External ContentBetter Together: How Cities Can Collaborate for Faster, More Effective Climate Action

Better Together: How Cities Can Collaborate for Faster, More Effective Climate Action

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This article was written by and for the C40 Knowledge Hub, which delivers cutting-edge insights and practical resources from leading climate cities for others working in city government. It was originally published here in September 2020. We’re featuring the article with kind permission by the C40 Knowledge Hub.

Collaborating with other city governments has the potential to deliver significant advantages for all cities, both large and small, but the opportunity is especially compelling for small and mid-sized municipalities which typically have more limited access to finance, lower capacity and less political clout.1 Though still relatively unusual, more and more cities are joining forces to respond to the climate emergency in a quicker and more effective way.2, 3

Of course, there are many networks and organisations that specialise in enabling cities to support each other or work together on climate actions, many of which are mapped in the graphic at the end of this article. However, a growing body of experience suggests that all cities, regardless of their city climate network membership(s), have much to gain from seeking direct partnerships with others to advance aspects of their climate change response.

This article sets out collaborative approaches that can be replicated by any city, drawing on the experience of independent city-city partnerships, as well as ideas and advice from collaborative approaches that have been facilitated or supported by a third-party. This is not an exhaustive list of opportunities but offers ideas and inspiration for cities interested in pursuing climate actions together with others.

Collaborate On Climate Action Planning

Cooperation on climate action planning processes is proving highly beneficial, especially smaller cities or municipalities. The approach is still rare, but becoming more common, be it a city-city partnership, metro-area partnership, group of municipalities with similar characteristics or another configuration.4

Seek Partner Cities With Shared Ambitions, Starting In the Local Area

Most city-led collaboration on climate action planning is taking place between cities in the same locality. Collaborating with neighbouring or nearby cities enables cities to plan and implement actions to address emissions from energy infrastructure, public transport, food systems, waste management and other services that often operate across municipal borders and to address cross-border climate risks. It also helps cities overcome regional or national climate-policy barriers, share the cost of staff and equipment, and secure better access to data, funding and technical assistance – all of which can motivate other cities in the area to participate as well.5 Metro-area collaborations are typically led by the largest city in the area.

It is critical that these partnerships also involve local experts and other local stakeholders. Some partnerships have established dedicated non-profit organisations, such Climate Action Kansas City (CAKC), to support the process.

Climate Action Kansas City: A Metro-Area Climate Action Coalition

In early 2019, Climate Action KA (CAKC) was established to drive climate planning and action in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. CAKC is a bipartisan coalition of elected officials and staff from ten levels of elected office and ten municipalities and counties, alongside private partners, non-profit organisations and experts. It also works in partnership with the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), Kansas City’s regional planning organisation. In March 2019, on behalf of CAKC, MARC joined the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM), which has supported the climate action planning process (find out more about this joint membership option in the box below). The CAKC plan was devised by a team of volunteer experts, supported by GCoM and informed by Project Drawdown; it essentially translates the Drawdown strategies into actions and policies that can be taken by local governments. Hear more about this process from CAKC and MARC representatives here.

Joint Membership of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Energy and Climate

The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM) is the largest global alliance for city climate leadership. GCoM’s mission is to assist cities and local governments to mobilise and support climate and energy action in their communities by working with city and/or regional networks, national governments and other partners. More than 10,000 cities and local governments in 139 countries have so far signed up.

Most signatories join GCoM as individual cities or local governments. Since September 2018, however, signatories have had the option to join forces – and some have already done so. This approach is particularly well-suited to neighbouring cities or smaller or less well-resourced cities. In some regions, this option is only open to small- and medium-sized cities or local governments in the same territorial area.

