WHY CITIES HAVE A KEY ROLE TO PLAY IN TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE

Cities host more than half of the global population, totaling 4.4 billion inhabitants, and this urban population is projected to double by 2050. This means that globally nearly 7 out of 10 people will be expected to live in cities by then. Due to this population density, cities also account for over 80 percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and contribute significantly to Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

What are the impacts of climate change that affect cities around the world?

More frequent extreme weather events: cities are experiencing increased exposure to extreme weather events such as floods and storms, resulting in loss of lives and livelihoods, displacement of people and damage to infrastructure.

Sea level rise and increased flood risk: warmer temperatures are also leading to heavier rainfall and extreme floods in cities worldwide. Coastal cities are especially vulnerable to sea level rise with an increasingly sizable population living in coastal regions.

Heatwaves and air pollution: urban areas are feeling an increased burden from recurring heatwaves. The “urban heat island effect”, driven by human activities and built infrastructure, intensifies heatwaves and can lead to temperatures that are much higher than those in rural areas. 

Threats to food and water: climate hazards also pose a fundamental risk to health and quality of life, the security of food systems and food availability, water, natural systems, and urban-rural linkages.

Increased inequalities: climate impacts tend to increase existing social and economic disparities, especially in developing countries where cities are grappling with a surge in rural-to-urban migration, often fueled by displacement from climate impacts.

A collapsed road in Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city, in the aftermath of cyclone Freddy in 2023. Credit: UNDP Malawi

Urban industrial activity causes heavy pollution in Mongolia. Credit: UNDP Mongolia/Nicolas Petit and CCRCC of Mongolia

This informal settlement in the township of West Point, Monrovia is one of Liberia’s most densely populated areas. Photo: UNMIL/Albert Gonzalez Farran

What type of climate action can cities take?

Cities have a crucial role in anticipating and coping with climate challenges. By prioritizing increased climate investments, ambitious urban planning and robust policies, cities can play a pivotal role in translating global climate targets into locally achievable solutions.

This is why it has become increasingly critical to develop local climate plans where cities commit to strengthening their climate resilience, raising adaptive capacity, reducing their emissions, improving their disaster preparedness, upgrading response strategies, and adopting stronger adaptation and mitigation measures.

Concrete examples of local climate actions include investing in green and climate-resilient infrastructure by improving building energy efficiency, expanding access to clean energy and promoting low-carbon transportation. Additionally, communities and cities can focus on sustainable waste management, local food production, and enhancing urban green spaces to mitigate the urban island effect through urban forests, parks and gardens. For coastal cities this may mean strengthening flood protection through levees, dikes and seawalls, and planting mangrove ecosystems as buffers. These efforts have the potential to yield significant emissions reductions, while also delivering economic benefits to urban populations and local economies.

Naturally, implementing such actions is only possible if governance challenges are addressed. These challenges include funding constraints, insufficient political will, centralized institutions and economies, and competing priorities.

Kigali’s Imbuga City Walk in Rwanda helps enhance city life while reducing emissions. Credit: UNDP Rwanda/Mucyo Serge

In Hué, Viet Nam, e-bike and bike-sharing programs are being introduced to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism activities. Photo: UNDP Viet Nam

Solar photovoltaic systems installed on the roof of the public hospital in Bouar, a city in Lebanon. Photo: UNDP Lebanon/Fouad Choufany

Smart organic hydroponic gardens in La Paz schools support Bolivia’s transition to sustainable local food systems. Photo: UNDP/Daniela Peris

What are some examples of cities taking climate action?

Peru‘s Lima, one of the few megacities located in a desert, is pioneering innovative solutions to address water scarcity and advance the national objective of reducing GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2030. Aided by fog catcher technology and automated irrigation, the city is testing the viability of using water harvesting in fog oases in the hills surrounding the capital city. Native trees are also planted to reforest threatened areas and climate stations have been installed for monitoring purposes and to deter illegal activities. To ensure ownership and the protection of these essential resources, local communities are actively taking part in decision-making processes.

