How we’re supporting climate action in European cities

Google Earth
Oct 2 · 4 min read

By Rowan Barnett, Head of Google.org in EMEA and APAC

Climate action can have the biggest impact in cities, which are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s CO₂ emissions. That’s why we committed to helping more than 500 cities reduce 1 gigaton of carbon emissions annually by 2030 as part of our ambitious plan for climate action. To help reach that goal, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, with grant support from Google.org, is funding six projects. The projects will use actionable data to test new strategies that can reduce emissions and improve air quality in cities across Europe.

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Image Credit: Google Earth image of Paris, France 2019, Aerodata International Surveys, Maxar Technologies, The GeoInformation Group | InterAtlas

ICLEI is a global network of more than 1,750 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. Last fall, we granted $4 million in funding to them to establish the ICLEI Action Fund and support nonprofits and academic institutions in Europe and Latin America that are leading data-driven climate action efforts. Here’s a look at the projects that have been funded and what we’ve learned so far.

Projects selected for funding across Europe

The Centre for Sustainable Energy plans to establish an open-source, city-wide energy dataset in Birmingham, England. The team will also develop analysis tools that can model decarbonisation options for buildings in the city, overlay and integrate public datasets, and aggregate granular socioeconomic data.

With these tools, the Centre hopes to develop city-wide interventions and smaller community initiatives that will help the city reach its overall decarbonisation goals. “By combining emissions data for buildings, transport, and energy infrastructure with socioeconomic data, and distributing local community grants, we’ll be able to help residents deliver targeted carbon reduction projects, and support the City Council and Route to Zero Task Force to deliver their city-wide climate emergency ambitions,” said Rachel Coxcoon, Programme Director at the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

In Hamburg, the CityScienceLab of the HafenCity University will develop a tool incorporating data from Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE), Hamburg’s urban data platform and other sources. With this tool, they plan to help the city identify areas that can be used as “urban testbeds” for prototyping energy innovations in the Altona, Norg and Bergedorf districts. The prototyping process will help visualise and simulate projects to better understand their projected impact on the city.

Other Action Fund grantees and their projects include:

  • Deutsche Umwelthilfe in Berlin: To help the city reach its air quality and carbon-free transport goals, they plan to analyze data about air quality, noise levels and traffic, and use EIE to advocate for data-driven changes to cycling and other transportation infrastructure.

The latest insights from cities taking data-driven climate action

Through these projects, we’ve seen how cities are thinking about data-backed sustainability planning and action. So far, we’ve seen trends that can be applied globally.

First, starting small can lead to a big impact — especially when it comes to data. City-level data can point decision-makers in the right direction, while neighborhood or district data can create the necessary community buy-in for more specific programs or interventions. Second, actionable data can help citizens make informed day-to-day decisions and take action. After all, informed citizens are a critical piece of the puzzle. Last, we saw a huge interest in cities looking to improve air quality through more efficient and low-carbon transportation options.

To have a meaningful impact on climate change, data-driven approaches must be scaled across the globe. That’s why Google.org provided ICLEI’s Global Secretariat with additional funding to develop case studies so they can share best practices that emerge from the Action Fund with cities around the world that are looking to implement similar data-driven climate interventions.

One of our goals at Google is to unlock climate ambitions with data, insights, and innovation to overcome today’s climate crisis. We’re excited to continue supporting leading organizations, such as ICLEI, and cities that share that goal.

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