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Cities will be key to a low carbon, resilient global economy able to address and adapt to climate change. Many are emerging as leaders cutting emissions and greening infrastructure. Photo ©Pline

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At the UN Climate Summit in New York, cities and government leaders are expected to announce bold actions and strategies for urban and sub-national climate action.

Such actions and strategies can play a major role in helping the world to achieve climate neutrality in the second half of the century, which is in turn essential to allow the world to achieve the goal of a maximum average temperature of 2 degrees Celsius.

Cities are likely to bolster tangible and measurable actions to curb emissions and build resilience to climate change by launching:

  • A new Mayors Compact to help urban leaders tap into existing networks of local, country, provincial and state governments and to strengthen and expand pledges to reduce greenhouse emissions.
  • A new internet-based reporting platform to guarantee the robustness and transparency around city commitments and how they are turned into action on the ground.
  • A City Climate Finance Leadership Alliance to provide financial as well as technical assistance to cities in developing countries that wish to pursue projects aimed at lowering carbon emissions and increasing resilience.

City organizations are also expected to announce the total number of municipalities that have to date agreed greenhouse gas reduction targets and strategies and how many millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced or avoided as a result of these commitments.


Why cities are so important for climate action

Urban areas are already home to more than half the world’s population and most of its built assets and economic activities.

In its most recent scientific assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out that many emerging climate change risks are concentrated in urban areas. Climate impacts in cities include heat stress, threatened water security, sea-level rise and storms.

According to the IPCC, each degree Celsius of warming will decrease renewable water resources by at least 20 percent.


Whilst cities are at great risk from climate change, the IPCC also highlights the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas, given that this is where 70% of energy-related emissions originate.

What city action at the UN Summit means for the UN climate change process

Representatives of cities meanwhile attend all negotiating sessions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Announcements made by cities in New York can provide further impetus to the efforts of governments working to raise immediate climate ambition under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and for the universal climate agreement to be agreed in Paris in 2015.

The announcements can help governments prepare their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” to the Paris agreement, and strengthen the participation of non-State actors in tackling climate change.

At this year’s Technical Expert Meeting and a Cities Forum in Bonn, city governments and other institutions and organizations came together to share their stories of successful climate action in the urban environment.

Among the examples that were highlighted at the meeting was the World Bank’s program to raise the credit worthiness of cities in developing countries, which has helped cities invest in climate projects.

Cities can inspire national governments to take bolder climate action, and in many cases have already committed to bold action.

A number of cities affiliated with associations like ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group are pledging ambitious long term targets, some of which call for 80, 90 and even 100 per cent emission reductions.

These pioneering urban centres range from Copenhagen and Stockholm to Oslo and Seattle.


A useful summary of the IPCC’s latest science relating to urban areas by the University of Cambridge can be found here.

See inspiring examples of city action on the UNFCCC website.

Read the blog by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres on how megacities are becoming central players in the fight against climate change.

Read more about the action area of cities on the UN Climate Summit website.

Photo by Curt Carnemark/World Bank

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