To spur a new era of climate action, cities and businesses must team up

by | Nov 2, 2021 | Stories

No city or company can take on the climate crisis alone. Hear from CDP North America’s Katie Walsh, Head of Cities, States and Regions, and Simon Fischweicher, Head of Corporations and Supply Chains on how companies and city governments can collaborate to ensure a resilient, net-zero future that is just and equitable for everyone.

Why is CDP participating in the Climate Leadership Conference this fall?

Katie: The time to act is now. The IPCC warned that the window for avoiding catastrophic temperature rise is rapidly closing. This need for urgent action underscores the importance of collaborative climate action from companies, governments and investors – which CDP continues to further through our Accelerator program, which accelerates equitable climate action through partnerships between cities, communities and companies.
The Climate Leadership Conference is an exciting opportunity to engage with other companies and cities that are striving to be environmental leaders by forming collaborations. We are looking forward to hosting a session during CLC’s December programing, Investing in our Cities: Pursuing Smart, Resilient Infrastructure, focused on public and private sector collaborations to advance equitable sustainability projects.

How is the climate crisis today impacting cities and the businesses based in those cities?

Katie: Cities are facing significant climate hazards that put their citizens, businesses and infrastructure at risk, impacting public health, water security and sanitation. In the United States alone, climate-related disasters lead to US$95 billion in damages in 2020. Billions more are at stake, for example when homes are destroyed by worsening forest fires or businesses shut down by public health crises like COVID-19.

Why should companies participate in city-business collaborations?

Simon: Companies do not operate in a vacuum; they rely on engaging with local communities and government to manage environmental risks. Companies need to invest attention and resources into their local communities in order to ensure that they are resilient in the face of climate change. As they expand, they’ll want to open doors in cities that will support their mitigation goals and ensure that their employees have safe and thriving communities to call home.

An increasing number of companies are setting science-based targets and sustainability goals in order to future proof their business – over 1,300 companies worldwide have committed to science-based targets so far. Collaborating with city governments on sustainability projects helps them meet these goals. If a company is looking to reduce its transport emissions, it can partner with a city that wants to implement an electric vehicle program – which furthers both goals.

For cities, why are city-business collaborations so vital in addressing the climate crisis and ongoing environmental degradation?

Katie: Even though emissions from cities account for 75% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, some cities can only directly control 4% of their emissions. Also, cities continue to face operational barriers – CDP research shows that 25% of cities face budgetary capacity issues.

Working with local businesses can help cities reduce their GHG emissions, protect citizens from the impacts of climate change and make their communities healthier, better places to live and work. CDP data shows that 76% of disclosing cities have reported either interest in or existing collaborations with local businesses and communities around projects such as fleet electrification, building energy efficiency and improvements to water infrastructure. Cities can only ensure action at scale by working collaboratively with businesses and the community.

How can city-business partnerships help drive social equity and empower historically marginalized communities?

Katie: By 2050, cities will account for 70% of the world’s population. They play a crucial role in driving social equity and environmental justice, and by partnering with businesses to take action against climate change – through improvements in public infrastructure, electrification of public transport or other projects – they are protecting and empowering historically marginalized communities that are often most impacted by the effects of climate change.

Simon: As the emphasis on ESG grows, investors and companies are seeking ways to effectively engage with diverse voices to further projects that serve marginalized communities. By understanding what the communities need for their low-carbon future, cities and companies can then ensure that their policies, like impact bonds, and projects, like energy efficiency retrofits, are shaped to achieve an inclusive future.

What are some examples of successful collaborations to date?

Katie: One of the more recent and successful collaborations is the first-of-its-kind Santa Monica Zero Emissions Delivery Zone project. Featured in the 2021 CDP North America Workshop, it is a one-mile area in the City of Santa Monica where last-mile deliveries are made through electric vehicles and zero-emissions technologies like robotics. Last-mile, as the last leg of a trip for people and goods, is generally difficult to decarbonize. Unlike public transportation networks, which can be effectively electrified or improved upon, last-mile transportation ranges from personal vehicles to walking. By pushing for zero emissions in the last mile, Santa Monica is able to reduce emissions out of their control.

Another example of effective collaboration is the Boston Green Ribbon Commission. It brought together business, institutional and civic leaders in Boston to develop shared climate strategies and actions. CDP is helping cities pursue similar models of engagement with businesses through the City Business Climate Alliance.

What is CDP doing to advance city-business collaboration right now?

Katie: CDP is a partner in the City Business Climate Alliance program, which currently supports three cities in North America and eight globally in forging partnerships between cities and businesses. Additionally, our data is also being used to develop a new product, Business Scans, which help cities identify companies to collaborate with.

For the last two years, we have been supporting cities on knowledge and capacity building around financing infrastructure projects. This year, we launched the Catalyze Cohort, which helps participants build knowledge on project conceptualization, project development and financing mechanisms while providing an opportunity to connect with other local governments and companies.
As we expand, we’ll bring together the important players within cities to achieve emissions reductions and enhance resilience.

What are the next steps cities and companies should take to advance these kinds of partnerships within their own organizations?

Simon: Disclosing publicly and at a granular level about key risks, opportunities and projects is a crucial first step in advancing partnerships and can help local governments visualize areas for potential collaboration with businesses in their area. Businesses should also encourage their suppliers, particularly SMEs who may operate in a small number of cities, to engage with their local governments to manage environmental issues.

Katie: The next step is collaboration. By joining forces, businesses and cities can further their environmental goals, protect communities, especially marginalized ones, and drive economic growth. In order to secure a thriving and resilient future that works for people, businesses and the planet, we must embrace transparency and work together.

About Katie Walsh, Head of Cities, States and Regions for CDP North America
Katie oversees CDP’s cities, states and regions engagement in North America. Katie manages and oversaw CDP’s launch of the Matchmaker project, which advances implementation of climate resilient infrastructure projects in global cities. She previously worked in the Chinese Sustainable Cities Program at the Energy Foundation in Beijing, the U.S. Department of Energy Policy and International Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. and the Chinese Flagship Program at San Francisco State University.

About Simon Fischweicher, Head of Corporations and Supply Chains for CDP North America
Simon Fischweicher is the Head of Corporations and Supply Chains for CDP North America. He leads CDP North America’s work to support companies on their journey towards environmental leadership by measuring and understanding their environmental impact in their operations and value chain. This includes overseeing corporate disclosure, accelerating and expanding impact through CDP’s Reporter Services and Supply Chain memberships, and driving action through corporate commitments to science-based targets and 100% renewable energy. Prior to his current role, Simon had managed CDP North America’s Corporate Engagement team since 2016 where he increased disclosure to CDP’s Climate Change, Forests and Water Security questionnaires, including over 75% of the S&P 500.