The power of data and the sustainable cities of the future

Central Adelaide across the river Torrens. The city's Convention Centre is visible to the right of the picture, and the Festival Centre to the left hand side.
Written by Kyra Appleby

As cities around the world respond to today’s pressing global challenges, data holds the keys to the zero-carbon transition.
Data is vital to smart decision-making. We all want to make informed choices, and this is particularly crucial for city officials – who hold responsibility for the wellbeing of thousands or often millions of citizens.
Historically, data has always been crucial for effective decision-making. But since the dawn of the digital revolution, the availability of data and data analysis capabilities has exploded.

Data, reveals what’s going on below the surface and shines a light on what is working well and what needs to change. It illuminates gaps and connections that would go unnoticed otherwise.

In a keynote address in New York back in 2010, Christiana Figueres said: “CDP is to the future of business what the X-ray was to the then future of medicine: without it, we would never see the inside of a patient’s health”. Today, a comparable revolution in city management is unfolding.

Using data to pin-point exactly where changes would be most effective, cities can act with precision and confidence. Then, after implementing a policy, development or scheme, they collect more data, analyze the results, and iterate for continuous improvement.

571 global cities participate in CDP’s global environmental disclosure platform, reporting annually on their climate change strategy, actions and opportunities on the horizon.
As well as cities, we also gather information from 5600 global companies. In total, almost a fifth of global GHG emissions are reported through our platform.
As well as publishing reports on city environmental action each year, and multimedia content such as this infographic on urban water stewardship, we’re opening up our collection of data to the public.

In the spirit of the free sharing of knowledge, the Open Data Portal is open to anyone under a creative commons licence. It’s packed full of charts, graphs and maps as well as raw data. City officials, journalists, active citizens and anyone else can dive in and use this rich source of information.

Transparency is one of our core values: because it drives insight and action. Cities have vast potential to be leaders in the transition to a sustainable economy that is in harmony with the natural world. But to act effectively, they first need to know where they stand.

As Michael Bloomberg says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it and you can’t fix it.”

CDP’s cities program provides the established reporting framework and evidence base with which cities and key partners can track emissions reductions, adaptation progress, and share best practice.

Disclosure is the crucial first step for meaningful action. Our research shows that cities that go through the process of measuring and reporting their climate change information to CDP are more likely to then set targets and reduce GHG emissions.
The power of data holds other benefits for cities too. By learning from their peers, they can share best practise, learn from others’ mistakes and spark innovation. And by sharing their future development plans, they can attract investment for sustainability projects.

All over the globe, from the green electric trains of Adelaide to the new urban parks of Chicago, cities are stepping up on climate action. CDP’s new video ‘Progress’ celebrates these leaders and tells a story of a world in transition.

And the stakes have never been higher. We need to act urgently to address climate change, water stress and deforestation. As ‘Progress’ shows, cities are doing so much already.
But to reach a tipping point that will mainstream environmental action, we need to move even faster. And data is the key to this historic transformation.

Explore the CDP cities Open Data Portal 

About the author

Kyra Appleby

Kyra is the head of cities at CDP