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Areas of action

Cities and climate

Sunrise over the smog of Manila, Philippines

In the mid-twentieth century just one person in three lived in a town or city. Today urban centres are home to half of the world's population, and by 2050 more than two-thirds of humanity will probably live in an urban setting. 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 70 per cent of energy consumption and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Without a radical change of course, urban carbon emissions will only increase – not simply on account of urban population growth but also because of the higher concentration of activities that is typical of cities. Heavy traffic, widespread building construction and extensive urban sprawl, high energy needs and huge quantities of solid waste and sewage are all features of urban life.

However, cities are not only drivers of climate change but also victims of it. They are often located in positions on coast, rivers, deltas or mountain slopes where they are exposed to particular risks. At a time of climate change this makes them vulnerable: economic damage is likely to be particularly extensive and the poorer inhabitants are often entirely defenceless against extreme weather. Sustainable urban planning, investment in resilient infrastructure and the provision of urban green spaces can make a valuable contribution and significantly mitigate the adverse impacts of extreme events.

Cities as pioneers

On account of their density, cities are also an ideal starting point in the battle against climate change. They can save resources on a huge scale and become a modelling ground for aspects of sustainability such as space-saving and compact urban structures, low-emission transport facilities, energy-efficient buildings and regulated waste disposal systems.

Global climate goals can only be achieved by paying attention to cities, yet cities are also exposed to major risks as a result of climate change – this was discussed at the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (HABITAT III), which was held in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. At this conference the international community set out targets for sustainable urban development in a New Urban Agenda. 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'.

At the UN summit in late 2016, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) described its initiative for transformative urban mobility (TUMI) as a first step towards realisation of this vision: with its partners, Germany is working to improve urban living conditions by promoting sustainable and affordable transport.


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