Global Ranking of Top 10 Resilient Cities

By Boyd Cohen, Ph.D., CO2 IMPACT and Co-Author, Climate Capitalism

Resilient cities, those that are working to transition towards a low-carbon economy while also preparing to avert the worst of climate change, are gaining interest and attention from policy makers, city councils and others worldwide. In fact, today, leaders from the public and private sector, supported by ICLEI (see below) and the U.S. Green Building Council, are launching a National Leadership Speaker Series on Resiliency and Security in the 21st Century.

“The battle to prevent catastrophic climate change will be won or lost in our cities…” (C40 Cities Initiative)

Cities account for up to 80% of GHG emissions globally and are home to more than 50% of the world’s population (headed to 60%, 5 billion people by 2030). As I mentioned in my previous post, if we refocus our efforts on the right solutions soon enough, we can mitigate the worst of climate change while actually improving our city economies and growing corporate profits.  Hunter Lovins and I recently published a book entitled Climate Capitalism to share stories of cities and companies around the world who are profiting from that transition to the low carbon economy.  Furthermore, the longer we wait the more we will have to pay for adaptation.

I have spent the past few months gathering data on what cities around the globe are actually doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change and here I present one of the first ever global rankings of resilient cities.

Caveat: I have lived in two of the cities on this list (Vancouver and Copenhagen), and spent significant amounts of time in 6 others on the list.

And the Top 10 Resilient Cities Are….

10.) Tokyo, Japan
The most populated city in this ranking, Tokyo also is amongst the most dense and has the most used transit system of any city in the world.  Tokyo is of course the only Asian city which made the top 10 this year.  Tokyo met a key screen (political commitment) by being members of the C40 and ICLEI while also having a published aclimate action plan (CAP).  Tokyo, like all cities, still has plenty to work on including an apparent lack of a climate adaptation plan (or meaningful inclusion within the climate action plan), grow its focus on renewables and increase its green spaces as pat of an adaptation initiative. However, I am keen on their focus on private sector innovation and profitable solutions to mitigate climate change. For example in their CAP, the first initiative is: “Promote Private Enterprises’ Efforts to Achieve CO2 Reductions.”

9.) London, UK
London is accustomed to showing up on sustainable city rankings and for good reason.  Like Tokyo, London met the political commitment threshold for this ranking and is a very dense city (in fact the most in the ranking). London also stood out in this analysis for its early planning and integration of adaptation into its CAP.  And of course congestion zone introduced by former Mayor Livingstone was a bold move which has led to significant reduction in traffic, increased revenue for public transit and is now serving to encourage greener vehicle purchases (since low emitting vehicles are eligible for a 100% discount). London also was an early mover in adaptation by erecting the second largest movable flood barrier in the world.  The Thames Barrier, operational since 1982, “protects 125 square kilometers of central London from flooding caused by tidal surges.”

8.) New York, USA
Conservative Mayor Bloomberg is a strong advocate for climate leadership. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg is the Current Chair of the Clinton 40 initiative.  In a recent Clinton 40 Climate meeting, Mayor Bloomberg noted: “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.”  New York of course is the envy of most cities in the U.S. when it comes to accessibility and use of rail transit. New York also scored quite well on my adaptation ranking for its integration of adaptation into its development permitting process and relatedly NYC scores relatively high on park space/capita.


7.) San Francisco, USA
San Francisco was number 1 in my recent U.S. ranking and continues to be the highest rated U.S. city on the list.  San Francisco is doing a lot of things well including substantial political commitment.  Unfortunately I could not keep the green building ranking in this study because there is insufficient data from other green building certification groups outside of the Green Building Councils in North America and BREEAM in the UK. (San Francisco has the highest number of LEED certified buildings/capita in the U.S.).   San Francisco did however score well on some key metrics in this study including having one of the more aggressive GHG reduction targets (20% below 1990 levels by 2012 and 80% reduction by 2050).  They are also among the first cities working to introduce a group purchasing program for solar energy.

6.) Paris, France
The “City of Light” is also making headway towards being a resilient city.  Paris shows significant political commitment despite for some reason not being a member of ICLEI.  Paris is among the few global cities that have a CAP, are members of C40 and the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, and are signatories to the Mexico City Pact which includes a voluntary commitment to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Paris scored highest on my ranking of rail transit use/capita and was among the leaders in my study on adaptation due to both its “adjustment to climate change” plan as well as being one of the only cities in the study to have tangible adaptation projects underway such as having recently completed planting 100,000 trees and 20,000 square meters of rooftop gardens.

