Cities on the Frontlines of Climate Resilience: 10 Pathways for Action from COP27 to COP28

Cities on the Frontlines of Climate Resilience 10 Pathways for Action from COP27 to COP28 - Resilient Cities Network
Written by Resilient Cities Network
Monday, 12 December 2022

Authored by: Lauren Sorkin, Executive Director, Resilient Cities Network

This year’s UNFCCC COP27 was without a doubt the highest stakes UN meeting I have attended. Indeed, with the goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degree Celsius rapidly slipping through our fingers while the number of extreme weather events all around the globe skyrockets, we are running out of time when it comes to tackling the climate crisis.

As someone who is dedicated to building resilience in vulnerable urban communities, I have mixed feelings about the results of COP27. On the one hand, the biggest economies did not go far enough in committing to additional cuts in greenhouse emissions. On the other hand, the commitment from developed nations to fulfill its obligations of supporting developing nations to mitigate the cause of and to adapt to the climate crisis is a breakthrough. In particular, the historic agreement on the loss and damage fund and the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda – with its specific targeted goals and coalitions lining up to support them – will be powerful tools for decreasing vulnerability.

No matter what framework global world leaders are setting, the day-to-day responsibility to prepare very diverse local communities around the globe for the devastating consequences of global warming remain with the Mayors and Chief Resilience Officers in municipalities of cities. Anyone who has ever faced one of the many catastrophes that have made the headlines in 2022 more than ever before – flooding of apocalyptic proportion in Pakistan, extreme heat waves in the USA, landslides and rivers washing away whole villages in Europe – knows that recovery is no alternative to building up effective strategies of resilience to minimize harm and mitigate environmental inequity.

It is through this lens that I am looking at the 10 most important takeaways from Sharm El-Sheikh and envisioning a perspective on what must be done before COP28.

1. Cities are on the frontline of the climate crisis

1. Cities are on the frontline of the climate crisis.
(Photo Caption: A city focus event at the Singapore Pavilion with Centre for Liveable Cities in Singapore, the Prime Minister’s Office of Singapore, our Chief Resilience Officer from Athens and the Mayor of Monterrey)

Cities solve and cities deliver. At COP27, the R-Cities delegation, together with our member cities and other city networks, aimed to demonstrate how cities are central to these discussions, even if they are not stakeholders at the negotiating table. They are home to more than half of the world’s population, responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gases, and hold 80% of the world’s wealth. They are centres of innovation and change and are ready with solutions for investments. More importantly, they have the political will.

2. Learning from cities with high vulnerability and high capacity

2. Learning from cities with high vulnerability and high capacity
(Photo Caption: A path in Pasir Ris Park Mangrove Boardwalk, a beach park located in the eastern part of Singapore.)

Looking at the most endangered cities and regions teach us that there are also the ones that are on the forefront of developing effective and innovative strategies.

Singapore, my adopted home, is a small island city state, and climate change has posed an existential threat for a long time. Increasing heat, coupled with sea level rise and secondary climate threats like disruptions of water and food supply have long been factored into Singapore’s world-renowned long-range planning. Singapore is staying the course and investing in response strategies based on its location, human capital and natural resources. At COP27, these vulnerabilities and solutions were on display for the first time the Singapore Pavilion.

Singapore emphasizes the use of both grey and green infrastructure, with nature-based solutions targeted to fight the effects of climate change and create adaptation strategies. Its state sovereign fund Temasek Holdings says nature-based solutions could deliver $4.3 trillion USD of annual economic value and generate 232 million jobs by 2030 in Asia-Pacific.

At COP27, confidence in nature-based solutions to protect, sustainably manage, or restore natural ecosystems ran high. The COP27 Presidency launched an Adaptation Agenda, including the ask of $1 trillion USD in nature-based solutions for communities in urban areas.

3. Creating a greater role for women and girls in tackling the climate crisis

3. Creating a greater role for women and girls in tackling the climate crisis
(Photo Caption: Minister Rania al-Mashat at an event to launch a guidebook for just financing)

Out of 110 world leaders at COP27, only 7 were women. In fact, only 34% of climate negotiations teams were female in 2022. At the same time, women and girls bear the brunt of climate impacts. More women need to be part of the solution, Shirley Djukurna Krenak, an indigenous woman of the Krenak people of Minas Gerais, Brazil, told the BBC that women have always been “fighters” for the planet.

She said that women understand “what it means to live in community”, and therefore what it means to care for others and the natural world.

The women leaders at COP27 called for more female leadership in building solutions. An inspiring example is the Minister of International Cooperation in Egypt, Dr. Rania al Mashat, who implemented a partnership-based approach among relevant parties to accelerate the green transition and with the potential for $10 billion USD investments in a multiple benefits program – Egypt Country Platform for NWFE, نُوَفِّــي, which literally means to fulfil promises – to address food, water and energy challenges. If we want more promises fulfilled, we must not only include women and girls, we need to promote them as our leaders.

4. Investment in resilient, circular food systems

4. Investment in resilient, circular food systems

This month, the world’s population hit another milestone, reaching 8 billion. As the world’s population grows and conflicts rage, food security has become more central to resilience. Food production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and food insecurity on the other hand affects an estimated 150 million urban residents today. Investment in resilient, circular food systems have the potential to create green jobs while reducing our carbon footprint.

