01/12/2010 – Cities and metropolitan regional governments should play a more prominent role in defining the wider response to climate change, according to a new report from the OECD.

Cities and Climate Change confirms that urban areas use most of the world’s energy and are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Cities are at the same time highly vulnerable to the rising sea levels, warmer temperatures and destructive storms expected to result from climate change: by 2070, 150 million city-dwellers, producing 9% of global GDP in coastal cities, will be exposed to the full brunt of climate change, according to the report. 

“Cities are at the center of the problem, and  given their role as the predominant consumers of energy,  they are also a necessary part of the climate change solution,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said. “Urban policymakers should immediately start reshaping their cities’ futures, using better urban planning and policies to reduce energy use, cut greenhouse gas emissions and make their infrastructure more resilient.”

The OECD identifies best practices in energy, housing, urban planning, public transport and other policy areas that limit cities’ contribution to climate change and help adapt to expected impacts.

Densely-populated cities in Korea and Japan produce lower CO2 emissions per capita than sprawling urban areas in Australia, Canada or the United States. Similarly, New York’s greenhouse gas emissions are far below those seen in Los Angeles, thanks to its compact form and larger reliance on public transport.

Policy decisions can help cities tackle these disparities. Better land-use policies and eliminating property taxes that favour single-owner housing could decrease urban sprawl. Greater financial support for public transport could convince city dwellers to leave their cars at home. Congestion charges in cities from London to Stockholm to Seoul have shown that taxing drivers can change behaviour and reduce pollution.

The move toward low-carbon cities will require significant up-front investments in clean infrastructure.

New financial instruments – such as urban carbon markets, local cap-and-trade systems and grants that make environmental sustainability a key criteria – could help pay for cities’green solutions. Miami, Hong Kong, Milan and Bogota have applied smart local green taxes to finance their public transportation systems.

The report says that cities and regional government authorities can be laboratories for action on climate change, but points out that local initiatives must be coordinated with other levels of government.

The report is available to journalists on the OECD’s password-protected website.

More information on OECD research on cities and climate change

Journalists in need of further information should contact Lamia Kamal-Chaoui, head of the OECD’s Urban Development Programme: tel. +33 1 45 24 16 73; e-mail: Or Jan Corfee-Morlot, OECD climate policy analyst, at  +33 1 45 24 79 24; e-mail:

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