5.) Vancouver, Canada
Vancouver scores the highest amongst all North American cities in this study. Vancouver was already on its way before its current Mayor, Mayor Robertson took office.  However behind his leadership Vancouver is striving to become the greenest city in the world by 2020.  Not surprisingly, Vancouver scored among the highest on political commitment, losing just one point for not being affiliated with C40 (although I understand that Vancouver has applied).  Like San Francisco, Vancouver aspires to reduce its emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. A big difference however is that Vancouver’s per capita emissions (4.9 Tons CO2e) are already much lower than San Francisco’s (10.1).  Vancouver also scores off the charts on renewable energy with approximately 90% of its energy from renewable sources.  It has also been investing in its own district energy systems.  Two items not included in the rankings because I could not obtain valid comparable data also show that Vancouver is on the right track: 1.) It has the highest number of LEED certified green buildings of any city in North America; 2.) Vancouver would score very high marks for food security as 48% of the food  supply for the Province is sourced locally.

4.) Stockholm, Sweden
Not surprisingly two Scandinavian cities made the top 5 of this ranking (see Copenhagen below).  Stockholm scored high on the political commitment scale and . came second only to Paris in its rail transit/capita use.  Stockholm also has the second most impressive goal for GHG reductions, carbon neutral by 2050.  Stockholm has a lack of focus on adaptation but also scored first on park area per capita in the study with over 21,000 acres (a whopping 40% of its land mass) dedicated to city parks.


3.) Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona only came up one short on political commitment as it is not part of the Carbon War Room’s Green Capital Global Challenge. Barcelona does have a CAP, is a member of ICLEI, C40, and the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and is a signatory to the Mexico Pact. While Barcelona currently has a low percentage of renewables, it is a global leader and innovator with respect to the introduction of solar thermal ordinance which requires all new and renovated buildings in the city to incorporate solar thermal energy, usually in the form of solar water heating.  Barcelona also scored high for its adaptation planning because it has integrated adaptation into its plans and has identified key stakeholders and metrics associated with ensuring successful adaptation.

2.) Curitiba, Brazil
While not a major capital city, Curitiba has the size (1.7m) to qualify for this ranking and is obviously very deserving of consideration.  Curitiba is often the “poster child” for sustainable urban revitalization.  Curitiba, through its former mayor, Jamie Lerner, introduced the world’s first bus rapid transit system which is used by 70% of Curitiba’s daily commuters.  Curitiba is tied with Copenhagen for the lowest emissions per capita (2.1 Tons CO2e). Curitiba also comes second (to Vancouver) with its renewable energy contribution (82% of electricity generation).  Despite being the highest elevation city in this ranking (i.e. no risk of sea level rise) it has the longest running adaptation program of any city in the study.  In the 1970’s, Curitiba implemented a flood prevention plan from its nearby rivers by creating a win-win solution-creating 5,000+ acres of parks alongside their waterways.

1.) Copenhagen, Denmark
It can’t be much of a surprise that the city where nearly 40% of its citizens cycle to work scores the number one posting in this first ever ranking of resilient cities.  Copenhagen was the only city obtaining a perfect score on political commitment.  That’s not all of course.  Copenhagen tied Curitiba with the lowest per capita emissions and also sets the global standard by seeking to be the first major capital city in the world to achieve carbon neutrality (by 2025).   Copenhagen has some work to do on its adaptation planning but does score second in this ranking for parks/capita.

Many other global cities are worthy of praise and made early screens in the ranking process.

Runners up across the globe (alphabetical order by region):

AfricaAustralia/AsiaEuropeLatin AmericaNorth America
Cape TownKyotoAmsterdamBogotaAustin
JohannesburgMelbourneBrusselsMexico CityChicago
SydneyMadridRio de JaneiroSeattle
SeoulRomeSao PaoloToronto


Just a few weeks ago, I published research on the top 10 Climate-Ready U.S. cities. The response was great and I also received some very valuable feedback which fed into my ongoing research on global cities.While no ranking is perfect, I believe there is real value in identifying metrics and applying them to global cities to contribute to the discussion of how cities can and are intelligently preparing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

I have used proxies and a methodology for ranking global cities with populations of 600,000 plus based on a range of factors including political commitment, density, transit access and use, renewable energy capacity, GHG emissions, GHG reduction targets, climate change mitigation and adaptation planning, and acreage of parks (adaptation best practice).

“Cities are firmly at the vanguard of the global charge to deliver large scale carbon reductions and energy efficiencies. In seeking to set the pace and work together, cities have immense clout to stimulate low carbon world markets to unleash economic opportunities for their citizens.” London Mayor Boris Johnson

For more information on Resilient Cities, please check out Arup’s recent report in conjunction with C40 and/or join David Cadman, President of ICLEI, and me for a webinar on July 13th where will discuss these rankings and a how cities can make the transition to a low-carbon, resilient future.


Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.

