These Funders Think That Cities Are a Key to Tackling Climate Change

An element of climate change that got a lot of attention during the Paris COP21 talks is the role that cities play in producing and cutting emissions. It’s a ripe field for philanthropy, and three major funders committed $10.5 million for building efficiency during the summit.

There was tough competition for a headline during the past two weeks in Paris, as the city was overrun with world leaders, diplomats, industry, and activists, all trying to steer future climate action. Even a $10.5 million pledge from three major foundations (announced by Robert Redford, no less!) gets a bit overshadowed next to a global agreement, or Bill Gates’ massive energy investment coalition. 

Related: After the Paris Climate Summit, Time for Philanthropy to Step Things Up

But Kresge Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation did, indeed, commit that level of funding to the City Energy Project's work to improve the efficiency of large buildings in a set of select cities.  

The initiative launched in 2014, led by NRDC and the Institute for Market Transformation, and initially funded work in 10 cities to cut energy waste from buildings as a sort of pilot for cities nationwide. The new pledge extends the project, bringing the fund to $20 million and expanding to new cities in 2016.

The announcement is just one philanthropic component of a tremendous amount of overall attention given to cities during the summit, identifying them as world leaders in fighting climate change. Shelley Poticha, director of urban solutions at the NRDC, pointed out the city’s moment in the sun over at the group’s blog:

The sense of urgency among the local implementers of a climate agreement is palpable. In virtually every session I've attended—both in Paris and at nearby Le Bourget—speakers aren't quibbling about whether cities have a role in solving climate change but actively plotting how to best leverage that important role—and fast.

Mayors and cities have received unprecedented attention and visibility in Paris, and for good reason...

Poticha cited developments like the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, co-hosted by Mike Bloomberg and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo parallel to COP21, the City Energy Project announcement, a report released by Bloomberg on the potential of cities, and other promising indicators. National media have also picked up on the heightened attention being paid to cities

That heightened attention is warranted, as two-thirds of the world’s population are expected to live in urban areas by 2015, and cities are currently responsible for 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. The report from Bloomberg points out that national targets often overlook actions taken by individual cities, meaning they are in a unique position to pick up the slack for shortfalls in goals and reductions. 

Related: Kresge’s Refined Approach to Climate Change Seeks City Resilience

Particularly of interest to us, obviously, is the capacity for philanthropy to advance these actions. Many cities are discussing greater partnership with private wealth and prominent foundations, while working to retain public control. That includes making improvements to efficiency, transportation, and overall resilience. Consider Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities program, which goes so far as to fund entire city staff positions. 

Local communities, governments, businesses, and nonprofits are demonstrating that they can come together to make progress in ways that politics have prevented on the national level. If done right, foundations in every major city might empower them to accelerate such progress.