About Ambitious City Promises

While there is growing global recognition of the role of cities in delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement, the reality of harnessing this immense potential remains a challenge. Many Southeast Asian cities are strengthening their adaptation and disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) measures in the wake of intense local impacts from climate change. Mitigation measures, conversely, can feel more abstract and illusive. In advancing urban sustainability, local governments must simultaneously contribute to emissions reduction efforts and address pressing development concerns.

Many city-level policies require consensus and stakeholder participation in order for them to be fully realized. Therefore, engaging stakeholders in city-level climate action plans can further elevate governments’ climate ambitions. Inspired by the Promise of Seoul, a comprehensive climate strategy adopted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2015, the Ambitious City Promises Project provides a pathway for Southeast Asian cities in pursuing stakeholder-driven strategies towards low emission development pathways.

Through Ambitious City Promises, local governments in Southeast Asia adapted this model of inclusive, ambitious climate action, mainstreaming low emission development strategies and creating new climate leaders. By spreading the vision behind the Promise of Seoul, Ambitious City Promises showed how collective action taken in cities, with leadership from local governments, can contribute to achieving and ratcheting up national and global climate goals.


Through Ambitious City Promises, ICLEI aimed to:

  • Develop and deploy bottom-up models of climate action planning: Ambitious City Promises demonstrated the impact of bottom-up climate action by engaging city residents and integrating stakeholder pledges into the City Promises. By consolidating and integrating community pledges into local action plans, cities can quantify community contributions and make the case for greater ambition at all levels of government. In this way, Ambitious City Promises created new climate leaders at the municipal and community level.

  • Establish lasting mechanisms for knowledge sharing: Ambitious City Promises strengthened climate action by spreading good practices through city-to-city exchange and support. Inspired by the Promise of Seoul, this project, with the support of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, guides participating cities in establishing mechanisms that allow for peer learning while supporting and aligning with national climate action plans and policies.

  • Contribute to local, national and global climate goals: Ambitious City Promises accelerated ambitious climate action at the local level by equipping cities to define and implement low emission development strategies through City Promises shaped by inclusive, participatory processes. These Ambitious City Promises are designed to increase impact and allow for increasingly significant contributions to national and global climate goals.


Through Ambitious City Promises, local governments across Southeast Asia:

  • Participated in in-country consultations to facilitate capacity building, policy advice and technology transfer support provided by ICLEI, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the project advisory group.
  • Developed new or improved comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventories.
  • Actively engaged city residents and key local climate stakeholders.
  • Used platforms to collect pledges from key stakeholders, including businesses and households.
  • Prepared concrete climate action plans – called City Promises – that include ambitious targets and integrate community pledges.
  • Initiated implementation of City Promises through pilot projects.
  • Reported aggregated city plans, actions and achievements.
  • Engaged in learning and cooperation opportunities with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and other cities.


Through Ambitious City Promises, Jakarta, Indonesia, Pasig City, Philippines, and Hanoi, Vietnam each:

  • Developed a City Promise plan with prioritized actions based on public consultation processes as well as each city's GHG emissions inventory.
  • Launched a public engagement platform based on consultation processes that provides awareness raising for communities and offers residents and key stakeholders a concrete way to contribute to the City Promise.
  • Designed and implemented two pilot projects, one focusing on engagement mechanisms and one on infrastructure.


Key lessons learned from the project

  • Empowering citizens: The project cities saw that pursuing the city-level climate targets alone is not sufficient to achieve the desired results and impacts. Combining climate targets with social aspects amplifies synergies and empowers stakeholders to commit to climate actions. Although many local governments include public participation as part of their processes, communication often flows in one direction: top-down. ACP was able to elevate the public’s voice and activate citizens’ potential as key contributors to climate actions through its consultation method. The process also served as a capacity building opportunity for citizens to make informed decisions, as well as inspire city governments to develop transformative and collaborative climate actions.

  • Peer-to-peer exchange: Placing peer-to-peer exchange at the core of the capacity building activities allowed cities to find commonalities in their approaches to addressing urban challenges. Members learned from and with each other. Implementing the peer learning methodology showed that replicating the proof of concept (while carefully adapting the approach to the local context) has many advantages, particularly because of the alignment between the suggested and current institutional arrangements and local government priorities. This explains why the Promise of Seoul model was an effective approach in deconstructing the concept of climate change mitigation: it related goals to the sectors (e.g. energy, transport, air quality, waste) that directly affect both mandates of local governments and citizens’ daily lives.

  • Promising the ambitions: The notion of stakeholders making promises for climate action is distinct to ACP’s approach to local climate action planning, reflecting the experience of SMG’s Promise of Seoul. A ‘promise’ implies a different posture towards a local government’s climate ambition, especially as communities and stakeholders can feel distanced from international goals (e.g. Paris Agreement). Through the project, model cities Jakarta, Pasig, and Hanoi reimagined climate action planning into a more tangible, accountable, and motivational enterprise. Their experiences demonstrated that accounting for and supporting local contributions can be a key driver of NDC implementation. They nurtured a culture of climate action among leaders, staff, and community stakeholders to become climate advocates.

Promise of Seoul

Based on the experience of managing the exponential urban growth path, Seoul has accumulated unique knowledge and insights that the city is committed to sharing in order to strengthen climate action abroad. As a part of this mission, SMG continually supported the development and implementation of the Ambitious City Promises project, sharing their learnings with participating cities across all urban sectors and levels of leadership. Seoul will continue to work with its citizens and experts to be at the forefront of climate action. The city expects to reach the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 if the whole society joins the city’s efforts. As evident from Seoul actively sharing its practices through the project, it is committed to continuously inspiring peer cities with measures towards carbon neutrality.

  • The Promise of Seoul is a comprehensive climate strategy established in 2015 with a goal to reduce GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The Action Plan of the Promise of Seoul contains 160 actions for the local government and citizens across a broad range of urban sectors. Representative governance bodies, including the Citizens’ Committee for a Green Seoul and Citizen Commission of One Less Nuclear Power Plant, worked with the local government from the initial stage of agenda setting.
  • The Promise of Seoul marked an important milestone in Seoul’s climate strategy. In 2018, national GHG emissions increased by about 30% compared to 2005 levels but Seoul registered an emissions reduction of 5% during the same period. The household sector showed the greatest improvement of 11% reduction thanks to rigorous local stakeholder engagement.

Theory of Change

The term ‘Promise’ represents the pledges and commitments of citizens, businesses, and local governments, putting all stakeholders on equal footing in climate action planning. The ACP project is inspired by the Promise of Seoul, which sets an example of bottom up and ambitious climate action planning. Through peer-to-peer learning and inclusive engagement, city governments and communities in Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines set their own ambitious GHG reduction targets, actions and contribute to their country’s NDCs. The City Promises of Jakarta, Pasig, and Hanoi are guided by a common formulation process, but one which is flexible enough to accommodate local circumstances.

  • Overall and sectoral GHG reduction/avoidance targets and key performance indicators in major emitting sectors - energy, transport, waste - were set based on the analysis of project activity results.
  • The rigorous citizen engagement activities bolstered the identification of stakeholder-pledged interventions across priority urban sectors.
  • The City Promises contain information on the overall and sectoral GHG emissions reduction/avoidance targets, strategies, and climate actions by key stakeholder categories: city administration, businesses, community groups (including NGOs).
  • Lastly, prioritization of mitigation actions were determined by employing a multicriteria analysis.