Kyra Appleby, global director for cities, states and regions for CDP, explains how the latest revisions to the CDP-ICLEI Track questionnaire can aid cities in disclosing urban climate action progress information that can be applied to other reporting frameworks, and how cities can begin their journey to climate action through initial disclosure – regardless of existing progress.
SmartCitiesWorld: What role does reporting play in pushing urban climate action forward?
Kyra Appleby: CDP sees reporting as absolutely critical. As an environmental reporting platform, we’ve been collecting information for over 20 years. Specifically on the city side, we’re now into our 12th year of disclosure. We see disclosure as a critical step that cities need to take in their climate action. We’ve made changes to this year’s questionnaire for disclosure that increase emphasis on tracking and accountability for the most critical actions that cities need to take.
SCW: What changes did CDP decide to make to this year’s CDP-ICLEI Track questionnaire for cities to refocus on accountability and tracking climate action? What difference do you anticipate the changes will make on cities’ reporting?
KA: We think the changes will make a big difference. We have a process through which we update the questionnaire every year in consultation with our partners in the cities. This year’s questionnaire is the result of two years of consultation, where we decided to completely redevelop it based on the most critical elements that cities will need to take climate action.
We firstly focused on the assessment phase and cities’ inventory. That means finding out whether cities have done a risk and vulnerability assessment, what their targets are, whether those targets are in line with 1.5 degrees. Perhaps more importantly, it’s discovering whether those targets are science-based targets, and whether cities have a plan to implement changes to reach them – both on the mitigation side and on the adaptation side.
Cities that have conducted climate risk and vulnerability assessments take 5.7 times more climate action than cities that haven’t
We know some of that information now from the research that we’ve done and from the data that we’ve collected. That has shown us how critical it is for cities to take those steps; cities that have conducted climate risk and vulnerability assessments take 5.7 times more climate action than cities that haven’t. We can also see that cities that are able to identify the co-benefits of the actions they’re planning will take 2.5 times more action than cities that haven’t identified them.
Over the years, we’ve learned what the most important steps for cities to take are, which means they can now use the questionnaire as a framework to design their urban climate action. Importantly, cities have a dual role to play; they need to respond to the increasing effects of climate change, which is highlighted to such a significant degree in the IPCC report, but also protect their citizens against its impact. Our research shows 93 per cent of cities saying that they are at risk from climate change. We needed to make sure that the questionnaire takes into account both of the roles that a city plays.
SCW: Do you think cities that haven’t carried out the necessary assessments are under pressure at this stage of the climate crisis?
KA: We have seen an increase in ambition across the reporting cities, so you can see evidence of that. The Race to Zero campaign is a significant driver as well in urging cities to act. In order to join the Race to Zero, cities need to commit to a certain target. There are over 1,000 cities that have committed to the Race to Zero, but if you analyse their targets, only around 10 per cent have a target that’s aligned with science. There’s a big gap between the ambition of what cities want to achieve and where they are right now, but using the framework that CDP-ICLEI Track provides allows cities to build on their climate action.
The other part of this is incorporating a number of other important frameworks – one of which is the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). If cities are reporting in CDP-ICLEI Track, they’re also reporting in a way that’s aligned with TCFD. On top of that, it’s aligned with the common reporting framework, with science-based targets for cities. It allows them to join the Race to Zero, to participate in Race to Resilience, to meet their reporting requirements for C40. That’s what makes CDP-ICLEI Track unique – it is the one and only place where cities can go to meet all of their disclosure needs in one place.
Cities are facing pressure from the people that live in them, and we’re increasingly seeing cities declare climate emergencies. City-level governments are the level of government closest to the people, the ones responsible for providing essential services. The pressure is evidenced in 93 per cent of cities saying they’re at risk. The most recent IPCC report points to cities and urban areas as a big opportunity for climate action and emissions reduction. I found that really fascinating, but not surprising – everybody in the city community is aware of the opportunities they have.
SCW: From what you see, what are the most significant hurdles to progressing climate action in cities? What finance, information and partnerships do cities require?
KA: Access to finance is one of the barriers that cities face but definitely not the only one. A lot of cities lack the information that they need; we know not all cities have done a risk and vulnerability assessment, we know 38 per cent of cities don’t have an emissions inventory, so they don’t know what needs to change. Cities don’t have control over all the emissions within the city – they only control between 3-7 per cent – so they need to work much closer with the business community.
We know 38 per cent of cities don’t have an emissions inventory, so they don’t know what needs to change
To strike those sorts of partnerships, cities need to set a strong policy signal with really ambitious targets that are in line with science, at least in terms of emission reduction. That will help attract businesses that are like minded. When you look at the ambitions of cities and those of forward-thinking companies, you see that in many ways they’re aligned and the actions they need to take are the same. Everybody needs to transition to renewable energy; everybody needs to electrify as much as possible. When that alignment and that policy ambition is realised, that’s when we’ll see more action.
I think we’re increasingly seeing the need for a whole of society approach. Cop26 put the emphasis on the non-state actors, communities, companies, cities, and sub-national governments because everybody has a role to play. That same message echoes throughout the most recent IPCC report – in order to have deep decarbonisation and sector transition, everybody needs to play their role.
Interestingly, there’s a part of this that comes down to behavioural change and what we need to do as individuals. The period we’re in has been called the decade of climate action, but it also needs to be the decade of radical collaboration, in which cities, companies, capital markets, and sub-nationals need to come together.
SCW: With the CDP-ICLEI Track questionnaire being altered to make financial disclosure more straightforward for cities, what role do capital markets on the other side of this equation have to play in furthering urban climate action?
KA: Capital markets have a big role to play. The latest IPCC report’s analysis of finance shows that financial flows towards decarbonisation at this moment in time are only a fraction of what’s needed. The good news is that the liquidity is available to make the necessary investments to close that gap. I hope that by making a change like this in the questionnaire, we can drive some of those capital flows towards cities. CDP is really well positioned to facilitate the flow of sustainably-backed capital towards cities and states.
Financial flows towards decarbonisation at this moment in time are only a fraction of what’s needed
We’ve done so over the past 20 years on the corporate side, sending out this request on behalf of investors to companies. By aligning the questionnaire with the TCFD, it shows capital markets that cities are considering climate action in both their short- and their long-term financial planning. That’s going to be a very important thing for cities to disclose through CDP to demonstrate to the capital markets that they are taking climate change into consideration, and they’re planning.
SCW: What’s your message to cities that are yet to begin disclosing some of this information?
KA: Disclosure through CDP-ICLEI Track is a really important first step, no matter where a city might be in its climate journey. We’ve had a lot of different responses on why cities don’t disclose, but some definitely feel like they are not in a place where they have advanced enough yet. My message would be to use the questionnaire as the framework it is designed to be to begin cities on this journey. It’s designed to move cities along their urban climate action journey from just starting off, all the way up to leadership level, and CDP will provide technical support along with our partners to allow cities to do that.
Kyra Appleby heads the cities, states and regions team, having joined CDP in 2010. Prior to her role at CDP, Kyra worked in various research positions at NBC Universal, eMarketer and the City of New York. Kyra holds an MA in Public Administration from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a BA in Environmental Earth Science from the Johns Hopkins University.