Time for Cities to Step Up to the Challenge of Climate Change

World Economic Forum

November, 2017

· With the world’s cities generating over 75% of global carbon emissions, smarter, greener cities are key to hitting climate change targets

· Cities need a seat at the negotiating tables currently dominated by nation states

· World needs shared narrative of values to solve key issues from climate change to migration and regional rivalries


Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 12 November 2017 – The world’s cities generate more than 75% of global carbon emissions – it’s time for them to play a more prominent role in fighting climate change. Shanghai, Dhaka, Karachi, Hong Kong and Miami are “literally going under water,” said Robert Muggah, Research Director of the Igarapé Institute, Brazil, addressing the Annual Meeting of the Global Future Councils.

By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be urbanized. Tokyo’s GDP is already greater than that of Russia, South Korea or Canada. “If we get our cities right, we just might achieve the 2030 development goals and we may limp through the 21st century,” he said, “but if we get our cities wrong – we’re doomed.”

Cities face a range of mounting risks, from homicides to pollution to water scarcity, said Changhua Wu, Director for China and Asia, Office of Jeremy Rifkin, People’s Republic of China. New Delhi ground to a halt last week as a result of air pollution; a problem that poses severe health risks for urban inhabitants in emerging and developed economies. Water shortage is another climate-related challenge: in Brazil alone, 850 cities face chronic water shortages in a country that boasts 20% of the world’s water reserves.

However, cities are stepping up to the challenge. Today, over 200 intercity networks are working together to tackle everything from migration to climate change. More than 8,000 cities have introduced solar power, while 300 cities are completely energy autonomous, some even exporting power back into national grids.

Global decision-making remains dominated by nation states – it’s time to offer the cities a place at the negotiating table, said Muggah. Cities also need greater freedom to solve their own problems by focusing on becoming greener and smarter. “Mayors are rediscovering their mojo”, he said, adding: “Cities are where the future happens first.”

However, an increasing number of cities are becoming more, not less, fragile – particularly across Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. According to Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President and Chief Executive Officer of International Crisis Group (ICG), Brussels, urban violence is on the increase, linked to the weakening presence of the nation state in some cities. Guéhenno warned that this rising violence along with unprecedented levels of forced migration are posing major risks to developing countries.

Regional rivalries in the Middle East and Asia have become more pressing, said Guéhenno. “A function of the retreat of the US is that all countries feel more on their own.” The world lacks a shared narrative and the models on offer, from the US and China, are based not so much on common values as on the “optimization of economic resources.” Said Guéhenno: “Trust requires some sense of shared values” – but in the last 25 years, “we’ve seen a steady erosion of norms around the world.”

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