The Power of Cities: Harnessing Low-carbon Urbanization for Climate Action

Extensive systemic transformations of urban areas in rapidly urbanizing developing countries can be a powerful vehicle for advancing low-carbon urban growth that supports global decarbonization goals. Since most of the urban infrastructure and footprint in rapidly urbanizing countries in Asia and SubSaharan Africa (SSA) will be built in the next few decades, urban policy decisions made today will have long-lasting implications on the contribution of cities to future global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the GHG emissions generated by cities in developing countries have been relatively low compared to cities in high- and upper-middleincome countries (HICs and UMICs), given the scale of urban growth anticipated in these countries, pivoting away from high GHG emissions trajectories and pursuing low-carbon urbanization pathways are essential to avoid locking in carbonintensive development in the long-term. This report highlights the urgent need to improve the integration of low-carbon urbanization priorities into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Low-GHG Emission Development Strategies (LTSs) of rapidly urbanizing countries and outlines the opportunities to leverage them as bridges between national decarbonization and urban development goals and priorities. These key instruments, which outline countries’ long-term visions for lowGHG emissions, climate-resilient development (LTS) and medium-term climate priorities (NDC), often overlook the urgency of decarbonizing urban systems. Integrating climate mitigation considerations for urban systems that are synergistic with countries’ urban development goals in these strategies could elevate this agenda and accelerate its implementation. As countries strive to embed priorities and targets from national change climate strategies (especially NDCs and LTSs) into their development planning efforts, incorporating low-carbon urban development considerations into NDCs and LTSs can signal strong political commitment to this agenda, foster coordination with urban governments and other local stakeholders, facilitate access to finance, and enable effective implementation of multi-sectoral urban policies and actions. Considering the impact of urbanization and urban mitigation measures on national GHG emissions can also help leverage the potential of such measures and their spillover effects to achieve national (and global) climate goals and progressively raise ambition. To bolster the integration of low-carbon urbanization priorities into NDCs and LTSs, this report identifies numerous integrative solutions across countries’ policy frameworks and institutional structures; finance mobilization efforts; evidence-based policy processes; and measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems. The integration process should account for the contextual differences and characteristics across countries and their urban areas emerging from varied policy frameworks, institutional structures, and financial and technical capacities. It is also crucial to recognize the pressures of rapid urbanization, especially in low-income countries and lower-middle-income countries (LICs and LMICs) and associated challenges such as infrastructure deficits and high levels of urban informality. The proposed solutions address several key barriers to integration arising from context-specific challenges that limit inclusion of lowcarbon urbanization considerations into NDCs and LTSs and hinder their effective implementation. The authors propose that the integration journey start with a country- and city-specific readiness diagnostic developed for this report—the Readiness Diagnostic Framework. This Framework can help identify changes required in policy processes, institutions, finance mobilization efforts, and climate action planning and tracking to inform decision makers in rapidly urbanizing countries at both national and city levels about the actions needed to pursue integration of low-carbon urbanization priorities into national climate change strategies, including NDCs and LTSs.

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