Twitter: boydcohen

This series uses the hashtag #climatecapitalism


Appendix: Key Data Used in the Rankings

CityCountryLeadership Total          (6 max)*Density/ (pop/Km)GHG/ CapitaGHG TargetsRenewablesElevationParksAdaptation Strategy       (5 max)
CopenhagenDenmark6.018502.120% below 2005 by 2010; carbon neutral by 202527%5 meters6143 acres2
CuritibaBrazil4.038502.136-39% by 202082.00%913 meters5,190 acres5
BarcelonaSpain5.048504.220% below 2004 by 2020; 50% below 2004 by 205012.9%
6 meters1358 acres4
StockholmSweden4.027003.6carbon neutral by 205029.30%61 meters21,000 acres1
VancouverCanada5.016504.980% below 1990 by 205090.00%2 meters3,200 acres3
Paris France4.035505.230% by 2020 75% below 2004 by 205014.00%35 meters4,500 acres4
San Francisco USA4.5235010.120% below 1990 by 2012; 80% 205020.80%6 meters3500 acres3
NYCUSA4.520507.930% below 2005 baseline levels by 203019.00%10 meters28,000 acres4
London UK4.051006.260% below 1990 by 2025 (corporate!) ; 600m ton limit b/w now an 202510.00%24 meters4,900 acres4
TokyoJapan3.047505.125% by 2020 (corporate!)10.00%18 meters2471 acres2

*US Cities obtained .5 points because the US Mayors for Climate Protection (not the Mayors of these cities) signed the Mexican Pact.

Future rankings aim to include metrics for green buildings, green business, electric vehicle (EV) support, water security, food security and more.

Boyd Cohen is the CEO of CO2 IMPACT, a carbon origination company based in Vancouver, Canada and Bogota, Colombia. Boyd is also the co-author of Climate Capitalism: Capitalism in the Age of Climate Change.Twitter: boydcohen

20 responses

  1. Thanks for the feedback. You are right that few BRIC cities were in the running. There are some innovations happening out of those cities (of course in Brazil they have been doing innovative things for a while) but as a whole the commitment is to economic growth first and then climate and sustainability is considered. China as a whole however is making real progress on renewables but at the same time continue to expand their coal-powered generation. For cities of the future to survive and thrive they must begin to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Resilient cities will see lots of in-migration and attract the best companies and minds.

    1. Boyd, Thank you for all the work that went into assembling the list. I’m wondering if there is a parallel list of resilient nations. Clearly, there isn’t a direct correlation: the US is the only country with two cities on the list, yet we’re in the Dark Ages when it comes to federal policy in regard to protecting our nation from climate impacts.

  2. Thanks for your feedback Harvey. I developed this ranking precisely because cities are leading the way in many cases, especially in North America. I have not seen a country ranking for resiliency. Obviously the Fossil Awards focus on the opposite-shaming countries like the U.S. and Canada when they are obviously impeding progress on a multi-lateral climate accord. If I were to develop a country ranking I know the U.S. would not make the top ten because we would fail the first screen-Political Commitment.

  3. Hi there
    Interesting post. Wonder what your definition of a “city” is – i.e. how big did it have to be to be considered for the list?

    Was surprised that there are no cities from Germany in the list, considering the German commitment to renewables. One that should be considered, I think, is Munich, Germany. With local government heavily committed to renewables, recycling, green space, great transit system, reducing emissions of cars in the city, cycle lanes everywhere, as well as regulations requiring building insulation for energy efficiency, it’s well on the way to being highly resilient.

    In any case, no doubt there are many other smaller cities doing great work too. It’s great to publicise their work and for others to see the great examples that are possible right now!

    Keep up the good work too! :-)



  4. Thanks for your feedback Alan. The definition of cities is quite varied of course. For the purpose of this study, I used a minimum size of 600,000 because it would be “impossible” to evaluate all cities in the world on these metrics. You are right that German cities are doing quite a bit and more recently even the German national government is making major progress (way more than in North America). I did evaluate some German cities but they didn’t make the final screen. As I add more variables next year I think there may be some changes to these rankings.

  5. Many of these are on coastal areas which will be in trouble with as little as a 1m sealevel rise–given the accuracy of predictions, this could happen as soon as 2013. It’s best to assume ti will happen sooner than later–unless you can make money off of flooded cities.

    ‘Resilient’ is ability to respond and adapt to change–greenness has little to do with it.

  6. This has got to be a joke, right? Tokyo as #1, the best? A city so dependent on nuclear energy, which just suffered a huge disaster in Japan, releasing lots of radiation, and where the nuclear plants proved to be not resilient at all, and that uses huge amounts of electricity for things like advertising signs? This column does damage to the word “resilient.”

