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Cities and climate

Sunrise over the smog of Manila, Philippines

As recently as the mid-twentieth century, just one person in three lived in a town or city. Today urban centres are already home to more than half of the world's population, and by 2050 more than two-thirds of humanity will probably live in an urban setting – while population figures continue to increase. There can be no doubt that this is the age of the city.

But towns and cities drive global warming. They are already responsible for about 75 per cent of energy and resource consumption and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Since, by 2050, more than two billion more people than today will be living in cities, it is clear that global climate targets will only be achieved if sustainability is put at the heart of urban development. This is particularly true with regard to urban transport and infrastructure. Traffic and transport is responsible for a quarter of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Expected urban growth will also lead to additional cement and steel production. If the cities of the future were built the same way as in the past, this alone would consume almost the entire carbon dioxide budget tied to the 2 or rather 1.5 degree target that was agreed in the Paris climate agreement.

However, cities are not only drivers of climate change but also victims of it. They are often located in positions on coasts, rivers, deltas or mountain slopes where they are exposed to particular risks. Economic damage is likely to be particularly extensive in cities and especially poorer inhabitants are often entirely defenceless against extreme weather. Sustainable urban planning, investment in resilient infrastructure and also simple measures such as the provision of urban green spaces can make a valuable contribution to significantly mitigating the adverse impacts of extreme weather events.


Cities as pioneers

The global climate and development goals that the international community agreed by adopting the 2030 Agenda and the Paris climate agreement can only be achieved by working hand in hand with the world's cities.

As the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, pointed out, it is already clear that 'cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost'.

Because cities are densely populated, they are also an ideal starting point in the battle against poverty, inequality and the excessive use of resources. Given the concentration of inhabitants and economic activities there, cities can save resources on a huge scale, thus contributing to environmentally sustainable development and the fight against climate change. Appropriate strategies can ensure that resource flows between cities and their environs can be used and managed more efficiently. These days, many cities and metropolitan regions are in the vanguard of climate action, implementing space-saving and compact urban structures, low-emission transport facilities, energy-efficient buildings and resource-conserving measures such as efficient waste disposal systems. This has allowed cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and Tokyo to reduce their per capita carbon dioxide emissions, while prosperity and incomes have increased.

To help cities in developing and newly industrialising countries embark on a pathway of sustainable urban development at an early stage, Germany is promoting climate-friendly, safe and affordable urban mobility through its development cooperation. Mobility is the precondition for economic growth, trade and creativity but also for personal wellbeing.

However, cities will drown in traffic congestion, air pollution and noise unless they pursue sustainable traffic policies. These policies need to support public transport just as much as non-motorised transport, involve the poor to the same extent as the wealthy and give room to both environmentally friendly individual transportation and shared vehicle use.

That is why, the BMZ presented the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative, TUMI, at the UN cities summit in late 2016. With its partners, Germany is working to promote strategies for sustainable and innovative mobility in developing countries and emerging economies – for climate-friendly and liveable cities worldwide.


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