Earth Hour Challenge: Sustainable Cities in the spotlight


After Seoul in 2015, Paris won the 2016 Earth Hour City Challenge staged by the NGO WWF: an award acclaiming the French capital’s ambition in terms of the fight against global warming – one it is not alone in targeting. The special mentions given to Quito, Belo Horizonte and Boulder highlight the growing concern of the world’s cities for providing a healthy living environment for their inhabitants.


In 2016, 125 cities representing 21 countries competed in the Earth Hour City Challenge to highlight their hands-on, climate-friendly actions. Initiated by the WWF, the competition is designed to show the importance of urban areas as a driving force in the transition towards resilient[1] lifestyles with a low carbon footprint.

And the challenge is huge, because cities account for 70% of total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency: an unambiguous figure that summons political and economic stakeholders to take action, especially since an estimated two-thirds of the population will be living in cities by 2050.

Paris at the top

The competing cities were asked to describe their plans and actions on behalf of the climate, and an international panel of 17 judges went through their applications with a fine-tooth comb.

In the end, Paris was voted the Global Earth Hour Capital for 2016. “In choosing Paris, we were recognizing its commitment and resolution to inspire cities the world over in terms of the fight against global warming, the reduction of emissions and an urban sustainability policy,” said Marco Lambertini, General Director of WWF International.

Paris, which hosted COP 21, was mainly chosen for its actions promoting sustainable mobility, like a more efficient management of the “last mile”[2] (or kilometer in France) for deliveries, or the development of a biogas waste-to-fuel facility.

Three cities in the Americas to watch

But fortunately, the French capital is not the only city involved in inspiring concrete climate actions. The judges also awarded special mentions to seven cities, three of them in the Americas.

Boulder, Colorado, in the USA, was praised for its participatory management of the energy transition. The city has encouraged its residents to contribute on a local level to the environmental strategy and to the development of renewable energies. For example, its voters decided to renew a tax designed to reduce carbon emissions, and to finance innovative sustainable development projects.

Further south, Quito, the capital of Ecuador, was acclaimed for its reforestation projects. As part of a plan for restoring vegetative cover, Quito has planted nearly 387,000 trees since January 2015, and is working to involve its inhabitants in urban farming.

Finally, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte was singled out by the WWF panel. Apart from its solar-powered stadium, built to host games during the 2014 Soccer World Cup, its efforts in terms of composting and boosting the recycling network garnered special praise.

More generally, the 2016 edition has illustrated how involved cities are in the fight against global warming and has emphasized the advantages of fostering local solutions for all urban stakeholders, whether political decision-makers, companies or individual residents.

Photo ©Dutourdumonde Photography /

[1] This involves adapting our cities and urban lifestyles by reducing their impact on the environment and making them shock-resistant without jeopardizing quality of life.

[2] The last mile in logistics is an issue involving the transport and delivery of goods by B2B and B2C firms. As the product gets closer to the end recipient, the cost of transport (and thus the impact on the environment) increases, reaching a peak during the last mile.