In practice, this means that smaller cities and local governments can commit jointly to GCoM and work together to develop greenhouse gas (GHG) emission inventories, climate risk and vulnerability assessments, targets and/or climate action plans. Groups can do so as one legal entity or separately, and can fully join forces or collaborate only on certain steps. Get in touch with the GCoM helpdesk in your region for more details.6

Guadalajara’s Metro-Area Climate Action Planning Partnership

The Guadalajara Metropolitan Area (AMG in Spanish) is the second-largest metropolis in Mexico. It has an integrated governance model over three levels of government – state, metropolitan and municipal – with nine municipal governments. As part of the city’s ongoing climate action planning process, the nine municipalities are working together alongside representatives from other levels of government, key departments and stakeholders in a process facilitated by the Institute for Planning and Management of the Development of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area (IMEPLAN) (AMG’s key coordinating body). The collaboration will bring together the perspective, plans, programmes, policies and projects of these different city authorities with a view to producing an integrated Guadalajara Metropolitan Climate Action Plan.7 A C40 member city, Guadalajara is using the Climate Action Planning Framework and associated tools and resources, and receiving technical support in this process. The city’s climate action plan is expected to be finalised in 2021.8

Bilateral Collaboration Between Two Small Cities in Florida

The City of Oakland Park and the City of Wilton Manors, two small urban municipalities in southern Florida, jointly published the Two Cities, One Sustainable Future Climate Action Plan in February 2019. It is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.9 It follows a county-level climate action template and utilises ICLEI USA’s Five Milestones framework for emissions management – both cities are members of ICLEI, which supported the collaboration. While the emissions reduction goal is not sufficiently ambitious to be in line with the Paris Agreement (the cities are aiming for a 10% emission reduction in ten years), the plan focuses on adapting to the rising threats of heat, flooding and sea level rise.10

‘Positioned at sea level in one of the most at-risk parts of the world for sea level rise, both Oakland Park and Wilton Manors may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. By combining our planning efforts, we hope to leverage our municipal finance and shared water infrastructure and transportation systems to act faster and smarter.’
Albert Carbon, Public Works Director for the City of Oakland Park11

Collaborations between cities that are further apart have typically been initiated, facilitated and more closely supported by a third-party or associated project. This model may be more difficult for cities to drive or replicate. Nonetheless, experience from those projects demonstrates that any cities or municipalities with shared climate concerns and ambitions can gain from working together. Even if cities are not geographically close, collaborating on climate action planning helps to raise ambition, establish common standards, and share ideas and experience.12

Collaboration by a Large Group of Small Danish Municipalities

Since spring 2019, 20 small municipalities across Denmark have worked together to develop climate action plans as part of the DK2020 project. The municipalities split into smaller groups facing similar challenges, with similar characteristics, powers and resources, which helped when it came to sharing relevant ideas and experience. The municipalities adapted C40’s Climate Action Planning Framework to develop their plans, with technical support from the DK2020 project. Representatives from three of the participating municipalities share their experience here. Building on their success, another 46 Danish municipalities joined DK2020 in November 2020.

Vertical Integration in Climate Action Planning

Coordinating climate policies, plans and implementation across different levels of government, maximising the contribution of each level and promoting top-down and bottom-up information exchange helps to facilitate faster, more ambitious climate action. Read the Climate Action Planning Vertical Integration Guide for guidance on good practice.

Consider Involving a Regional Authority

Involving a regional authority, as some city collaborations have done, can help to scale the benefits of collaboration by fostering the ambition of municipalities in a coordinated way, provide regional consistency of data and measurement, enable a true and fair allocation of regional emissions, provide improved access to government funds and support alignment with regional or national climate goals.13

Washington DC’s Metro-Area Climate Change Collaboration

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and its 24 municipalities across the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia are among the first regions in the United States to work on a joint Climate Action Plan in the GCoM framework. The region, represented by COG’s Climate, Energy, and Environment Policy Committee (CEEPC), became a GCoM signatory in September 2019. CEEPC published the region’s first Climate and Energy Action Plan in 2010, with updated plans released every three years since. The 2030 plan, due to be released in late 2020, will raise the region’s ambition in line with the Paris Agreement.14 COG’s ambition has been critical to driving climate action across the metro-area – it sets goals and develops informed plans that local governments can adopt (most have), supports the development of emissions inventories and provides technical training on financing renewable energy, for example. COG also helps to drive competition, as well as to facilitate lesson learning between municipalities. Equally critical has been the high ambition of municipalities such as Montgomery County and Frederick County, in addition to Washington, DC, which has helped to raise the ambition of smaller municipalities in the region.15

