Adopting a green approach to beat the climate crisis in cities
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC)’s latest report predicts that the worsening impacts of climate change – especially heat stress, floods, and sea level rise – will be felt acutely in cities . I have witnessed devastation like that firsthand. Over the summer, I relocated to Brussels and within weeks, saw the residents of Belgium’s third largest city of Liege ordered to evacuate due to devastating flash floods that hit cities and towns in the wider region.
The climate crisis had, quite literally, hit close to home.
The findings of hundreds of scientists set out in the report show with increasing certainty that these types of extreme heat and flood events will become much more common. I work at the nexus of urban development and climate change so for me, this is an unequivocal sign that we are at the tipping point for more ambitious climate action .
So, what are the implications of the report for the World Bank’s work on cities and climate change?
First, the report confirms that humans are the source of climate change. We have warmed the atmosphere, oceans, and land well beyond the norm. Second, the earth is warming faster than before. Some of the changes already started will be pretty much irreversible, such as sea level rise, which is happening at the fastest rate in at least 1,000 years. Third, all regions will be increasingly affected by climate change but, according to the IPCC report, some aspects of climate change may much worse in cities, including heat, flooding, and sea level rise .
Yet, there is hope that we can stabilize rising temperatures with concerted, ambitious and rapid action – both on global and local levels – and respond to this ‘code red’ in time to leave a livable planet for future generations .
This is where action in cities and our work at the World Bank comes in.
Cities, also on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, have taken a hit to their municipal finances over the past several months. A key focus for many cities right now is recovering from these impacts by investing in ways to create jobs and livelihoods . When well designed, these stimulus packages provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in zero-carbon transition and resilient infrastructure measures that address the climate crisis by reducing emissions, increasing urban resilience, and creating jobs in the process.
The World Bank Group has placed cities and urban systems at the center of its new Climate Action Plan 2025 - on par with energy, transport, food and manufacturing. Initiatives like the City Climate Finance Gap Fund, which supports early-stage, low-carbon urban planning and investment pipelines; the City Resilience Program that supports adaptation action in cities by engaging the private sector or the City Creditworthiness Initiative that supports cities to better access urban climate finance will all be key vehicles of support at the city level.
In recent months, we have also heard from mayors from cities as diverse as New York City, Medellin, Tirana and Freetown on the benefits of investing in decarbonizing buildings, energy, heating, transport, waste and water services and investing in resilient infrastructure and city greening. They see these as important for creating jobs, while also reducing air pollution and making their cities better places to live in general.
Scientists predict that further urban development and extreme weather events will result in increasing natural hazards as well as heat and water stress in cities . They suggest that impact assessments in cities will need high-spatial resolution climate projections and more localized models representing urban processes and systems for cities to better understand and prepare for climate shocks and stresses.
This provides greater impetus for building up the key role of cities in both climate change mitigation and adaptation. By investing in and adopting solutions that also address the climate crisis – in our policies, planning, finance, and infrastructure -- we can do our part in saving the planet for generations to come.
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