COP27: Equipping Today’s Cities for Tomorrow’s Climate Crises

By |2024-01-04T16:30:06+01:00November 21st 2022|Integrated Planning, Resilient Cities and Climate|

Lou Del Bello reports from COP27 and highlights some of the key topics, such as the war in Ukraine and the Summary for Urban Policymakers. The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

This year’s UN climate talks may have been launched as the ‘implementation COP’ – but after a year of natural disasters across the world, a global financial crisis, and multiple wars that have led to energy and food chain disruptions, the big question has been how to weave climate action into a new, perilous present.

Ukraine Sets Up First Ever Pavilion at COP

From loss and damage to new financial tools such as the World Bank’s Global Shield Financing Facility, responding to disasters has been a definite priority. Within this evolving climate and geopolitical risk map, cities stand out because of their unique vulnerabilities. By 2050, 7 of the projected 9.8 billion people on the planet are expected to live in cities, and planning these future hubs with resilience in mind will protect livelihoods and save lives.

With war raging on at home, Ukraine’s representatives have set up the country’s first-ever pavilion at COP27. “We are not here to focus on the negotiations, because we don’t expect any major breakthroughs,” says Natalia Gozak of the NGO Ecoaction. “But we want to discuss the Ukrainian context, and the war, with the world.”

The past few months of Russian occupation, Gozak says, “showed us a whole package of unexpected risks and consequences, which turned out to be related to the [climate change] messages we used to share before.” For example, prior to the war Ecoaction was an advocate for decentralised energy sources, which can be a climate solution in the face of extreme weather events, such as storms or floods.

“Now we see that Russia is attacking our energy system by targeting centralised units in densely populated areas,” she says, “a risk that could have been bypassed by having solar mini-grids across the city”. The same applies to water distribution and any other centralised infrastructure, she explains. War is a brutal reminder of the risks all cities are exposed to in an age of climate change, even in times of peace.

Green Recovery and Reconstruction

The growing movement calling for a green reconstruction in Ukraine once the war is over is reflected in the research and practical initiatives that global city associations have brought to COP27. This year, the Summary for Urban Policymakers provided a new research basis for local administrations to shape their urban planning over the coming years. The series of four reports distil the main messages relevant to urban environments from the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, looking at physical science, adaptation, and mitigation.

The first chapter includes some key messages about the urban heat island effect and additional warming in cities, says Andy Deacon, co-managing director of the Global Covenant of Mayors, a network that brings together over 12,500 cities in 144 countries committing to match or exceed their national climate pledges. “It’s been interesting to see here at COP27, through programmes like the Cool Coalition and other related activities, the focus that’s now being placed on cooling in cities and urban areas that otherwise face enormous public health problems,” he says.

When it comes to mitigation, “the Summary for Urban Policymakers includes a breakdown of different sectors, and the proportion of the potential emission savings that come from the built environment or the transport sectors,” Deacon adds. “And that’s really helping urban leaders to start to plan their route towards net zero.”

Cities Are Hotbeds of Innovation

This year more than ever before, a series of cascading disasters, from heat waves to storms and disastrous rains, have brought climate risks to the fore, particularly in cities where peoples’ resilience usually depends on that of public infrastructure. Mayors from across the world discussed the unique challenges faced by their citizens, from high temperatures and waterlogged road systems to coastal erosion and economic transition to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy.

But while climate risk exposure is heightened in cities, particularly in developing countries where climate-smart planning is often not an option, “we also talk about cities as hotbeds of innovation,” Deacon says. “Due to their high population, cities tend to drive the demand for actionable climate solutions, and they can also produce some of the solutions, from circular economy to clean mobility.” The Covenant of Mayors’ job, he explains, is to help disseminate what works as widely as possible.

Population density can be a vulnerability not only in times of war but also when poverty drives sprawling and unplanned development. This makes the developing world a hotspot of cascading social and economic risks, to which climate change adds the unpredictability of extreme weather.

The Summary for Urban Policymakers makes it clear that in order to stay within 1.5C of global warming, the window for action is slim and rapidly closing. Projects targeting the most vulnerable, such as those living in informal settlements, are on the COP agenda every year, but they take time to materialise and make an impact at scale.

“One of the things we have been working on is a programme called the City Climate Finance Gap Fund, [implemented by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank] which provides access to project development assistance,” Deacon says, “to enable all kinds of projects, provided they are led by cities.” Targeted finance, he says, can help scale up and speed up the deployment of essential solutions to issues that are unique to cities, such as the waste sector which employs a huge number of informal workers. “But equally, in coming along with some huge technological transformation, you run the risk of leaving people on the ground out of the new solution,” he adds. “That’s why we want to build these projects with local voices front and centre.”

Lou del Bello