UN-Habitat Working with Partners and City Leaders on Climate Action

With the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit up ahead next week, UN-Habitat’s Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif explains why ambitious climate action depends on cities and presents four new initiatives, which will be launched at the Summit.

The Issues

We are at a crossroads. The impact of climate change is being felt globally. Global emissions have been rising to record levels, and latest scientific analyses show that the last four years have been the hottest in history. This will continue unless ambitious action to reduce carbon emissions, and transition to climate-resilient development pathways is taken. The choices we make today will determine the future of our planet and directly impact the lives of our children and grandchildren.

The United Nations Secretary-General is hosting global leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on 23rd September with the aim of rapidly accelerating action to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Summit is expected to generate ambitious global commitments that demonstrate transformative impacts, innovation, measurability, scalability, and sustainable development co-benefits. Nine interdependent tracks, including a track supported by UN-Habitat on Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action, have identified several innovative approaches towards dramatically reducing carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050, and building the resilience of those most vulnerable to climate change.

Focus on Infrastructure, Cities and Local Climate Action

In order to make significant progress towards the implementation of the Paris Agreement, targeted action must be focussed on cities and urban areas. Cities account for over half of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and consume about three-quarters of global energy. The ‘Infrastructure, Cities and Local Action’ (ICLA) track of the Climate Action Summit aims to identify the most transformative ideas to decarbonise, enhance the resilience of infrastructure, and strengthen adaptive capacities of communities, across the world.

Under the leadership of Kenya and Turkey, and with the participation of several countries and institutions, four ambitious initiatives have been submitted for possible launch at the Summit: (i) Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) (ii) Action towards Climate friendly Transport (ACT) (iii) Building Climate Resilience of the Urban Poor (BCRUP) and (iv) Leadership for Urban Climate Investment (LUCI).

Buildings account for 28 per cent of global carbon emissions, which puts them among the highest contributing sectors to climate change. Improving buildings also offers the highest, most cost-effective climate mitigation opportunity available. The Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative leverages expertise from, and cooperation with, key stakeholders from governments, civil society, and the private sector to plug into low-cost opportunities to enhance ambition and action on buildings-related carbon emissions. This outcome will be driven through securing commitments to decarbonise new buildings by 2030, and existing buildings by 2050; and mobilising USD 1 trillion in Paris-compliant buildings by 2030.

In addition to buildings, the transport sector contributes 28 per cent of energy-related GHG emissions. With increasing demand for mobility, carbon emissions are set to double by 2050 without targeted action. The Action towards Climate-friendly Transport (ACT) initiative is looking to reduce emissions by providing support to countries to enhance the quality of transport systems and implement National Determined Contributions (NDCs). This includes actions to: foster integrated planning and compact city development, shift from the most energy consuming and polluting urban transport modes to non-motorised and public transport, and improve existing modes of transport through lower-emission technologies.

Building the climate resilience of the urban poor who are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change is a global challenge, with nearly one billion people living in slums and informal settlements. Such locations are characterised by inadequate housing and insecure land tenure; lack of access to basic services and infrastructure including urban transportation, health facilities, solid and liquid waste management systems, and open spaces; unsustainable energy supply; food insecurity and potable water scarcity; high indoor and ambient air pollution; high risk of floods, storms and landslides; and high levels of urban poverty and vulnerable livelihoods. The Building Climate Resilience of the Urban Poor initiative aims to enhance the resilience of those living in slums and informal settlements in developing countries, targeting, by 2023, 150 million slum dwellers in 140 ‘hot-spot’ cities across 50 countries, and scaling this up to reach 600 million slum dwellers by 2030.

Financing Ambition

Unsurprisingly, significant climate finance is needed for implementation of these initiatives. Governments, cities, states, business, multilateral institutions and the entire finance sector must mobilise to meet the goal of USD 100 billion a year by 2020 under the Paris Agreement. At the same time, this finance should reach where it is needed the most – at the local level. A robust global mobilisation of city leaders, think tanks, governments, and academia is driving the development of specific solutions towards strengthening climate financing at the local level.

The Leadership for Urban Climate Investment (LUCI) is an initiative under the ICLA track offering a comprehensive and transformative approach in sealing gaps in the investment value chain by establishing a global financing framework through synergies between countries, international and national financial institutions, international organisations, climate institutions and funds, and other partners. The initiative also seeks to achieve subnational financing through supporting bankable projects, capacity building of national and subnational development banks, and improving financing options.

Other initiatives submitted by other coalitions will also contribute to filling this investment gap. For example, the Closing the Investment Gap (CIG) initiative proposes a country-led, facilitated approach in which developing countries work with the private sector and other investors in preparing their ‘’investment’’ pitches and enhance their bankable projects. The approach targets a largely untapped pool of funds and minimises demand for public capital or credit enhancement.

Another one is the Climate Investment Platform (CIP) initiative under the Energy Transition track, which is dedicated to financing energy projects towards energy transition in developing countries by leveraging on partnerships between key stakeholders to enhance visible transformative climate impact. The initiative sets out to mobilise USD 1 trillion in clean energy investments by 2025 and support an initial number of countries in its first year. Finally, the Vision for an Environmentally Responsible Transformation – Infrastructure (Vert-Infra) proposed by the One Planet Lab, focusses on the Energy Storage, Transport and Buildings sectors.

The battle against climate change will clearly be won or lost in cities. The world is looking at us, and we must do this together, leaving no one and no place behind.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif

Executive Director at UN-Habitat
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, a Malaysian urban planner and former major of the City of Penang, is the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme with global headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. UN-Habitat leads one of the policy tracks with city leaders and partners toward the UN Climate Summit.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif

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