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Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity: A call for compact, connected, and clean cities

Image Credit: Coalition for Urban Transitions
By Tom Froggatt 


The Coalition for Urban Transitions has released a new report highlighting the value of compact, connected and clean cities: Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity. The Coalition, a program of the New Climate Economy, is a global initiative of more than 50 organizations supporting national governments to help cities address climate change, economic development and social equity.

The report provides a comprehensive analysis on how “a carefully managed transition to zero-carbon, climate-resilient cities could help secure national economic prosperity and improve quality of life while tackling the climate crisis.” It recommends six central priorities for national government action:

  1. Place cities at the heart of a national strategy to deliver shared prosperity while reaching net-zero emissions.
  2. Align national policies behind compact, connected, clean cities.
  3. Fund and finance sustainable urban infrastructure.
  4. Coordinate and support local climate action in cities.
  5. Build a multilateral system that fosters inclusive, zero-carbon cities.
  6. Proactively plan for a just transition to zero-carbon cities.


The strategic role of cities
The report notes the strategic role of cities for climate mitigation and explains how these six priorities can deliver a zero-carbon platform that results in more compact, connected and clean urban areas. Cities are instrumental in solving the climate crisis—they produce 80% of the world’s gross domestic product and emit three quarters of the globe’s carbon emissions from final energy use. This level of economic and environmental consumption, particularly in megacities, exacerbates adverse climate impacts, social inequity and loss of biodiversity. A transition to zero-carbon will result in multiple benefits for cities, such as enhancing citizen prosperity, reducing air pollution and increasing opportunities for marginalized groups.

The central role of integrated land use and transportation planning
A key recommendation is for national governments to “create metropolitan authorities to enable integrated land use and transport planning” for cities. A coordinated approach to land use and transportation planning, involving local government representation and authority, could help cities make rapid progress towards zero-carbon goals. The authors recommend policies such as removing national land use and building regulations that prohibit denser, mixed-use urban development and reforming policies that restrict maximum building heights. It also notes the potential for mixed-use and walkable neighborhoods to mitigate congestion and promote healthier lifestyles.

The importance of multi-level governance
The report highlights that zero-carbon transitions require collaborative action based on effective partnerships between federal, provincial and local governments in a networked system, whereby each tier has a crucial role to play. Many local governments worldwide are taking climate action in the absence of supportive national contexts, however, radical action cannot be left to local governments alone. There must be mutual accountability between senior and local governments, and national governments should provide cities with more autonomy to tackle the climate crisis.

Social equity as a core component of climate solutions
The authors point out that it’s essential for climate mitigation policies to take global inequality into consideration: “the full promise of zero-carbon cities cannot be achieved without meaningful progress to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality.” They recommend that a just transition to zero-carbon cities include increasing resources for the urban poor, investing in education, ensuring equitable compensation for climate costs and setting up transition plans for fossil-fuel industry workers.

Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity urges all levels of government to collaborate towards a shared vision for cities: compact, connected, and clean. Download the full report here: Coalition for Urban Transitions