11 Cities That Are Leading The Global Fight Against Climate Change

From Addis Ababa to Portland, Oregon, cities are finding innovative ways to save themselves, even if their national governments won’t.

The U.S. government may not do much to slow climate change over the next four years. But cities–which are responsible for around 70% of global emissions–can. In many cases, they’re already moving faster than national governments. (In the U.S., they’re also pushing Trump to act.) As Michael Bloomberg says, it’s in their self-interest. In San Francisco, for example, $77 billion worth of property is at risk from rising seas.


C40, a network of 80 global cities committed to fighting climate change, says 11,000 different climate actions are already underway in its cities. The 2016 C40 Cities Awards recognizes 11 cities that are leading on climate.

[Photo: Mulugeta Ayene/AP Images for C40]

Addis Ababa (Transportation)

In Addis Ababa, emissions from cars and other transportation make up nearly half of the city’s climate pollution, but a new light rail system is beginning to change that. The trains, which can serve up to 60,000 passengers an hour, run on a mix of wind power, geothermal power, and hydropower, along with energy from the Ethiopian grid. The city now plans to scale the system up–and help other Ethiopian cities build similar networks.

[Photo: Jens Dige/AP Images for C40]

Copenhagen (Adaptation in Action)

For rainy, low-lying cities like Copenhagen, one of the challenges of climate change is increased flooding. “100-year” rainstorms are becoming more common, and everyday storms more frequent. Rebuilding the city’s sewer system to handle rainwater is expensive, so Copenhagen is building a network of more natural rain infrastructure instead. The 300 projects include pocket parks that can fill up with water in a storm and “green streets” planted with vegetation that can soak up rain.

[Photo: Rodolfo Buhrer/AP Images for C40]

Curitiba, Brazil (Sustainable Communities)


An urban agriculture program, first launched in 1986, turns backyards and empty lots into gardens and helps locals save money on their groceries. The city helps train citizens in growing crops and natural pest control, and gives out seeds and organic fertilizer. In backyards alone, the project grows more than 750 tons of food a year.

[Photo: Subrata Biswas/AP Images for C40]

Kolkata (Solid Waste)

Not long ago, trash was piled 50 feet high in some unofficial neighborhood dumps in Kolkata, India. Because rotting trash produces methane–a greenhouse gas that, over the short term, is 86 times as powerful as carbon dioxide–these dumps are an important part of the city’s climate pollution problem. After Kolkata built five huge new composting plants and began trucking waste to city landfills, open dumping has been reduced 35%. Ultimately, the project aims to end it completely.

Sydney & Melbourne (Building Energy Efficiency)

The CitySwitch Green Office program, sponsored by Australian cities, helps businesses figure out how much energy they’re using day-to-day, and then find strategies to reduce it. In 2015, the project helped save more than 50,000 tons of CO2 emissions. Since 2011, the project has saved businesses $26 million.

[Photo: Thibault Camus/AP Images for C40]

Paris (Adaptation Plans & Assessments)


In a new strategy to adapt to climate challenges like heat waves, flooding, and droughts, Paris is planting more than 20,000 trees, adding 1 million square meters of green roofs and walls, and adding new parks and greenery to streets. The city also plans to adapt working hours during heat waves, and will provide cooling centers no more than a seven-minute walk from every citizen.

[Photo: Greg Wahl-Stephens/AP Images for C40]

Portland, Oregon (Climate Action Plans & Inventories)

Portland has made four climate action plans since 1993, dramatically reducing pollution. By 2014, the city’s total emissions were 21% lower than they were in 1990 (and 41% lower per person). Portland has installed 40 megawatts of solar power, and negotiated the closure of its only coal power plant. In its 2015 climate plan, the city started measuring not only the footprint happening inside Portland, but of the products that Portlanders are buying from other places.

[Photo: Lee Jae-Won/AP Images for C40]

Seoul (Social Equity & Climate Change)

In Seoul, a new program helps low-income families–who will be disproportionately affected by climate change–save energy. The city is installing solar panels at public apartments and low-income households, and giving away LED lightbulbs. Through a “virtual power plant,” the city sells energy saved by municipal buildings, and then uses the proceeds to fund its energy welfare program. Seoul also gives people struggling to find work jobs as energy consultants.

[Photo: Brent NG/AP Images for C40]

Shenzhen, China (Finance & Economic Development)


One of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Shenzhen was the first Chinese city to implement a carbon emissions trading scheme. Now 636 businesses signed up, and after three years, cut more than 5 million tons of emissions compared to 2010 levels. The city is using enough less power that its coal power plant doesn’t have to run as often–and Shenzhen’s air is also getting cleaner.

[Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/AP Images for C40]

Yokohama, Japan (Clean Energy)

In Yokohama, a “smart city” project has deployed smart grids, 37 megawatts of solar power, home energy management systems in thousands of houses, and a cleaner fleet of vehicles. The project has cut household energy consumption by 15%, and building consumption by 23%. It’s one part of the city’s larger plan to cut emissions 80% by 2050, compared to what they were in 2005.

[All Photos: courtesy C40]


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."