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Common purpose on net zero cities, but delivery the real test

There is a positive sense of urgency and shared goals on sustainability now but the delivery phase will be the hardest, delegates heard at Real Asset Media’s Investing in Cities with Purpose – Creating Net Zero Urban Centres briefing, which was held online on REALX.Global yesterday.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council

“There is encouraging progress but still a way to go,” said Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive, UK Green Building Council. “In the UK there’s a real race between cities to decarbonise earlier and earlier. It is great to see such a level of ambition: three quarters of the population now live in cities that have net zero targets, compared to 25% on a global basis.”

London has a 2050 net zero target, while Bristol has set itself a more challenging goal of achieving that objective by 2038.

“In the US, in the absence of direction from the government, individual cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco have taken leadership and set out ambitious transition plans,” said Abigail Dean, global head of strategic insights, Nuveen.

Across the world there are 100 cities within sight of the goal of halving emissions by 2030, but there are many more who should take urgent and aggressive climate action.

Cities are critical to achieving global and national goals

“Targets are set at a global or national level, but delivery happens at a local level, so cities are critical in order to reach them,” said Jenny Laing, leader, Aberdeen City Council. “They must have a net zero vision and a clear plan.”

In Aberdeen the momentum came from the need to move away from the local economy’s decades-long dependency on oil and gas, she said: “We’ve invested heavily in hydrogen technology and also in turbines to harness the wind we’re lucky to have on the coast and turn it into energy.”

Net zero cannot be achieved in isolation: only partnerships can turn the dial. The top seven cities in Scotland, for example, have formed the Scottish Cities Alliance to cooperate and make gains as quickly as possible. They have all signed up to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.

“Local government has a crucial role to play but it’s only one aspect,” said John Alexander, leader, Dundee City Council. “We can influence the agenda, but our capacity to deliver is limited. That’s why collaboration is key. We have the ambitions, the targets and the time frames but we must make a clear business case to investors.”

In order to have delivery on the ground, local authorities must have clear goals and set out plans so that investors can see what the opportunities are.

“We need shovel-ready projects to encourage inward investment,” said Laing.

A collaborative approach is essential if projects are to be realised and targets met, experts agreed.

“Progress requires a broad coalition of stakeholders, from government and local authorities to businesses, civil society and unions,” said Hirigoyen. “We need to do everything differently.”