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How 11 cities are leading the climate change fight

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From transit to radical green energy projects, new, sustainable solutions for our urban centers

Sydney, Australia
A cyclist on Southbank in Melbourne, Australia. An innovative Australian program offers support for businesses to improve their day-to-day energy and sustainability performance. 
Associated Press

The last year has seen big discussions on the ability of climate treaties and energy policy to shape and save our environment. But, in many ways, the changes that are helping to bring about greener government policy are happening on the city level, where local transportation issues, energy usage, and sustainability challenges are putting mayors and city councils on the front lines.

At last week’s C40 meeting, where members of a network of nearly 70 global cities representing half-billion people gathered to discuss climate change strategy, organizers presented awards to 11 cities pushing unique and innovative solutions.

At a time when federal governments, particularly many members of the incoming Trump administration, have challenged climate change science and won’t be pursuing more aggressive environmental policy, innovation on the city level remains an even more important means of reducing carbon emissions. Here are 11 projects showcasing cities committed to leading the charge.

Addis Ababa light Rail Transit
The Addis Ababa Light Rail Transit (LRT), the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, is changing the face of public transport in a city where almost 60% of the population walks to their destination.
Mulugeta Ayene/Associated Press

Transportation: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Built in just three years to navigate the city’s crowded streets, this new light rail transit project, the first in sub-Saharan Africa, has created more than 6,000 jobs and will cut 1.8 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030. Designed to be affordable in a city where most people walk to work, the system has become an engine for economic mobility.

Cloudburst Management Plan in Copenhagen
When torrential rain hits Copenhagen the integrated system of green streets and pocket parks will function as retention areas and water basins. Thanks to a new system, the squares, such as this one in Tasinge Plads, will be able to collect water locally and direct it to the harbor.
Jens Dige/Associated press

Adaption in Action: Copenhagen, Denmark

Sea level rise presents a constant threat in a country created by claiming land from the sea. To help prevent the kind of flash flooding that can be dangerous for such a low-lying metropolis, Copenhagen rolled out a Cloudburst Management Plan, a series of green streets and pocket parks that function as basins to catch and absorb excess rainwater.

Curitiba’s Urban Agriculture Program
Since 1986 Curitiba’s Urban Agriculture Program has used empty public spaces to encourage communities to grow their own food. This woman is holding produce grown at a community garden underneath power lines in Rio Bonito.
Rodolfo Buhrer/Associated Press

Sustainable Communities: Curitiba, Brazil

This progressive Brazilian city decided to literally go green with a wide-reaching, creative urban agriculture program that cuts carbon emissions, among many other benefits. Local urban farms, encouraged to plant in open spaces across the city, have helped revitalize the soil, cut down on food waste, and mitigate the “heat island” effect that warms many urban areas.

Kolkata waste program
A worker at the compost machine in the KMDA Solid Waste Management Project. Kolkata aims to minimize waste generated by segregating recyclable wastes, composting organic waste, burying inert waste and treating septic sludge.
Subrata Biswas/Associated Press

Solid Waste: Kolkata, India

In this rapidly expanding city in West Bengal, waste disposal, or the lack thereof, has massive sanitary and environmental consequences. A high-tech overhaul and the creation of a new, modern refuse center has helped curtail unsanitary practices and cut down on open dumping and massive piles of trash that produce methane gas. The program, which benefits more than a million residents, can produce more that 25 tons of compost a day, which generates around $1000.

CitySwitch Green Office
The CitySwitch Green Office program has fostered collaboration among a growing network of business leaders across Australia who are committed to environmental excellence.
Associated Press

Building Energy Efficiency: Melbourne and Sydney, Australia

To help commercial tenants and Australian businesses cut their emissions and energy use, the government established CitySwitch Green Office, a successful education and awareness program that has helped hundreds of buildings go green with workshops and seminars that help encourage more energy-efficient retrofits. So far, the program boasts a $10.4 million annual benefit to the bottom lines of participating businesses.

Paris Adaptation Strategy
An urban farm atop Henri Matisse College in Paris. The Paris Adaptation Strategy is preparing the city for the challenges posed by climate change and future resource scarcity. The program contains 30 objectives and 35 actions ranging from extending the heatwave response plan to increasing green infrastructure and urban agriculture.
Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Adaption Plans and Assessments: Paris, France

The City of Light has proven itself to be forward thinking with the unveiling of a detailed Paris Adaption Strategy, a roadmap for increasing water supplies, adapting to weather changes, strengthening food supplies, and encouraging urban agriculture. The city-wide program offers a framework for getting ahead of climate change before it starts impacting Parisian streets, with plans in the works to add 20,000 trees, one million square meters of new green roof, and a pair of open-air pools.

Portland Climate Action Plan
Sharrows, bike lane markings with double arrows, connect low-traffic neighborhood streets. The Portland Climate Action Plan integrates climate preparedness and carbon reduction, and aims to reduce Portland's emissions to 26% below 1990 levels by 2020, while continuing to accommodate growth in population and jobs.
Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press

Climate Action Plans and Inventories: Portland, Oregon

A Pacific northwest poster child for progressive politics, Portland has a history of aggressive environmental policies. The city’s 2015 Climate Action Plan lays out an achievable roadmap for cutting emissions by reducing energy usage in existing buildings and doubling down on alternative forms of transportation; the number of citizens traveling primarily by public transport, cycling, or walking is expected to hit 50 percent by 2020.

Seoul’s Energy Welfare Program
Seoul’s Energy Welfare Program tackles energy poverty exacerbated by climate change and promote energy saving and sharing culture between businesses, civic groups and citizens.
Lee Jae-Won/Associated Press

Social Equity & Climate Change; Seoul, South Korea

The energy retrofits and green building technologies pushed by sustainability experts can provide significant benefits to low-income families, but the down payment to install can put them out of reach for many. The South Korean capital has financed an innovative program to fund green energy investments, helping thousands of families. The city has even set up a “virtual power plant,” which sells the energy saved by 17 municipal buildings and uses that money to fund additional energy welfare programs.

Shenzen carbon trading program
A control room for the city’s electric bus system. Shenzhen was the first Chinese pilot city to launch an emissions trading scheme allowing companies to trade carbon emissions.
Brent NG/Associated Press

Finance and Economic Development: Shenzhen, China

One of the world’s fastest-growing cities has shown that cutting emissions and supporting economic growth don’t need to be contradictory goals. The city’s Emissions Trading System has helped cut pollution via a cap-and-trade system without hampering GDP growth. The 636 businesses involved in the scheme have cut carbon emissions by 5.31 million tons while increasing their impact on the city’s GDP by 56%.

Yokohama Smart City Project
Solar panels on the roof of the Hokubu Sludge Treatment Plant. The Yokohama Smart City Project applies smart grids for the energy management of households, buildings and local communities.
Tomohiro Ohsuni/Associated Press

Clean Energy: Yokohama, Japan

Aggressive investment in renewable sources such as wind and solar have helped this city begin to meet its aggressive climate action plan, which targets an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Corporate partners such as Nissan, Panasonic and Tokyo Gas have helped introduce solar panels and building energy management systems across the city, helping reduce household energy consumption by 15 percent and building consumption by up to 22 percent.