Photo courtesy of the World Bank Innovate4Climate Summit.

Claire Krummenacher, Yale-NUS College ’20, contributed to this blog post.

On June 6 at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, I had the privilege of joining Gwen Robinson, Chief Editor of the Nikkei Asian Review, Cherie Nursalim, Vice Chairman, GITI Group, and Hunter Lovins, President & Founder, Natural Capitalism Solutions for the Keynote Panel of the Innovate4Climate Summit organized by the World Bank. The organizers charged us with a daunting task of identifying critical leverage points for innovating climate and sustainable development solutions, from our diverse perspectives in a very short time (cut even shorter by delays).

My comments mainly focused on local policy innovation and the ways that cities, states/regions, and companies are taking climate actions that are in many ways more ambitious than national governments. Here are a few highlights:

  • The Green New Deal narrative in the United States is reinvigorating the climate policy debate, framing climate action as a positive, win-win opportunity to grow jobs and address the environment at the same time. As we speak, a wave of local leaders, such as Washington Governor Jay Inslee and a handful of mayors, have stepped up their climate policies, setting ambitious net-zero emission targets and specifics on how to get there. To me, this is an encouraging step forward in the right direction for offsetting national-level inaction in the United States and providing a strong building block to re-engage in international climate frameworks in the future.
  • Here are a few examples of what local leaders are committing:
    • In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the first Sub-Saharan light rail transit system took a mere three years to build, and is expected to cut 1.8 million tons of CO2 emissions by 2030 as well as enhance socioeconomic mobility by providing an affordable means of commuting. At full capacity, the light rail system serves 60,000 passengers every hour, and the government is planning to expand it from 34 to 185 km in the next decade as well as introduce a Bus Rapid Transit system.
    • Shenzhen, China introduced an Emissions Trading System that covers 40% of the carbon emissions in Shenzhen and currently has over 600 participating businesses. In 2015, these businesses reduced their CO2 emissions by 5.81 million tons, an 18.2% decrease from 2010.
    • In Hengshui, China, a waste treatment facility converts waste from 140,000 pigs into 8.42 GWh of electricity every year and reduced emissions by 108,000 tons of CO2 between 2012 and 2015 alone. In addition to the reduction in emissions, the project also improved air and water quality for Hengshui’s 4.3 million inhabitants.
    • Vancouver, Canada has reduced emissions 80% from 2007 as part of its Renewable City Strategy, which aims to supply 100% of the city’s energy from renewable sources by 2050. The strategy is the first of its kind in North America, and is driven by an energy system model that maps energy demand throughout the year according to time of day and subsequently matches it with an energy supply model that determines the most economical way to meet demand with clean energy.
    • Bogota, Colombia’s Dona Juana Landfill Gas to Energy Project reduces CO2 by 900,000 tons per year and will reduce CO2 emissions by 5.4 million tons between 2014 and 2020 by capturing landfill biogas and converting it into electricity. In addition, 24% of the proceeds from emission reduction credit sales are invested in social programs – including kindergartens, community centers, and sanitation infrastructure – within the surrounding communities.
    • Los Angeles, CA has set a goal of having 25% of vehicle be emissions free vehicles by 2035. To reach this target, the city introduced an electric-car sharing program targeted towards low-income communities in 2016 that is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 2.2 tons every year. Piloting with 100 shared EVs and 200 charging stations, the project aims to expand to 7000 users within three years.
    • Stockholm is currently powering 90% of its district heating with renewable energy sourced from forest residue and wood waste gathered from the surrounding areas. The biomass plant, which prevents 126,000 tons of CO2 emissions every year, contributes to the city’s goal of becoming entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050.
  • Companies are also taking ambitious actions:
    • Microsoft in April announced plans to shift its data centers to 100% renewable energy by 2029, with an interim goal of 70% by 2023 (the company previously achieved 50% in early 2018) also doubling its internal carbon tax to $15/metric ton, a practice which originated in 2012 with the intention of “holding divisions accountable for their emissions”. Annually, this tax results 30 million dollars used for investment in energy improvements.
    • LEGO achieved its goal of powering its production facilities through 100% renewable energy. The total output from the investments by LEGO in renewables is now greater than the energy consumed in LEGO factories, stores, and offices across the world.
    • Apple in 2018, Apple announced that its global facilities–including retail stores, data centers, and offices–are powered with 100% clean energy.

You can watch the full event of the livestream on Youtube. The keynote panel begins around 1:37:00.