An increase in extreme weather events and natural disasters like flooding, heatwaves and landslides will hit urban areas the hardest, making climate change adaptation a matter of paramount importance, the UN has warned.
The UN in its World Cities Report 2022, released at the World Urban Forum in Poland, said urban areas were responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which means cities must act as leaders of climate action to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius goal set by the Paris Agreement.
Amid warnings about the dangers facing cities, from a sudden global spike in inflation and cost of living, supply chain disruptions, climate change and new armed conflicts, the report, called Envisaging the Future of Cities, details an optimistic vision in which cities are more equitable, greener and more knowledge-based.
“With the right policies and the right commitment from governments, our children can inherit an urban future that is more inclusive, greener, safer and healthier,” said Maimunah Mohd Sharif, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, which produced the report.
“We must start by acknowledging that the status quo leading up to 2020 was in many ways an unsustainable model of urban development, and take the best practices learned in our responses to COVID-19 and the climate crisis.”
This new report calls for greater commitment by national, regional and local governments, and encourages the further adoption of innovative technologies and urban living concepts such as the “15-minute city.”
Popularised in Paris, Melbourne and other places, it envisages that residents can meet most of their daily needs within a 15-minute journey.
The report warned that in the worst-case scenario, extreme poverty could increase by 32 times, or 213mn people, by 2030. Under this scenario, the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as global economic uncertainties, environmental challenges, and wars and conflicts in different parts of the world could have long-term impacts on the future of cities.
Cities are now home to 55% of the world’s population, and that figure is predicted to grow to 68% by 2050. This translates into an increase of 2.2bn urban residents, living mostly in Africa and Asia.
There is a divide between the needs of cities in the developing and developed world. In developed countries, the key priorities for the future of cities also include managing cultural diversity, upgrading and modernising ageing infrastructure, addressing shrinking and declining cities, and meeting the needs of an increasingly ageing population.
In developing countries, urban priorities for the future are rising levels of poverty, providing adequate infrastructure, affordable and adequate housing and addressing challenge of slums, high levels of youth unemployment, and investing in secondary cities.