Navigant Research Blog

Cities: The Focal Point of Climate Action

— November 17, 2017

This blog post was written by Richard Boehnke.

Cities are a focal point of climate action, both individually and as signatories to large networks dedicated to climate mitigation (e.g., Covenant of Mayors and C40). However, efforts to pledge support, sign an agreement, and publish a local climate strategy with an emissions target do not equate to implementing meaningful climate action. Little data is available to support whether cities are on track to achieving targets or if their targets can be met. For example, with the Netherlands reporting only a 3.8% emissions reduction between 2010 and 2015, municipal governments will be required to take the lead in climate action. Yet, with limited budget and staff working on mitigation, most municipalities are also falling behind on individual climate targets. Ecofys, a Navigant company, investigated which existing best practices could be used by local governments to work towards achieving climate goals.

Opportunities for Local Governments: Best Practices in Climate Action

The study examined 26 best practices from 13 Dutch municipalities. These ranged from community energy ambassadors in Almere, to an energy coalition in Den Bosch, to the investment scheme that led to the construction of large wind turbines in Nijmegen. Civil servants stated the goal of these practices was to act as facilitator, engaging the public and businesses to mediate regulatory and institutional processes. However, more needs to be done to meet ambitious targets.

The First Missing Piece: Collaboration

Listening to other departments’ targets and collaborating on projects is crucial to developing citywide climate solutions. Climate projects typically involve several aspects of city development and are frequently cut due to varying priorities when considering the expense of a specific climate measure. It is possible to use mitigation actions to achieve municipal targets because of the broad impact these actions can have beyond reducing CO2 emissions, like air quality improvement or job creation. Achieving climate targets can be considered a co-benefit when conducting successful and profitable municipal projects.

The Second Missing Piece: Monitoring

Databases like the Klimaatmonitor—which contains key energy and climate statistics for Dutch municipalities—are extremely useful for overviews of municipal progress and national trends. However, there are no clear data or monitoring schemes of local climate projects. This gap limits decision makers because the effects of any given project are not known. Without this data, pilots are less likely to be scaled, best practices are difficult to develop and replicate, and real-time progress cannot be assessed.

A Way Forward

Clear, actionable climate plans are necessary to realize the potential of local climate action. Local governments lack public short- and long-term plans in areas where emissions will be locked in (e.g., district vs. electric heating, hydrogen vs. e-transport, in-depth vs. cursory building renovations). There are several tradeoffs when considering each of these paths, but inaction will only delay the inevitable choice and reduce related short- and mid-term benefits. Robust climate plans require:

  • Emissions targets
  • Emissions baseline
  • Budget
  • Stakeholders
  • Clear measures
  • An implementation plan and timeline
  • A monitoring scheme

If full-bodied plans are implemented, municipalities can share each step of their projects and monitor progress towards achieving local climate goals. With public long-term planning, citizens, cooperatives, and businesses can participate, invest in, and adapt to the municipal energy transition. Municipalities will have to invest a lot more than the currently allocated budgets and manpower to become climate neutral in 20-30 years.

Research conducted for the municipality of Utrecht (350,000 inhabitants) shows that if all measures were realized within the city limits, becoming climate neutral would require investments of about €9.5 billion. However, if the municipality agreed to take part of its investments outside of Utrecht (e.g., funding offshore wind in the North Sea), total investments could be reduced to roughly €4 billion. Ecofys, a Navigant company, proposes that national and municipal governments should agree on a fair effort sharing to reduce overall societal costs.

For more information, please get in touch with our team.


Setting a Circular Blueprint for Business through Science

— May 23, 2017

The circular economy is a simple idea, but not a small one. It’s key for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) and addressing climate change, as it has the potential to close the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions gap by half.

More than 400 participants at the WBCSD Liaison Delegate Meeting in Montreux, Switzerland on March 27-30 focused on the topic, “Roadmaps for Impact in Today’s Reality.” The discussions around circular economy were lively, enthusiastic, and most importantly, ambitious. In partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Ecofys is working on a detailed assessment and analysis that identifies the points in the economy where circular economy measures can reduce environmental impact substantially, taking the value chain into account. This report aims to set the direction for circular economy efforts by businesses, and the analysis is one of the key elements of the circular economy approach of the WBCSD.

Preeti Srivastav at WBCSD Liaison Delegates Meeting 2017

(Source: World Business Council for Sustainable Development)

For the circular economy, the dam has burst. Now is the time to start implementing.

Ecofys’ analysis highlights the scientific perspective on the circular economy and how businesses can navigate and position themselves on related efforts. The implementation of circular economy measures can help companies and even countries reduce their GHG emissions and improve economic growth.

GHG Emissions Reduction

Let’s look at the GHG emissions reduction potential. A study done by Ecofys and Circle Economy in 2016 highlights the GHG impact of the circular economy. The emissions reduction commitments made by 195 countries at the Climate Change Conference in Paris are a leap forward, but are not yet sufficient to stay on a 2°C trajectory, let alone a 1.5°C pathway. Current commitments address only half the gap between business as usual and the 1.5°C pathway. There is still a reduction of about 15 billion tonnes CO2e needed to reach the 1.5°C target. Analysis by Ecofys and Circle Economy estimates that circular economy strategies can reduce the gap between current commitments and business as usual by about half.

Economic Growth

Moving on to the economic growth potential, there are various credible analysis and studies by organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that highlight the economic potential of the circular economy in terms of GDP growth, job creation for countries and cost benefits, competitive advantage, and the security of supply, etc. for companies.


In terms of the implementation of circular economy strategies, most companies are starting with end-of-life management, recycling initiatives, etc. These are great initiatives, but unless the end of life is managed in combination with upstream material flows, the impact will be limited.

Why? Because materials-related emissions account for more than half of total GHG emissions. Unless we focus on the upstream material flows, companies will end up spinning their wheels without actual impact.

Ecofys is currently leading a study that looks at eight key materials that are the most intensive in water, land use, and GHG emissions. The goal is to understand which companies and sectors can do the most. Food and shelter (cement, steel, forestry, agriculture, etc.) are the biggest material users, which means circular solutions in these fields bring huge opportunities and huge risks. There is a lot of potential for the food and shelter consumption categories to tap into the potential of circular economy, but we cannot take shortcuts, as both are basic human needs and we need to tread carefully.

Circular economy solutions are central. Let’s work together to do more with less.


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