The Ten Best Ways Cities Are Combating Climate Change

Ten big metropolitan ideas that are saving the planet.

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Sep 5 2013, 5:00pm

In a city like New York, where convenience is king, it can be challenging to get individuals to take the initiative to addressing climate change—that is, until extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy rip their lives apart. Thankfully, New York, and many other large cities have begun to combat global warming on a massive scale.

To celebrate such efforts, the first City Climate Leadership Awards ceremony was held in London last night. The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group awarded ten cities for making the biggest and most innovative efforts to undertake green infrastructure projects and to fight the effects of climate change. Here are the winners from last night—and how 10 cities are fighting climate change in ten different ways.

Bogota
Urban Transportation

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From 2000, Transmilenio, the bus system of the Colombian capital carries 70 percent of the population through the city each day, resulting in an emissions reduction of 350,000 tons per year. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The system also aims to get rid of diesel and completely convert to hybrid and electric buses by 2024. Now an all-electric taxi fleet is cruising around the city, and in the next decade it hopes to replace 50 percent of Bogota's existing taxis.

Copenhagen
Carbon Measurement & Planning

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Copenhagen has set out to become the first carbon neutral capital city by 2025. Since 2008, the Danish capital has already seen 40 percent carbon emission reductions, and in 2013 has spent $100 million on climate change initiatives. The Lord Mayor Frank Jensen explained, "In the future, Copenhageners will cycle even more, and we will invest in hybrid buses for public transport. Buildings in Copenhagen will be energy-renovated, and new buildings will be energy efficient."

Melbourne
Energy Efficient Built Environment

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Melbourne is awarding "property-tax-based financing to improve the energy and water efficiency" to applicable buildings. The first wave of plans to retrofit 1,200 buildings establishes an estimate of about $500 million in national economic stimulation.

Mexico City
Air Quality

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In these large-scale projects to save cities from themselves, some huge transformation stories are in progress. Mexico City, which used to be ranked "the most polluted city on the planet," took the award for air quality. Through its 'ProAire' program, it's paving bike lanes and setting up solar farms. It's reducing emissions from area power plants and holding industrial businesses accountable by implementing best practices.

Munich
Green Energy

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The Bavarian capital is obsessed with wind farms. And while I like to muse that it must have something to do with a long German tradition of building windmills, I'm pretty sure in this case it's the desire for energy independence that drives such projects. By 2025, when Copenhagen will go carbon neutral, Munich plans on becoming entirely dependent on renewable energy. This means producing at least 7.5 billion kilowatt hours per year. Glück.

New York City
Adaptation & Resilience

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This city I live in, New York has won an award for a bit of sloganeering that goes a little something like this: “A stronger, more resilient New York.”

Hurricane Sandy spurred Bloomberg to start publicly discussing and tackling climate change. Since then, $10 billion has been raised and 60 of 250 initiatives expect to be achieved by the end of 2013.

It should also be noted that Bloomberg himself is a chairman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, making the inclusion of New York both unsurprising and a little dubious.

Rio de Janeiro
Sustainable Communities

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Rio de Janiero has the ambition to formalize all of its favelas by the year 2020. The city's population that lives in these informal settlements is more than 200,000 (over 20 percent), and will be greatly impacted by sustainable projects to improve their houses and to at least include them on maps.

San Francisco
Waste Management

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In 2002, San Francisco started its Zero Waste program, hoping to get to a garbage-less future by the year 2020. So far, fog city has accomplished an insane 80 percent landfill diversion rate. To put that in perspective, this is a category New York sucks in. Under Bloomberg, NYC has created more landfill capacity, and has gone from 35.1 percent in 2002 to 16.6 percent recycling rates in 2012. Go figure. Meanwhile, San Francisco has has collected 300 tons of food scraps per day, and uses 100 million fewer plastic bags per year. Will SF be waste free by 2020? Looks like there's hope.

Singapore
Intelligent City Infrastructure

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Bogota already won the award for transportation, but Singapore is receiving its recognition for similar categories. It scooped the 'Intelligent City Infrastructure' award, but hey, maybe the city just wants to be efficient. With technologies like its Electronic Road Pricing Systems, through which "real time traffic information [is] delivered through GPS-enabled taxis," Singapore has achieved one of the lowest congestion rates for a city of its size. Also, its transit system (bus and rail) is one of the most integrated and state-of-the-art systems in the world.

Tokyo
Finance & Economic Development

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Tokyo has a strong cap and trade program, wherein companies must buy credits for their carbon pollution, and has won the weirdly capitalistic-sounding 'Finance & Economic Development' award. Started in 2010, the program requires that large industrial and commercial buildings cut their emissions. Initially, over 1,100 facilities reduced emissions by 13 percent. And in the following year, and additional 10 percent in reductions were achieved. In total, Tokyo has seen reductions of 7 million tons in carbon emissions.