Urban development

World Urban Forum: empowering citizens to combat climate change

Combating climate change was the subject of one of the keynote sessions on the third day of the 9th World Urban Forum (WUF9), being held in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

In a session entitled “The Urban Dimension in Climate Change Action”, delegates from Europe, Africa, Latin and Central America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific island of Kiribati talked about their programmes, plans, and priorities, and issued calls for action.

They talked about empowering citizens to be part of the process of finding solutions, bringing nature back into cities, constructing more sustainable buildings, and finding new ways to fund urban development.

The Deputy Director-General for Global Affairs at France’s Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Puisais-Jauvin, said that it is in cities that the climate battle will be won or lost. “They are laboratories of innovation,” he said.

Puisais-Jauvin spoke about the importance of creating a balance so that cities are productive, inclusive, and sustainable. “All strategic urban planning has to take climate change into consideration,” he said.

Transportation, the efficient use of energy, the prevention of natural disasters, and limiting cities’ negative environmental impact are all issues that must be thought about very carefully, Puisais-Jauvin added.

“We must go beyond principles and engagements,” he said. “It is time for action.”

Puisais-Jauvin talked about the C40 global network of eight cities that are committed to addressing climate change.

He also spoke about the global Transport Decarbonisation Alliance (TDA), which is pushing for faster action to combat climate change and working to attract greater investment in clean-energy transportation.

France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Costa Rica, and the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate (PPMC) launched the alliance at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP23, last November.

Transportation contributes about one quarter of all energy-related CO2 emissions and about 15 to 17 percent of all CO2 emissions caused by human activity.

There needs, Puisais-Jauvin says, to be “green, sustainable mobility”. He also spoke about the need for sustainable infrastructures, a decarbonised economy, and zero-emission housing.

WUF9 delegates cycling in KL.

Norway’s Deputy Director-General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kåre Stormark, said: “Climate change contributes to poor people remaining poor.”

Special measures are needed to protect the most vulnerable groups, Stormark said. “Noone must be left behind.”

Stormark said that Norway had the highest percentage of electric car use anywhere in the world. The burning of fossil fuels for transport purposes had been reduced and the air quality was becoming much better in urban areas, he added.

“We are a fossil fuel producer and the government has made a decision to let electrical vehicles in without tax,” Stormark said, adding that electrical vehicles were also exempt from road tolls.

The director of the Cities Alliance¹, William Cobbett, said the recent international recognition of the importance of cities in combating climate change is incomplete in the sense that it has, to some extent, become stuck at the level of mega and capital cities.

It needs to extend to the thousands of small and medium-sized cities around the world, where, Cobbett says, the bulk of the urban population lives “and where we can expect the bulk of urban growth to be over the next two to three decades”.

Much of urban growth, Cobbett says, is “unplanned, informal, and incremental”.

Cobbett says we need to move beyond anecdote and assumption and generate a research agenda “that really brings to bear the knowledge about the impact of cities plus the role that cities can play in reducing the impact of climate change”.


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Botswana’s Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Nonofo Molefhi, said: “We must demystify climate change so that the ordinary person in our towns, in our cities, is able to comprehend the principles.

“They then have a buy-in; they then become part of the process and, therefore, are responsible for driving and generating solutions to contend with urbanisation and climate change.”

Molefhi talked about developing action programmes that are locally generated, not imposed from the top, and the need to take “hard and bold decisions”.

He talked about how, in 2016 in Botswana, government ministries were reorganised and certain responsibilities were given prominence. For instance, the ministry responsible for energy now also has “green technology” in its title.

“We are now in the process of reorienting our power generation,” Molefhi said. He said he hoped that the country’s climate change policy would be passed in parliament in July/August of this year.

Kiribati’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Kobebe Taitai, told fellow delegates and other forum attendees that his country would be one of the first “to receive the punch of the slow onset of climate change”.

He said the government of Kiribati had decided to put aside “the misleading and pessimistic scenario of a sinking Pacific nation” and spoke about the determination of people on the island to combat climate change and build and develop the country, focusing on tourism and fisheries and reviving Kiribati’s culture and heritage.

The head of the water, urban development and mobility division at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in Germany, Franz Marré, spoke about all the construction using concrete, steel, and glass that goes on in cities.

“If we continue building this way, and continue to build for at least two billion new urban inhabitants then the construction of the urban infrastructure alone will use up almost the entire carbon budget that is compatible with keeping global temperature change at 1.5 degrees.

“It would be impossible to keep to the climate goals if construction continues as is.”

Two-thirds of the world’s largest cities are situated in a low-elevation coastal zone and will be directly threatened by climate change because of rising sea levels, Marré said.

Cities, he added, will have to be built more quickly and better, and will have to serve more people while conserving energy and natural resources.

The president of the International Society of City and Regional Planners (ISOCARP), Ric Stephens, says cities need to be seen as sustainable ecosystems We have separated nature and urbanisation, he says, and nature needs to be brought back into cities.

“Trees and waterscapes in cities shouldn’t just be decorative features. They should be part of an urban ecology.”

Former mayor of the Liberian capital Monrovia, Clara Doe Mvogo, (pictured below) urged corporations that are taking her country’s natural resources, such as iron ore, rubber, and fish, to include in their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitments “things that will provide assistance to us in reducing the damage done by climate change”.

Ralston Frazer, who is the deputy mayor of the capital of Belize, Belmopan, cited a UN-Habitat paper that points to the need for new ways to fund and implement urban development in many developing countries where the challenges are the most pressing and national and local governments lack the specific technical expertise required to procure the most fit-for-purpose solution to meet their needs.

“It is time,” Frazer said, “that we strive towards implementation. We need to put legs on the plans that we have in order that we may successfully accomplish what we need to accomplish.”

The World Urban Forum is a non-legislative, biennial event convened by the United Nations agency for human settlements, UN-Habitat. WUF9 is being held under the banner “Cities 2030, Cities for All”.

A total of 185 countries are represented.

This year’s focus is on implementation of the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda.

The agenda was adopted in October 2016 at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador.

More than 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities and other urban areas and at least one billion people live in slums.

By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, and nearly 70 per cent of the global population is expected to be living in cities.

  1. The Cities Alliance is a global partnership working to reduce urban poverty and promote the role of cities in sustainable development.



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