City-County Collaboration in Virginia

Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville, Virginia, worked together in 2019 to produce city-county aligned climate action plans aiming for a 45% GHG emission reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050. They established a local initiative called the Community Climate Collaborative to facilitate the collaboration, involve local people and provide technical expertise. The City of Charlottesville’s timeline is driven by its commitment to GCoM, while Albemarle County is a member of ICLEI, which has supported this process.16

Melbourne’s Collaboration With Local and State Governments

The City of Melbourne’s collaboration with other municipalities and the state government has been vital in developing solutions to reduce emissions from high-carbon infrastructure and services that cross municipal borders, and which the City doesn’t own or operate. When developing its own Climate Change Mitigation Strategy to 2050, the City facilitated a broader emissions inventory and capacity-building programme that spanned all 32 municipalities of Greater Melbourne. The Strategy is aligned with the state government’s 2025 emissions-reduction pledge and the City is advocating for the national and state governments to increase their ambition, in line with the Paris Agreement. Hear more from Kate Noble, City of Melbourne, here.

Seek Support From City Climate Action Networks and Organisations

The large majority of collaborative climate action planning processes have received some degree of support. As a first option, smaller cities can join GCoM and/or ICLEI, both highly inclusive networks that are open to almost all municipalities (individually or jointly).17 Support is also available from myriad initiatives run by climate action networks or organisations with more restricted access. While these offer direct technical assistance and support to fewer cities, many have publicly available resources, many of which are hosted on this website. Use the interactive graphic at the end of this article to find potential avenues for support in your region.

ICLEI’s Cohort Training

ICLEI supports regional collaborations and offers ‘cohort training’ for groups of up to 20 cities and counties that come together over a period of months to support each other on climate action planning. Interested cities can access these training sessions by joining their relevant ICLEI regional office.18

Collaborate Within a Locality to Improve Opportunities for Innovation and to Pilot Priority Climate Actions

Especially in larger cities, projects implemented through partnerships between a larger authority and smaller local authorities, be they in or around the city, benefit from the smaller authorities’ deep expertise in local issues, proximity to their communities and reduced media attention, in addition to the greater budgets and capacity of the major city authority. Such partnerships offer a relatively low-stakes way for cities to experiment with new ideas and determine the feasibility of new approaches locally.19

Testing Bold Ideas for Walking and Cycling in the London Borough of Waltham Forest

Enjoy Waltham Forest is an ambitious scheme to promote walking and cycling in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, one of 33 local authorities. The borough secured funds for the scheme from a mayoral competition, which was launched in September 2015, and features new walking and cycling facilities, cycle training and free apps, improved public spaces, such as mini-gardens, and street redesigns, including the pedestrianisation of shopping streets. The programme was a major influence on Transport for London’s citywide Healthy Streets programme, launched in 2017, which is now funding the creation of liveable neighbourhoods in several London boroughs. It has also attracted more than 50 visits from authorities elsewhere in the UK and abroad, showing how pioneering small authorities can have a big impact beyond their immediate area by sharing their experience and expertise.20

Collaborate to Procure Goods and Services

By pooling resources and working together, cities can more easily finance and manage expensive and complex climate action projects. Cities can take advantage of bulk-buying discounts and other economies of scale, share the cost of legal advice, staff and equipment, access better technology, benefit from a common brand and reduce their administrative burden.21 Collaborating can also have wider benefits for local climate action, particularly by driving the market for new technologies and services.

City-city collaborative procurement approaches are mostly, though not exclusively, taken by municipalities in the same local area to tackle a shared problem. These partnerships often happen independently of, or with relatively little support from, third-party climate action networks.

Collaborative procurement projects need to be loosely formalised, at least, through agreements or contracts. Partnerships of larger scope and complexity should be established as a separate legal entity with their own budget and property.22, 23 This will help to smooth coordination and do away with the need for suppliers to sign multiple contracts with numerous authorities.24 Partnering cities should seek legal advice to determine the most appropriate avenue for them.

