city by 2025. The challenge is particularly complex and has encountered obstacles such as the adaptation of the Amager Incineration Plant.

In any event, Copenhagen has established an important precedent by proving that emissions can be tackled without forfeiting economic growth. Accordingly, the city established a plan based on the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda. In 2019, they had already managed to attract over 200 investors to develop 22 business plans in 65 projects related to energy efficiency and clean mobility.


San Francisco’s environmental roadmap has managed to reduce its carbon footprint by 48% between 1990 and 2020. All of this, while its population grew by 21% and its GDP doubled.

A significant part of its strategy has involved the implementation of a stable legal framework, for example, the 2019 regulation requiring all large commercial buildings in the city center to be powered by 100% renewable energy. Therefore, the issue is as simple as implementing emission-free models. Since the potential consequences and imbalances that they may cause at a community level must not be ignored.


In 2017, Yokohama, in Japan, decided to implement the “semantic strategy” of mitigating and adapting to global climate phenomena through a plan focused on adaptation and mitigation.Japan’s history of managing disasters seems to have inspired a plan in a city that reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth between 2013 and 2018.

The Japanese city shares the plan with its neighbor Tokyo, which also shares the same bay, and which aims for 100% of the electric power to come from renewable sources by 2050, in order to achieve carbon neutrality. However, it is not so simple at a more global level. While the national goal for 2030 is to reduce CO2 emissions by 46% with regard to 2013,the decade began with a 2% increase.

Among Yokohama’s star projects today (apart from carbon credit systems), is the Blue Carbon Project, aimed at using the particular nature of coastal and marine ecosystems to reduce emissions; or its green hydrogen strategy. One cannot ignore the huge emphasis placed on this fuel in Japan, from both an institutional point of view and companies within the transportation sector.


Helsinki is another “small” city that truly hopes to be carbon neutral by 2030. According to authorities, the city is accountable for 5% of Finland’s emissions.

Its indicators, unchanged since 1990, indicate a 33% reduction in emissions from that date. Helsinki is making the most of its size, far from being a macro-city, with a transparent strategy, which appears to be realistic.

Climate change is closely related to cold. The mean yearly temperature observed barely exceeds 5 ºC. Therefore, the regional government has focused on implementing geothermal heating systems in buildings and introducing environmental awareness in the construction sector.

The Finish capital’s strong points include its capacity to act at a local scale. Its circular economy plan includes 31 specific initiatives aimed at combining the mixed potential of public and private sectors in areas such as construction, waste management or mobility. This is the case of the program designed to neutralize the carbon footprint from its port‘s busy activity. This is higher than that of the city’s Vantaa airport, in number of passengers and, in particular, in the number of processes and vehicles involved.

As illustrated, these cities have shown that there is not just one way of advancing towards carbon neutrality. Depending on the particular type of city, climate goals may be achievable in the medium term, or they may be so challenging that work and strategies are required to guarantee more long-term results.

Images | Freepik/wirestockFreepik/lifeforstockWikimedia.commons/Otso Kivekäs

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