    1. Toky was #10 by the way. Tokyo is not responsible for Japan’s nuclear power situation and it is taking positive steps to introduce renewables into its local energy supply. It is also among the first cities in the world to introduce its own emission trading system. It is also a very dense city and has one of the most well used rail transit systems in the world.

  7. I was going to ask the same question as Charles. resilience is defined as “the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. ” about half of your top ten are at sea level. I would have thought that knocks them out of any possibility of being resilient, they will a “qualitatively different state” when they are under water.

  8. Charles and Lloyd,
    Sea level proximity is an important factor and one that I took into consideration. However I find fault in your reasoning that all cities near sea level can’t be resilient. First of all most cities that will survive will be close to water, lakes, rivers or the ocean. This will facilitate lower-carbon transport, sources of potable and non-potable water, for toilets, showers, agriculture and consumption, etc. Using your logic, any city near any body of water that could flood would rule out most cities where people live now or will be able to live in the future. For example, Curitiba was the highest elevation city in this ranking (almost 1,000 meters) and was prone to frequent flooding in its rivers until it implemented an adaptation solution.

    I could also use the same rationale and suggest that any city far from water can’t be resilient for the alternative argument (i.e. distance from water will make it difficult to feed its population-food security; and transporting necessary goods and even people will be cost-prohibitive without nearby access to ports and waterways).

    My point is that all cities have vulnerabilities and hazards. To me, what makes a city resilient is whether or not it has clear understandings of its particular hazards and vulnerabilities and what it is doing to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For more on this topic I highly recommend a slightly technical book on city adaptation which was just released: Climate Change and Cities (Rosenzweig, et. al). Also you can attend our upcoming webinar on July 13th with ICLEI’s President, David Cadman where I will be discussing the rankings:

  9. What I love about rankings like these (all the better because thorough research is behind it) are that they make those of us who read it… want to help our own cities get a higher ranking! It’s that “gamification” idea.. as per the theme of the recent Sustainable Brands conference. So… now that I’m back in Seattle, I’m very proud of the city and want to do what I can to encourage more people to ride bikes, for example – to help us get into the top 10! I also feel a connection to Portland’s rankings, having lived (and biked) there in the early 1990s.

    It’s a race to the top, and competition around who can improve more and faster – not who can “kill” the other. Thanks for helping compile this research and writing about it, Boyd.

  10. This is a very interesting post, and an interesting study. I am wondering how much you focused on ‘city limits’ vs ‘metropolitan areas’, and how much difference that would make to the rankings.

    For example, Vancouver the city is relatively small and manages to exclude much of the negatives of sprawl by exporting suburban residential demand into adjacent ‘cities’. If Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster, Richmond, etc are included, how well does Vancouver stack up?

    And similarly, Auckland, New Zealand is not included in your list. It recently amalgamated seven cities into one and it might therefore be a long time before it ever again gets onto an international ranking, now that its suburban areas are included in the stats that used to be excluded from the relatively small footprint that was the ‘City of Auckland’. Can you tell me if Auckland was included in your analysis and if so how it stacked up?

  11. I find this post very interesting. I am from the Maldives (one of the most vulnerable countries to impacts of climate change especially sea level rise), where we have been talking about resilient island communities. We keep trying to define what a resilient island community would be. I find the criteria you have used very useful and wonder if you might have thought of any criteria for small island nations.

  12. Hi Paul. Thanks for your feedback on the post. You ask some good questions. For this specific ranking I decided to use City as opposed to metropolitan data. There is an important reason for this decision: Mayors and city councils rarely have much, if any, control over key decisions made outside their jurisdiction. Transportation policy, building codes, district energy systems and land use planning tend to be very localized. One would hope that there is at least some level of cooperation amongst metro area planning departments for mitigation and adaptation planning but it is not always the case. Mayors and city council do have control over key policies within their city limits so that is why I chose to use city-level population data. I must admit that Auckland did not meet me initial screen so it was not included in this study. By the way I agree regarding Vancouver. I have lived in Vancouver since 2006. While it is a very progressive and leading city on these topics, but as you suggest the outlying suburbs such as Coquitlam, Surrey and others have a loooong way to go;

  13. I’m really dissapointed to find Shanghai did not make it even to the runner-ups, this is quite an oversight considering we have the largest urban Metro system in the world, an extensive bus and electric trolly system, tree-lined bike lanes throughout most of the city and suburbs, China’s first off-shore wind farm and recently opened high-speed rail links to Beijing an Nanjing.

  14. Great post. I want left my testimony about the second position. I’m from Curitiba and i can say that the preoccupation about sustentability is present on our day-by-day. Since the last decades Curitibas has looking for alternative solutions to reconcile the excenciais services as public mobility and preservation of the green areas, but the most important thing is about the environmental awareness with which this new generation has been formed here. Sorry about the English.

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