Examples include:

  • Zero-emission vehicle technologies. Experience shows that the joint procurement of expensive technology, such as electric buses can work across borders, as well as for neighbouring cities. 
    • Clean construction sites. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm formed the Scandinavian Green Public Procurement Alliance for non-road mobile machinery to accelerate their transition to electric municipal construction sites and send a clear signal to the market. The project, funded primarily by the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance and supported by a non-profit and a law firm, underscored the need for a lead partner with clear roles and responsibilities and a legal framework for cross-border joint procurement through a collaboration agreement.25 The cities and their partners explain how this process worked in detail in their lessons learned report; you can also read more about Oslo’s initiatives in How Oslo is driving a transition to clean construction
    • Zero-emission buses. A group of cities and their transit agencies across Los Angeles County have been collaborating to support the transition to zero-emission buses and to address the shortfalls of the region’s fragmented transit governance. After an initial meeting facilitated by the C40 Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative, they (independently) established a working group to advance the process and learn from each other. They identified an opportunity to procure zero-emission buses and infrastructure together, enabling them to benefit from economies of scale, improve technical capacity on zero-emission buses and to speak with a collective voice in negotiations with suppliers. The partners later involved the State of California, which released a joint procurement schedule and is working to scale up the joint procurement approach for zero-emission buses.26 
  • Large-scale, local, clean energy generation. In 2017, the City of Melbourne led the creation of the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, which combined the purchasing power of 14 major energy consumers, including the City of Melbourne itself and local councils, to support the construction of a new windfarm. The windfarm now powers 100% of the partners’ operations, and because it generates more power than the group needs, it brings additional clean energy to the market. The project is now in its second, larger phase with a new purchasing group, and together these initiatives will have reduced Melbourne’s emissions by the equivalent of 5%.27 Melbourne wrote a guide for other cities, based on its experience: Renewable Energy Procurement: A guide to buying off-site renewable electricity
  • Building retrofit programmes for building energy efficiency. In the United Kingdom, 14 local authorities in the county of Lancashire partnered to create Cosy Homes in Lancashire (CHiL). By pooling members’ resources, CHiL is improving the energy efficiency of privately owned and privately rented homes, addressing the shared problems of fuel poverty and low-quality housing, and making a whole-house approach to retrofitting possible. CHiL has a managing agent, Firefly Energi, which advises on technical issues and surveys homes to determine what energy efficiency measures could be beneficial, while local authorities’ energy officers contribute time to CHiL’s work. CHiL has secured an Energy Company Obligation contract with a large energy supplier, which provides funding linked to expected CO2 savings from home upgrades. Find out more about Cosy Homes Lancashire here.28 

Use Collective Action and Group Advocacy

Collective action and group advocacy are central pillars of city diplomacy. Read more about how to deepen and expand your city’s engagement in international and collaborative policy processes in How to advance your city’s climate action through city diplomacy.

The power of collective advocacy is well known and recognised, whether it involves groups of cities lobbying a regional or national government for specific policy changes, or international groups of cities working to change the policy discourse. Many of these group advocacy efforts are coordinated by existing networks or new organisations established specifically to support members, including several of those in the following interactive graphic.

Three, very different forms of collective climate action and advocacy include:

  • The Forum of the Secretaries of the Environment of Brazilian Capital Cities, or CB27 – a collaboration between the 26 Brazilian state capitals and Brasília, the national capital. Its goal is to strengthen and coordinate the actions of the heads of its departments of the environment, exchange ideas and experience, and drive progressive environmental agendas. 
  • Across the United States, a growing number of cities, counties and states – currently 15 – have filed lawsuits against fossil-fuel companies, each aiming to hold the industry accountable for the damage it is causing. This is not a formal collaboration, but there is strength in numbers, and nearly all of the lawsuits are moving forward. Honolulu is one of these cities; read about it here
  • The Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force was established by an international group of C40 member cities in the wake of Covid-19. In July, the group set out its collective vision for a green a just recovery and the shared principles, ambitions and actions needed to achieve it. Some of its ideas, such as the 15-minute city, are already gaining international traction. 

