- City mayors ask for a seat at the COP28 climate decision-making table: without cities there is no transition.
- Responses to the climate crisis must be developed with a multi-level, intersectoral and democratic approach.
- Urban resilience is not a goal itself, but a process of co-creation.
The fundamental role of cities facing the impact of climate change had already been highlighted in the Paris Agreement but only this year, for the first time, a discussion between mayors, international bodies and the Emirate presidency is included in the official COP28 program.
“The development of our cities needs green corridors more than Avenues.” Claudia Lopez, outgoing mayor of Bogotá, says to multilateral development banks, encouraging them to create new rules and conditions so that funds can flow directly to local governments to make them socially, politically and economically responsible and therefore be the driving force of this transformation. “Give us the money, we have the solutions.”
Cities are at the heart of the climate agenda: currently over 50% of the population lives in urban areas, and this figure will reach 70% by 2050. Urban centers are thus facing a double challenge: growing demographic pressure and pressing risks of climate change. Yet, currently only 2-thirds of NDCs (the national climate goals) feature programs with meaningful urban strategies, and less than 20 cite clear investments targeting cities. On the other hand, climate finance also remains a major issue: only 21% of global financing is allocated to urban adaptation and resilience and barely 10% reaches local administrations.
Decentralization had already appeared as the right recipe for success in the introductory speech of UN Secretary General Guterres: “We must ensure a seat for local leaders at the NDC update tables and commit to the phase out of fossil fuels: tripling renewable energies, doubling energy efficiency, bringing clean energy to all by 2030.”
But when discussing climate actions on a local scale, energy (with related emissions) is not the only focus. The first citizens also carry out other short and long-term objectives: more effective waste management, the improvement of air quality, the creation and expansion of urban greenery, the transition towards a sustainable mobility and transport system, the creation of new green jobs.
As for solutions, it is clear that there is no universal recipe: the challenges related to climate change are quite similar at a global level, but the ways in which they manifest themselves can be very different. This implies that the solutions have to be contextualized, while maintaining a replicable and scalable approach.
In this regard, we have heard a lot about the need for multi-level coalitions for climate action. COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber launched, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, the CHAMP (Coalition for High Ambition Multilevel Partnership) program, highlighting the importance of aligning climate actions at local, regional and national scales. “I am here to deliver the most ambitious response to Global Stocktake, please do what you can too”, the President said.
During the second ministerial meeting on Urbanization and Climate (the first took place last year at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh), the importance of an intersectoral approach also emerged to guarantee a relationship of trust between politics, incentives, the public-private sector, academia and civil society, in order to produce a multilateral framework for immediate and just response to climate risks.
The most vulnerable people to the effects of climate change are often the most distant from decision-making processes and sources of information on the topic. For this reason the process of making cities more resilient must be democratized. This means, on the one hand, producing masterplans capable of working with urban informality, and on the other that the multilateral approach must guarantee authentic participation of the local population. Community engagement also passes through correct communication of the results of climate actions: “The transition will not happen without transparency and trust in the system“, says Ani Dasgupta, president of the World Resource Institute at a side event in the Resilience Hub.
Finally, we must consider that, in cities with a strong component of informality, a large part of the population has little (or no) access to basic services such as water and energy. When there are questions of survival to address, sustainability goals go to the bottom of the list of priorities for policy makers. For this reason, according to Gareth Morgan, Executive Director of Future Planning and Resilience of the City of Cape Town, resilience should not be considered as a goal in itself, but a way to guarantee survival.
Resilience is a transformative process to be addressed with a holistic approach, while eradicating energy poverty and insecurity, improving habitability and ensuring physical and mental health. Building resilient cities allows you to implement physical and technological infrastructures capable of involving social, institutional and governmental factors that have a key role in its management and performance: in fact, resilience is a process of co-creation.
Article by Caterina Vetrugno, volunteer of the Italian Climate Network
Cover image: photo by Geoffrey Arduini via Unsplash