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From Greenhouse Gases to Green Cities: Building a Low Carbon and Resilient Future

From Accra to Ahmedabad, and Tirana to Tulum, cities are the powerhouses of economic and social opportunities, attracting millions of people each year. This migration, alongside the fact that extreme climate events like droughts and floods are also causing people to move to cities, is driving one of the biggest demographic trends of our age: 6 in 10 people will live in urban settings by 2030 – 7 in 10 by 2050. An estimated 90 percent of urbanization over the next few decades will happen in cities alone. Are they prepared to meet this challenge?

When planned for and managed well, urbanization contributes to economic growth and poverty alleviation, as well to sustainability and climate change mitigation, by helping curb emissions. Unplanned growth, however, results in a proliferation of slums, congestion, pollution, greenhouse gases, lack of affordable housing, poor access to sanitation and waste management, and vulnerability to natural hazards, which are exacerbated by climate change.

With cities on the cusp of major growth, they now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lead the charge on tackling the climate crisis, which UN Secretary General António Guterres called a code red for humanity.

Cities Will Be Key to a Low Carbon Economy

Although over 6,000 cities have developed climate action plans, they represent only a fifth of the global urban population. The reality is that the world needs bolder, urgent, and more sweeping commitments and action to meet the climate challenge. The World Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan recognizes that cities will be key for this transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy. The plan aims to direct 35 percent of financing to climate on average, with half of its climate finance supporting adaptation and resilience and all financial flows in line with the Paris Agreement by 2025.

The City Climate Finance Gap Fund is a critical instrument in this regard. With its focus on supporting early-stage ideas that can be transformed into finance-ready projects, the Fund tackles a crucial gap in cities’ abilities to implement climate mitigation and adaptation projects. It already supports more than 35 cities, ranging from upstream climate analytics to early-stage project preparation and pre-feasibility studies, and aims to extend support to at least 180 cities.

The Fund complements the City Resilience Program (CRP), under the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), which aims to catalyze a shift toward longer-term, comprehensive and multi-disciplinary packages of technical and financial services, building the pipeline for viable projects at the city level that, in turn, build resilience. For example, CRP worked with the city of Dar es Salaam to highlight the city’s exposure to flooding and sea level rise, and worked with the local community to identify strategies to enhance the city’s resilience.

Support provided by the likes of the Gap Fund and the City Resilience Program are complemented by knowledge work like the Enabling Frameworks to Mobilize Urban Climate Finance report, providing systems-level conceptual frameworks and recommendations for city, country and climate decision-makers. The World Bank also invests an average of $5 billion/year to support cities with implementing climate-smart investments and contributing to a low-carbon and resilient development.

Such initiatives and partnerships aim to ensure urban growth and planning make cities more equitable and livable as well as sustainable.

Energy-efficient Retrofits Could Greatly Reduce Emissions

Take urban housing, for example.

Residential buildings account for nearly three-fourths of global building energy use. Because two-thirds of the buildings standing today will still exist in 2050, even small investments in energy-efficient retrofits could cut energy costs by billions of dollars and greatly reduce emissions. A bonus is that green building and retrofitting efforts could create 25 million new jobs globally by 2030. The World Bank’s Global Program for Resilient Housing encourages improvements to the global housing stock to strengthen their resilience to disasters. In Guatemala, buildings at risk of collapsing in an earthquake were identified and mapped through the program, and in Indonesia, the program is supporting the government to build resilience into its home improvement subsidy initiative.

Tree-planting Created Jobs in Sierra Leone

Nature-based solutions are another cost-effective and efficient route to deliver lasting and tangible climate impact in urban settings. For example, a World Bank financed tree-planting program in Freetown, Sierra Leone created 500 jobs during the pandemic. And in the Seychelles, the World Bank is supporting coastal management planning, integrating nature-based and gray infrastructure solutions and exploring the feasibility of investments in coral reef management and artificial reefs for coastal protection.

The World Bank also continues to partner with organizations to provide cities and local governments technical support, deep dive learning, and knowledge sharing opportunities. Such partnerships, as underpinned by the Gap Fund, City Resilience Program and other initiatives, are a clear indication that concerted, collaborative action is key to meet the climate challenge. The private sector, national and local governments, city networks and international institutions need to work together to make this happen.

Investing thoughtfully in urban infrastructure can ensure a recovery from the pandemic that is low-carbon, resilient and inclusive. It will mean a greener, friendlier urban environment and contribute to better the lives and health of people – and of the cities that will increasingly be home for most of the population on this planet.

(Courtesy: World Bank Group)

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