Compared to cities in other less centralised countries such as Germany and the US, UK cities have limited powers to introduce their own regulation. However, they do have powers in areas such as land-use and transport planning which can support low carbon economic growth. Cities such as London, Brighton & Hove and Bristol are increasingly using regulations in these areas, such as requiring new developments to minimise the use of energy or to meet the Code for Sustainable Homes (although this national building code is now under consideration). Other cities are focused on removing regulatory barriers to low carbon businesses. For example, Liverpool has used its City Deal to reduce restrictive legislation on green infrastructure.

Internationally, some cities are championing green legislation in the building and waste sectors. New York is a good example of a city which is trying to achieve maximum benefits by implementing targeted laws and complementary support at its biggest source of carbon emissions – large buildings.

Whilst UK councils do not have the same breadth of powers as New York or San Francisco, they can still use the powers they have (for instance in relation to transport and planning) to target their city’s main emitters. They can also ensure that any new national regulations are complemented by relevant local support such as information hubs or awareness raising campaigns, and look to create or partner with local institutions in implementing those regulations.

Key questions for cities

  • What are the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city?
  • What regulatory powers does local government have to target these priority groups?

Case study 3: New York City, USA – Supporting targeted laws with institutions

In New York City, large buildings are responsible for 45 per cent of the city’s carbon emissions and are an important target group of the city’s climate strategy.15 The Greener, Greater Building Plan (GGBP) launched in 2009 by New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg16 constitutes four laws targeting energy efficiency in the city’s largest buildings and is supported by a number of complementary initiatives such as a finance corporation and business training.17

According to the estimates issued by the Mayor’s Office,18 GGBP is expected to reduce city-wide carbon emissions by 5 per cent compared to 2009 levels, save £4.5 billion in energy costs and create 17,800 construction-related jobs by 2030.

Early figures from the GGBP show that implementing cost-effective measures can reduce businesses’ energy use by up to 31 per cent.19 The New York City authority has also retrofitted the Empire State Building and used it as a high profile example. Alone, it is saving £3 million in energy bills annually and created 250 new construction related jobs during the course of the work.20

Since the launch of the GGBP, the City has also ensured there is effective monitoring and that this information is communicated clearly to building owners. For example, the authorities made benchmarking procedures easier to complete and ensured all changes are in the annual report.18

In addition to enforcing new laws, the City provides building owners with the support to implement the changes required. It established a finance corporation to fund retrofitting works, provided training to businesses on compliance procedures and made all the relevant information available through a new call centre and website.22 The additional support aims to reduce confusion regarding implementation and maximise compliance with the new laws.

Key questions for cities

  • What financial, institutional and other support do those regulations need in order to be effective?
  • Is there a monitoring system in place in order to determine what’s working and what’s not, and how can it be improved?

Case study 4: San Francisco, California, USA – Comprehensive rules drive greater change

San Francisco demonstrates how longterm, targeted and complementary laws can drive change and create jobs. Between 1990 and 2010, the recycling rate in the city increased from 20 to 77 per cent, and Recology, the city’s primary recycling factory, reported a 10 per cent increase in its workforce due to this surge in activity.23

San Francisco’s high recycling rate is the result of a culmination of efforts that started in the 1980s. These include the emergence of volunteer-run recycling programmes driven by an environmental movement,24 the introduction of the California Waste Management Act in 1989 and the introduction of a number of pilots (such as a colour-coded system to separate waste and a Pay As You Throw scheme).25 In 2002, the city set itself the goal of a 75 per cent reduction in landfill waste by 2010 and zero waste by 2020.

Finding that these initiatives were still not enough, the city enforced over 20 new laws targeting residential waste, production waste, public procurement and other sectors. A recent example includes the ‘mandatory recycling and reposting ordinance’ passed in 2009 which requires all persons residing in the city to separate and recycle their waste. It also supports them with training, raising awareness and a website.26 San Francisco is already ahead of its targets, and similar to New York demonstrates that comprehensive, targeted and well supported laws and regulations are a key component of both good environmental management and green growth.

Case study 5: One to watch | Liverpool, UK – Using City Deals to promote green growth

Liverpool city region has identified low carbon technologies as a key sector for attracting investment and generating jobs in the region. However, they also found that businesses investing in low carbon infrastructure are facing building delays due to lack of clarity in the planning process and slow responsiveness from local authorities and regulatory agencies.

To address these regulatory challenges, Liverpool used their City Deal to commit Whitehall and regulatory agencies to improve coordination and set a 13-week deadline for responding to permit applications for low carbon infrastructure (for example offshore wind turbine projects). In addition, the city region has committed to provide a brokerage support service for businesses and work closely with the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Green Investment Bank on delivering new projects. By easing the regulatory burdens, Liverpool is hoping to accelerate £100 million of investment in offshore wind and create 3,000 new jobs.27

To date, the Merseyside Environmental Advisory Service (MEAS)28 has appointed an environmental account manager to establish the brokerage support and is also working with Defra to find the right operational mechanisms for the pilot. A number of low carbon projects are in the pipeline, although none have yet reached the final consent stage.29

Other cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham also included green initiatives in their City Deals. If well designed, City Deals offer a good opportunity for cities to accelerate growth in green investment by easing regulatory burdens or targeting funding to green projects.


  • 15 The City of New York (2011), A greener, greater New York,
  • 16 Part of PlaNYC which consists of 132 initiatives aimed to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent by 2030
  • 17 Laws 84, 87 and 88 enacted in 2009 and law 85 enacted in 2010
  • 18 New York City Mayor’s Office of LTPS (2012), Overview of the Greener Greater Building plan
  • 19 The city of New York (2012), New York city local law 84 benchmarking report. Data submitted in 2009 by 75 per cent of large private buildings in New York City.
  • 20 Robbins Schneider A (2013), How The Empire State Building is Redefining Sustainability and Supporting the Economy in New York City, C40 New Team; City Solutions
  • 21 New York City Mayor’s Office of LTPS (2012), Overview of the Greener Greater Building plan
  • 22 ICLEI, IMT (2011), Case Study: New York city’s greener, greater building plan
  • 23 Tellus Institute with Sound Resource Management (2011), More jobs less pollution, U.S.A
  • 24 Janse K (2013), Recycling is deep in San Fransisco’s roots, Recology; USA: San Fransisco
  • 25 Pay as you Throw schemes are explained in the ‘Incentives’ section of the report.
  • 26 San Francisco Environment website http://www.sfenvironment.org/zero-waste
  • 27 Liverpool City Council (2013), City deal extract, accelerating investment in the low carbon economy, Liverpool: Liverpool City Council
  • 28 A sub-regional service that provides environmental and technical advice to councils.
  • 29 Centre for Cities interview