Cities have the potential to reduce the food insecurity of people. Increased use of waste as a secondary resource boosts the livelihoods of informal workers and reduces open waste burning by 60%, lowering pollution levels and improving the health of local communities. Cities around the world are piloting these solutions but need investments to accelerate circular food systems.

5. Investments in water resilience systems

5. Investments in water resilience systems
(Photo caption: A park planned for Bospolder-Tussendijken district in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, that provide public space for play, but also to hold excess rainfall)

Either too much (floods) or too little (droughts), is the single most significant impact of climate change on our lives. At COP27, R-Cities shared together with our partners how a holistic water resilience assessment, and related project development delivered change. Stories from Cape Town, Surat, Christchurch, New Orleans and Rotterdam illustrated best in class solutions to the current water crisis cities are facing.

A continuing and increasing investment in water resilience systems is urgently needed. In addition, and equally important, innovation in urban sanitation systems is an essential tool for building resilience in rapidly urbanizing cities.

6. The Missing Middle

6. The Missing Middle
(Photo caption: Bangkok experiences regular floods during monsoon season)

The voices of two groups at COP negotiations tend to be the loudest: highly industrialized nations and the world’s low income and most vulnerable nations. The dialogue with middle income countries do not tend to make headlines. These countries, many of them in Latin America and Southeast Asia, are highly urbanized and are facing substantial climate risks in urban areas. More and more of these countries are looking at new finance models to fight the climate crisis. Ahead of COP26, The Asian Development Bank (ADB) signed a memorandum of understanding with HSBC, Temasek and Clifford Capital Holdings to set up a debt financing platform to boost commercial development of sustainable infrastructure projects in Asia, with an initial focus on Southeast Asia. Climate financing through private-public partnerships will be a key pillar particularly for middle income countries.

7. Holistic Resilience in Private Sector Technology and Financial Innovation

An important role for resilience work falls into the hands of private companies and corporations. Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development made a strong call to action for businesses to make new and significant commitments to building climate resilience. This included expansions of climate information and early warning systems, and the introduction of new financial products and services.

Too many private sector initiatives that address climate are still stuck in a compliance mindset. ESG tick box approaches completely miss out on the opportunity to get the governance right and turn towards solving problems rather launching incremental initiatives. Those investments in problem solving for climate that at the same time respond to societal necessities will produce tomorrow’s high value companies. Visa’s digital economy initiative is an example that can help strengthen local economies with a holistic resilience approach.

8. Resilience Finance

The issue of financing was a headline at COP27, particularly for developing countries. Adaptation and resilience financing cannot just come from governments and local administrations. The key here is to recognize and build in the multiple benefits that climate finance has for societies as a whole.

The COP27 presidency defined 30 adaptation outcomes to be reached by 2030. To reach those goals, we must unlock the power of mutual benefits. If 2,000 of the world largest companies consider the physical climate risk in their investment decisions and start or continue to develop or innovate instruments for financing adaptation and resilience, this could significantly help to mobilize the estimated $140-300 billion USD needed for adaptation and resilience. This simply is a cost benefit equation. In Lagos City, for example, the largest city in Africa’s most populous country, studies estimate that the total economic loss sustained due to flooding is $4 billion USD per year. That is 4.1% of the state’s GDP. With $8 billion USD in investments, or two years’ worth of losses, the State Governor said during COP27 that it can ensure that the city of Lagos is climate resilient.

9. Energy Transition

9. Energy Transition
(Photo caption: Informal settlements on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, Western Cape province, South Africa. Many shacks in Enkanini have solar panels for access to electricity.)

While essential to mitigate the climate crisis, the energy transition discussion needs to become much more nuanced. Energy transition is not singularly the switch to non-fossil energy resources. Distribution and access to renewable energy is equally important. There are many urban and peri-urban communities who are not connected to the power grid but could and should be. A diverse set of energy generation sources enable affordable access to electricity for 679 million unconnected people and higher quality access for 1 billion underserved people through climate resilient energy systems. What’s more, the built environment – major developers and construction companies – have a tremendous role to play in a race to the bottom – of their emissions profile.

10. Loss and Damage

A global commitment to a loss and damage fund is a big leap forward for climate justice. To be effective, the fund must be designed to swiftly respond to urgent needs of developing countries and cities that have waited too long for investments. At R-Cities, we will work with partners to ensure that capacity is built in cities to prepare projects that are eligible for these funds, and that strengthen the relationship between nation states and city project developers and managers. This intergovernmental fund will focus on ‘irreparable loss and damage caused by increasingly severe climate impacts’, but it does not provide the vast additional amounts of funding needed to adapt to climate impacts and build resilience. It is important that we do not conflate these issues and recognize that the urgent need for adaptation funding remains.

At the end, after intense days in Sharm El-Sheikh, it is apparent: UNFCCC COP Meetings are not an end rather, they are an opportunity to align, to measure progress and to commit to greater goals. But we have to get the governance and representation right fast. Policies can set the legal and administrative conditions, but the work needs to be done by all of us. With so many ways to make progress there is simply no excuse for any of us to sit on the sidelines. So, which pathways will you take to run, not walk, towards advancing action for COP28?

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