Avenues for Collective Action Support From National and Transnational Climate Action Networks

The below graphic displays a range of climate action networks and organisations that city partnerships may be able to turn to for additional support. It includes the most inclusive mass networks that are open to almost all municipalities, as well as some regional, national or restricted access networks (it is not exhaustive of all possibilities). They differ in structure, membership fees or requirements, and services offered. Some exist purely to facilitate collaborative action and advocacy, while others also provide technical support. Click on the dots to expand each region for the names of these networks, and access the relevant websites via the Links tab.

Before joining any platform or network, cities should consider which officials are best positioned to participate. While some groups will require engagement by city leadership, cities can often maximise the benefits of participation by also involving technical staff and other officials, including non-elected staff who can help to ensure continuity across political cycles.29


[1] Council of Europe, United Nations Development Programme and the Local Government Initiative (LGI) of the Open Society (2010) Toolkit manual: Inter-municipal cooperation. Strasbourg, France.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Boehnke, R.F., Hoppe, T., Brezet, H. and Blok, K. (2019) Good practices in local climate mitigation action by small and medium-sized cities; exploring meaning, implementation and linkage to actual lowering of carbon emissions in thirteen municipalities in The NetherlandsJournal of Cleaner Production, 207: 630–644.
[4] Kale Roberts, ICLEI, personal communication, September 2020.
[5] Shi, L. (2019) Promise and paradox of metropolitan regional climate adaptation. Environmental Science & Policy, 92: 262–274. 
[6] Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (2019) Guidance on joint approaches/ groups of signatories under GCoM (not for circulation).
[7] Technical Note: Metro Climate Change Collaboration (not for circulation).
[8] C40 Cities Climate Action Planning monthly update August 2020 (not for circulation).
[9] ICLEI (2019) Oakland Park and Wilton Manors release Florida’s first joint climate action plan. Press release, 2 July 2019.
[10] Kale Roberts, ICLEI, personal communication, September 2020.
[11] ICLEI (2019) Oakland Park and Wilton Manors release Florida’s first joint climate action plan. Press release, 2 July 2019.
[12] Council of Europe, United Nations Development Programme and the Local Government Initiative (LGI) of the Open Society (2010) Toolkit manual: Inter-municipal cooperation. Strasbourg, France.
[13] Kale Roberts, ICLEI, personal communication, September 2020.
[14] Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (2019) Region receives global recognition for leading the way on climate. Blog, 25 September 2019.
[15] Maia Davis, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, personal communication, August 2020.
[16] Kale Roberts, ICLEI, personal communication, September 2020.
[17] Haupt, W. and Coppola, A. (2019) Climate governance in transnational municipal networks: advancing a potential agenda for analysis and typologyInternational Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, 11(2): 123–140.
[18] Kale Roberts, ICLEI, personal communication, September 2020.
[19] Hughes, S., Yordi, S. and Besco, L. (2019) The role of pilot projects in urban climate change policy innovation. Policy Studies Journal, 42(2): 271–297.
[20] Simon Brammer (2020) In the race to net-zero, small cities have a big role. C40 Cities, September 2020.
[21] Council of Europe, United Nations Development Programme and the Local Government Initiative (LGI) of the Open Society (2010) Toolkit manual: Inter-municipal cooperation. Strasbourg, France.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Simon Brammer (2020) In the race to net-zero, small cities have a big role. C40 Cities, September 2020.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Scandinavian Green Procurement Alliance on Non-Road Mobile Machinery (2019) Lessons Learned Report. Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm.
[26] Anthony Courreges, Clean Transport Finance at C40 Cities, personal communication, September 2020.
[27] City of Melbourne (2020) Melbourne Renewable Energy Project: A new generation of energy. Last accessed 11 September 2020.
[28] Ashden (2016) Cosy homes in Lancashire – Cosy as can be. Last accessed 19 September 2020.
[29] Pipa, A.F. and Bouchet, M. (2020) How to make the most of city diplomacy in the COVID-19 era. Brookings, 6 August 2020.

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