As city populations grow, so does the scale of urban risk, and cities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to human, social, and economic losses. Climate investments are crucial in the coming decades to combat against the effects caused by climate change, especially as climate impacts continue to worsen and occur more frequently.

Why are Climate Investments Important?

Urbanisation is one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends; by 2050, cities are predicted to house 70% of the global population despite occupying only 3% of Earth’s land. Rapid urban growth has led to sprawling developments that exert pressure on ecosystems, infrastructure and public health, with over 800 million people currently living in slums, many without access to clean water and basic services. Unplanned urban sprawl is also a major factor in rising rates of pollution, with the United Nations (UN) estimating that over four billion people in cities across the world are breathing air that does not meet the World Health Organisation’s air quality guidelines. Whilst cities are significant contributors to climate change, they are also especially vulnerable to its impacts: particularly flooding and urban heating.

As cities are centres of both production and consumption, how they develop over the coming decade is of crucial importance to countries everywhere. The importance of cities has long been recognised; goal 11 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to achieve “Sustainable Cities and Communities” but fewer than two in five countries have an explicit national strategy for cities. The Coalition for Urban Transitions has, among other organisations and climate leaders, called for cities to be front and centre of a country’s sustainability plans; an aim which brings up the question: what type of climate investments should cities be making? 

Globally, trillions of dollars will be invested in urban infrastructure by 2030 but investments into carbon free initiatives, e.g. electric vehicles, are, alone, not enough. As climate change disproportionately affects low income communities and communities of colour, our responses must therein prioritise equity and inclusion. Research by the World Research Institute suggests that without inclusive climate strategies, climate change could force 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030. The climate investments cities make must be designed and delivered in a way to serve all communities and enhance a city’s resilience. Resilience, as defined by the City Resilience Framework, “describes the capacity of cities to function so that all residents, particularly the poor and vulnerable, can survive and thrive no matter the shocks and stresses” and should be considered as important in the fight against climate change as decarbonisation. 

How To Foster Low-Carbon, Resilient And Inclusive Cities

Some cities around the world are already making significant steps to foster inclusivity and build resilience in response to climate change. Below are three examples of inclusive initiatives that, through empowering low income and marginalised communities, as well as addressing environmental threats, are cultivating resilience in their respective cities. 

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Urban Agriculture for Climate Resilience
Rosario, Argentina 

This prize winning initiative takes abandoned and under-utilised private and public land throughout the city of Rosario and gives access to low income residents so they can grow food. Originally conceived as a way to reduce food scarcity after the economic collapse of 2001 when most food was imported from over 400km away, the scheme is now responsible for the production of around 2,500 tons of fruit and vegetables each year. Such production means that far less food needs to be imported, increasing the city’s self-reliance and resilience as well as significantly reducing the greenhouse gases associated with importing food. Urban farming has also created jobs, both in producing and selling, throughout Rosario, particularly for low income women who now make up 65% of urban farmers. In reserving areas of land for farming, inner parts of the cities are prevented from becoming overly dense and the agro-ecological approach – farming without chemicals – creates absorbent soil that can help limit the damage of heavy rains and flooding. Since the scheme’s inception in 2002, it has become a cornerstone of the city’s climate action planning and highlights how inclusive climate investments and strategies can strengthen a city’s economic, social, and environmental resilience. 

Kounkuey Design Initiative
Nairobi, Kenya 

Kiberia, in Nairobi, Kenya, is one of the world’s largest informal settlements and, due to poor drainage infrastructure combined with its location on the Ngong river, it’s extremely vulnerable to flooding. The ‘Kounkuey Design Initiative’ (KDI) is an organisation that aims to reduce flood risk throughout the settlement alongside providing basic services to its residents. The spaces created by KDI are designed using a highly participatory approach; local residents’ voices are central to the process, particularly those of women and children who statistically spend more time at home in the settlement, meaning that the spaces are created to meet the specific needs of the residents. KDI provides assistance in a technical and financial capacity, determining what sort of climate-mitigation infrastructure is needed, but community based local organisations, made up of residents, hold responsibility for the construction and management of each space. So far, over 5000 residents have been involved in the design of 11 new climate resilient spaces and over 800 metres of drainage infrastructure has been installed. 

Waste Concern
Dhaka, Bangladesh 

The city of Dhaka has experienced rapid population growth over the last few decades, outpacing the capabilities of much of its infrastructure, particularly waste management. Cities across Bangladesh generate up to 30,000 tons of waste per day, with almost all of it ending up, unseparated, in landfills.  Landfills represent a great risk to the health of the environment – producing harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Waste Concern, a local NGO, was set up in response to the waste crisis in Dhaka, founded on the principles of a circular economy. Its founders, seeing waste as a resource, wanted to turn waste management into something that could benefit both the environment and the lives of the urban poor. After realising that 80% of the waste going to landfill was organic, they devised a system in which waste, after being separated by residents, was collected from homes, processed into compost in decentralised centres across the city and then sold to farmers for use as fertiliser. So far, the model has reduced 19,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year and created over 1000 jobs for low income residents.

These initiatives offer a taste of the kind of climate investments cities should be making in order to strengthen their resilience for the future. Designing and delivering climate actions that serve all communities is a challenge that requires equity and inclusivity to be embedded into all policy decisions alongside committed engagement with a diverse range of stakeholders, particularly those currently suffering the impacts of climate change. With such an approach, cities across the globe will have a realistic chance of meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and building resilient cities that work for all their residents.