In Egypt, Sharm El-Sheikh seized the opportunity of hosting COP28 to further emphasize its commitment to sustainability with the installation of solar rooftops on hotels and small-scale Photovoltaic or PV systems in key structures like the airport, hospital and government offices, serving as a model for other cities. More recently, five solar power stations were inaugurated in world heritage sites and museums in the country’s largest cities, including at the Sharm El Sheikh Museum, Manial Palace in Cairo, two museums in Alexandria, and the Giza Plateau’s Visitor Center. The new installations will contribute to an annual reduction of approximately 295 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Over 132 small-scale PV solar power stations have also been established across 16 Governorates to enhance access to solar energy across the country.

As Malaysia shifts towards greener and more sustainable urban landscapes, its cities are taking concrete steps to lead the charge. The country has launched the Low Carbon City Framework Programme, engaging 64 local authorities in crafting strategies and action plans for low-carbon initiatives within their jurisdictions. In particular, the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Iskandar Malaysia, Seberang Perai and Melaka have developed low-carbon action plans and conducted GHG inventories to track their progress in reducing carbon emissions. Five other cities are implementing low-carbon initiatives using an integrated approach that encompasses policy formulation, awareness campaigns, capacity building and demonstration projects.

In Uganda, where urbanization fuels an annual increase in domestic waste generation, the youth-led start-up, Yo-Waste, partners with Kampala and Entebbe municipalities, along with local leaders, residents and businesses, to ensure proper waste collection and disposal. This effort is particularly vital during rainy seasons to avert environmental risks and prevent garbage from blocking drainage systems, thus reducing the threat of flooding and associated health hazards. To date, their initiative has benefited over 10,000 households, managing approximately 320 tonnes of municipal solid waste monthly. With a team of 32 full-time workers, Yo-Waste also provides stable incomes to young urbanites thus contributing to local economic growth.

Türkiye is actively engaged in the development of Local Climate Change Action Plans (YİDEP), aimed at integrating climate concerns into development planning. In 2024, six pilot municipalities, including Antalya, Kahramanmaraş and Elazığ, started developing these plans. A crucial aspect of this initiative is the development of the YSGEA tool, modeled after the Global Protocol for Community-scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories, that municipalities can use to calculate and report local emissions. Furthermore, the establishment of an online climate change portal (e-YİDEP) and regional vulnerability assessments seek to bolster data accessibility, monitoring, transparency and consistency across municipalities. Complementary efforts include assessing the social, economic and environmental impacts and benefits of proposed climate actions at the subnational level.

In Uganda, Yo-Waste enables urban households and businesses to schedule waste collection using a mobile phone. Photo: Yo-Waste Ltd.

The solar station at the Giza Plateau Visitor Center is part of a pioneering initiative for rooftop PV systems in Egypt. Photo: UNDP Egypt

How is UNDP assisting climate action efforts in urban areas?

UNDP is actively supporting climate action in urban areas through various initiatives and programmes. Some examples of this include:

  • Finance and investment: UNDP helps cities meet climate finance challenges by supporting governments to access new sources of finance, facilitating innovative financing mechanisms, strengthening the integration of climate and environment-related concerns into economic and financial policies, and building capacity to better track climate-related spending.
  • Policy support: UNDP assists cities in developing and implementing climate-related policies and action plans that are aligned with international frameworks such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with NDCs playing a pivotal role in advancing this agenda. Under the Climate Promise, UNDP is collaborating with governments and other stakeholders in 55 countries to integrate climate considerations into urban planning and development processes.
  • Technical assistance: UNDP offers technical assistance to help cities identify climate risks, develop climate-resilient infrastructure, and enhance climate action at the urban and subnational levels.
  • Capacity-building: UNDP provides capacity-building support to local governments and urban stakeholders to enhance their understanding of climate change impacts and to develop effective strategies for adaptation and mitigation.
  • Knowledge sharing: UNDP facilitates the exchange of knowledge and best practices among cities, enabling them to learn from each other’s experiences and innovations in addressing climate change in urban areas.
  • Advocacy: UNDP collaborates closely with other United Nations agencies such as UN-HABITAT and partners to raise awareness about the vital role of local and regional governments and cities in combating climate change, and their potential to strengthen and achieve NDC climate goals.

Through these and other initiatives, UNDP plays a crucial role in supporting urban areas worldwide in their efforts to tackle climate change and build resilient, sustainable communities and cities.

Source: https://climatepromise.undp.org/news-and-stories/cities-have-key-role-play-tackling-climate-change-heres-why