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Billion-dollar global initiative UrbanShift to transform cities for people and the planet

Sau Ting Kwok - Hong Kong

Sau Ting Kwok - Hong Kong

A new global billion-dolloar initiative has been launched to improve lives and transform cities into green and liveable spaces.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environment Facility (GEF) and partners have launched UrbanShift at Climate Week NYC 2021 to address climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

Cities already account for about 70 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, they must become carbon neutral to hold global temperature rise to under 1.5 °C – all while growing to hold nearly 70 per cent of the world’s population.

UrbanShift will support 23 cities in Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone to adopt integrated urban development approaches, helping shape efficient, resilient, and inclusive cities. It builds on the lessons and experiences of the Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot program, which the GEF launched during its sixth replenishment cycle.

UrbanShift works with cities to promote integrated development approaches such as nature-based solutions, low-carbon public transport systems, low-emission zones, and integrated waste management.

Its aims include avoiding more than 130 million tCO2e of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of one year’s emissions from 32 coal-fired power stations. UrbanShift will also improve the management and restoration of approximately one million hectares of land.

With USD 146 million in GEF funding and USD 1.7 billion in co-financing, UrbanShift will improve integrated planning in the target cities, impacting the lives of more than 58 million people.

“Cities are at the frontline of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “However, our cities also have the power to address these challenges while increasing the resilience of their citizens and their infrastructure.”

“As we focus on the pressing issues of climate change this week, we must turn the ingenuity and perseverance we showed in building our cities in the first place to rethinking how they work. UrbanShift will be a key tool to help urban leaders do just that.”

The programme will engage mayors, the private sector, city networks, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, and other partners to support national and city governments. 

It also builds a knowledge and learning platform to connect cities with global expertise and cutting-edge research and offer a space to share experiences and forge partnerships.

“In an increasingly encroaching urban world, investing in our cities is one of the best ways we can achieve global environmental benefits across sectors – from conserving biodiversity to reducing carbon emissions and increasing resilience to shocks like climate events and pandemics,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF.

UrbanShift aligns with the Agenda 2030 vision to consider the social, environmental and economic dimensions integrated and inseparable. UrbanShift will mainly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and several other SDGs such as SDG13, SDG3 and SDG15.

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