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Going Green: How cities are leading the next economy- an LSE Cities report

LSE Cities has released its Going Green report, a survey which was conducted in the run-up to the Rio+20 Conference. The report aims to provide an overview of the experiences of cities around the world in the transition to the green economy. Covering key aspects of the green economy, smart city technology, green policy assessment and urban governance, the report analyses a diverse set of 53 cities from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

“Our new report, co-published with ICLEI, just launched at Rio+20 – it shows that despite the global recession, 95% of cities believe green policies will benefit the economy”

The report’s findings are presented across 9 key areas in 3 sections:

Going Green

1. City Challenges
Environmental problems are deeply intertwined with many of the most critical challenges cities face today.  Road congestion, urban sprawl and lack of affordable housing are among the most important challenges facing cities today. The majority of cities also identify air pollution, severe storms and flooding and solid waste management as key environmental challenges. Cities in middle- and low-income countries face a wider set of challenges, including water shortages, sewage treatment, over-crowding, informal land development, lack of infrastructure and insufficient public services.
2. Green aspiration and triggers
All cities in the survey aspire to be green, and green policies have become increasingly important since the Rio Summit in 1992. In the majority of cities, green objectives have been introduced since the Rio Summit. A small group of leading cities have a longer history of prioritising green objectives, dating back 40 years or more. Public opinion, a change in local political leadership and pressure from stakeholders have been the most important triggers for going green. In middle- and low-income countries, public opinion and pressure from national governments/international organisations have been particularly important.
3. Progress to date
Substantial progress has been made in achieving green objectives related to recycling, green space and water pollution. Resource efficiency, energy security and air pollution are more challenging. Cities in high-income countries report more success in achieving green outcomes, and tend to make greater use of environmental indicators to measure progress. For example, greenhouse gas emissions are measured by all 11 European cities, 12 out of 14 North American cities, but only nine of the 18 Asian cities in the survey. Cities that define themselves as ‘green’ report more success than others in addressing energy security. City governments highlight a range of tools for delivering green policy, including planning, raising public awareness, regulation and public funding. Taxation is regarded as an important tool by most Asian cities.

Building the Green Economy

4. Green Economic Objectives
Overall, 95% of city governments expect their green policies to have a positive economic impact. But only 20% have a co-ordinated strategy for ‘green growth’. The three top aspirations of cities are economic development, transport improvements and responding to climate change. For most cities, green economic development is a key part of their overall political agenda, with 65% of cities describing economic growth as a primary goal of their green policies. The majority of cities expect economic impacts from green policies to include growth, job creation, inward investment, innovation, entrepreneurship and attracting skilled workers. However, only 20% of cities are aware of any economic impact assessment of their green policies.
5. Opportunities and Barriers
Urban transport, buildings and energy are key sectors for green economic growth, while the main barriers are lack of public funding and insufficient support from national government. In the building sector, cities see growth potential from both new green buildings and retrofitting existing buildings. In the energy sector, renewable energy production and distribution networks have potential. Asian cities also see potential in green finance. Cities in middle- and low-income countries face a wider range of barriers, including lack of support from the general public and other levels of government. Lack of local skills and barriers to accessing international bilateral and multilateral funds are also frequently identified by these cities. Lack of private investment is a particular concern in Europe.
6. Technology
Overall, 75% of cities are willing to invest in new green technology to spur change, but two thirds of these cities are constrained by budgets. New technologies are used or planned for use in the green transport, energy generation and distribution, green buildings, water and waste management sectors. In the transport sector, well-used new technologies include low-emission vehicles, integrated multimodal transport systems, intelligent traffic management and electric vehicles. Building and energy technologies are also well used, but information and communications technologies (ICT) are generally regarded as ‘enabling tools’ rather than core components of cities’ green agendas. The majority of Asian cities regard smart waste management systems as important.

Governance and the Green Economy

7. Strategy and Stakeholders
Overall, 95% of cities have a green strategy, but less than 10% of these are legally binding.Strategic plans are most commonly formulated through a strategic city development plan or through sector-specific action plans. However, 7 cities (15%) simply have ‘a general commitment to sustainability’. The majority of cities also identify the general public, non-government organisations (NGOs) and business or industry associations as important stakeholders. Cities in middle- and low-income countries place a greater importance on a wider range of stakeholders, notably international agencies, national government agencies, state or regional government as well as universities and other research institutions.
8. Government co-ordination
According to 60% of cities, national policy frameworks fall short of supporting the city’s green agenda – particularly in North America and Europe. In 55% of cases, the municipal department of economics is rarely involved in green strategy development. Policy frameworks are most supportive of the city’s green agenda at state level, less supportive at national level and least supportive at supranational level. Energy generation and energy efficiency are the policy areas most often supported by higher level policy frameworks, as well as a range of climate change, transport and air pollution policies. However, many other cities report that national and state governments undermine the city’s green transport and energy objectives. Most municipal governments involve departments of environment, planning and transport in developing their overall green strategy. In contrast, departments of finance, economic development and technology are rarely involved.
9. Skills and capacity
While city governments have many of the capabilities for delivering the green economy, skills in innovation-based economic development are lacking – particularly for smaller cities and for cities in middle- and low-income countries. Over 70% of cities view their capabilities as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ in urban planning or policy and legislation drafting. In contrast, more than half of cities regard their capabilities in innovation-based economic development as either ‘very limited’ or ‘moderate’. Monitoring and enforcement of policies is also an area where capabilities could be strengthened.

Find the full report here.