Climate Change

Making cities climate-ready crucial to solving climate crisis: World Bank

Cities in rich countries high emitters, but poorer ones will face most severe climate-related hazards, finds report

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Tuesday 23 May 2023
The World Bank report stressed the urgent need for cities to adopt integrated green urban planning strategies that address interconnected challenges, including investment in green space and sustainable infrastructure. Photo: iStock

The role of cities in addressing the global climate challenge is crucial, according to a recent World Bank report. The paper provided a compass for local and national policymakers to make cities greener, more resilient and more inclusive. 

The report titled Thriving: Making Cities Green, Resilient, and Inclusive in a Changing Climate said the world’s population increasingly lives in cities as a result of rapid urbanisation. 

Read more: World Bank to lend Sri Lanka US $100 million for building climate resilience

With data from over 10,000 cities, the March 2023 paper looked into how green, resilient and inclusive cities are today. It also examines the two-way interplay between cities and climate change.

The number of people living in cities increased from 1.19 billion to 4.46 billion between 1970 and 2021 and was responsible for approximately 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

On a per capita basis, cities in high and upper-middle-income countries have the highest fossil carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and those in low-income countries have the lowest.

North American cities are the largest per capita emitters, while cities in Sub-Saharan Africa remain the lowest per capita emitters on average.

Medium and large cities in middle-income countries mainly have relatively high carbon emissions and pollution levels, together with less green space.

Cities in lower-income countries account for only 14 per cent of global urban CO2 emissions, according to the report. However, they will face the most severe climate-related hazards — floods, heat stress, tropical cyclones, sea-level rise, water stress and wildfires. 

The ones in low- and middle-income countries are less green in terms of air pollution. Air pollution from key urban sectors presents a greater challenge for larger cities in countries at all income levels, the paper said.

Read more: Climate resilience: Kenyan farmers are adapting to extreme weather by growing indigenous crops

Lack of inclusiveness contributes to cities’ lack of resilience in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

The report stressed the urgent need for cities to adopt integrated green urban planning strategies that address interconnected challenges, including investment in green space and sustainable infrastructure.

As the urban population is expected to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050, urban water resources and infrastructure will face additional strain, making the protection and restoration of ecosystems, such as forests, vital for urban resilience and water security.

In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the urban population is projected to grow by 950 million, reaching 1.26 billion by 2050. 

Choosing a different development path, involving more compact and connected urban development rather than the current fragmented, disconnected and dispersed patterns of urbanisation in low-income countries, is essential for both climate and poverty reduction, the report said.

Lower-income cities are already experiencing heightened exposure to various climate hazards such as floods, heat stress, cyclones, sea-level rise, water stress and wildfires.

Read more: Himalayan plunder: How to design cities in the region

Furthermore, when cities expand rapidly to receive climate and other refugees, new settlements are often informal and established on the outskirts of cities with limited access to services.

The report offers guidance to policymakers on how to help their cities become greener, more resilient and more inclusive — in other words, on how to help their cities thrive in a changing climate.

It provided a set of recommendations, including information dissemination, incentives, insurance coverage, integration and investments.

These recommendations can help cities reduce their emissions, enhance their resilience to climate shocks and become more inclusive to keep the poorest populations from feeling the impacts of climate most acutely, the paper added.

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