3 Essentials for Integrated Urban Climate Action

At the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), more than 1,100 cities representing a quarter of global CO2 emissions signed up to the Cities Race to Zero. In doing so, they committed to ambitious, inclusive and equitable climate action to hold global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). At COP27 next month, these cities will be expected to demonstrate progress and explain how they plan to deliver on their commitments.

3 Essentials for Integrated Urban Climate Action

Published by TheCityFix (blog by WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities) on 21 October 2022

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Guadalajara’s metropolitan municipalities commit to achieve net-zero emissions while addressing social inequalities through metro-level projects, such as a new 42-kilometer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) linePhoto: Alvarado/Shutterstock

Cities have never been more engaged on climate action.

With cities accounting for up to 70% of global CO2 emissions and urban areas being especially exposed to the impacts of climate change, city action is critical to achieving an inclusive, resilient, zero-carbon and nature-focused future, especially in the context of the current global energy crisis. Fortunately, cities are uniquely positioned to drive just the kind of ambitious climate action that scientists say is needed.

By using existing technologies and policy options across buildings, transportation, materials and waste, research shows cities can reduce emissions by 90% by 2050. At the same time, transitioning to low-carbon and resilient infrastructure can improve quality of life, health, and access to economic opportunities of the most vulnerable populations by bridging the “urban services divide.”

To help cities on their journey, we propose three essentials to advancing climate action in cities:

1) Make Climate Action About People

Cities need to balance a wide range of competing priorities. For many, issues such as public health, housing and economic growth rank above climate change in the concerns of most citizens and local authorities. Traditional climate mitigation and adaptation entry points are often insufficient in persuading cities to take action at the scale and pace necessary.

To succeed and provide new motivations to act, cities need to make connections between their wider environmental, social and economic goals and climate action — a concept we refer to as “integrated climate action.”

Integrated climate action begins with integrated planning, which actively seeks out synergies between mitigation and adaptation goals and other local priorities such as economic growth, clean air, energy security, housing, access to services, etc. These synergies aren’t hard to find. Climate change is inextricably linked to tackling social and economic inequalities. Our research shows how closing the urban services divide —reducing inequalities city residents’ abilities to access decent housing, clean water, sewer systems, electricity, transport and jobs — can be one of the most powerful entry points for advancing ambitious climate action.

Cities around the world are already leading the way. For example, Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara Climate Action Plan (CAP) shows how climate action can drive cross-sectoral collaboration across jurisdictions. All nine of Guadalajara’s metropolitan municipalities committed to a achieve net-zero emissions while addressing social and spatial inequalities through metro-level projects, such as a new 42-kilometer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. The project prioritizes giving the area’s most vulnerable groups access to public transport and improved air quality.

Similarly, in Mumbai, where 50% of the population lives in informal settlements, the city’s Climate Action Plan aims to increase poor households’ access to climate-resilient housing, green spaces, cooling and health centers to jointly tackle emissions, heat-related risks and socio-spatial inequalities.

2) Get Ready for Integrated Implementation

Incremental mitigation and adaptation projects advanced in isolation, under sectoral silos, will be insufficient. Cities’ need a whole-system approach that unlocks collaboration across sectors and institutional boundaries, effectively embedding climate goals in all key decision-making for a — such as strategic, land use and budgetary planning.

For example, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil embedded targets from its Sustainable Development and Climate Action Plan in its current five-year strategic plan (2021-2024). By doing so, the current city administration ensures that climate action is implemented in a cross-cutting way across multiple city departments — everything from health care to ecosystem services management to innovation and green jobs. It also ensures budget is allocated appropriately for climate action implementation.

Land use planning is oftentimes one of the most powerful policy instruments cities have at their disposal for implementing transformative climate action. Victoria Gasteiz, Spain, for example, prioritizes community engagement, compact land use, sustainable mobility, and public and green spaces in its land use planning. These initiatives can simultaneously foster mitigation, adaptation and equity. With shifts from car travel to low-carbon mobility like biking and walking, the city’s CO2 emissions dropped by 42%. Promoting urban green spaces countered urban sprawl, increased biodiversity, reduced pollution and urban heat islands, and improved water management. Re-densification and rehabilitation of the city center has kept housing affordable and increased equitable access to urban services like public transport.

3) Get the Right People Together

Local governments do not operate in isolation, and many of the levers to accelerate mitigation, increase climate resilience and ensure equitable benefits lie beyond cities’ direct authority. Research from the Coalition for Urban Transitions estimates that 37% of urban mitigation potential requires collaborative action among national, state and city governments.

Responding to the climate emergency requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, where cities actively collaborate with regions, other cities, businesses and national policymakers to unlock investments for urban climate action while raising the bar for more ambitious climate action at the national level.

The Mexican Climate Community is an example of how sub-national governments can collaborate for zero-carbon development. This network of municipal-, state- and federal-level public servants promotes training, peer-to-peer exchange and tailored support on projects ranging from energy efficiency to nature-based solutions to low-carbon transport. It also connects sub-national governments with the private sector to help achieve cities’ Race to Zero pledges.

WRI’s Urban Water Resilience Initiative is another example of the complex governance required for integrated climate action. Through this initiative, a coalition including research institutes, civil society actors, development agencies, national governments, businesses, private investment groups, national banks and consultancies are tackling technical and financial barriers to improve water resilience in six cities in Ethiopia, Rwanda and South Africa. The initiative will soon launch the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund (ACWA Fund) to support 100 African cities in financing urban water resilience measures by 2032.

Integrated Climate Action Means Accelerated Climate Action

Achieving net-zero emissions by mid-century and rapidly increasing our resilience to extreme weather is a must if the world is to have any chance of tackling the climate crisis. To meet these goals in a way that enhances justice and equity, reduces the urban services divide, and protects nature necessitates an integrated and collaborative approach. It also requires improved accountability mechanisms to ensure that cities and their partners deliver on their commitments.

Cities are finally making ambitious climate action promises. Now comes the hard part of turning promises into progress.

Retrieved from

This article originally appeared on WRI’s Insights.

Michael Doust is Director of Urban Efficiency & Climate for WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Nathalie Badaoui is Senior Manager for Integrated Climate Action at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Leo Horn-Phathanothai is Head of WRI’s UK Office and Director for Strategy and Partnerships at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Data As a Force to Shape Future Urban Mobility
To shape future climate-friendly transport, it is crucial for cities to under­stand their complex mobility ecosystem. This is where data analysis and visualization play a key role in antic­ipating the need for mobility services at an early stage and responding accordingly. Mobility data thus enable well-founded policy and investment decisions so that transport modes can be efficiently adopted and used.

Data As a Force to Shape Future Urban Mobility

By  and  | Originally posted on March 28, 2022 on TheCityFix blog by the World Resources Institute (WRI)'s Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Data is a crucial enabler to make better, more informed decisions about sustainable mobility. Photo by UN Women/Flickr

The sheer volume of data collected globally has grown exponentially. But particularly in developing and emerging countries, major gaps in availability, quality and usability of data lead to a lack of significant resources necessary to face complex urban challenges. The Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) – funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) – believes that for cities, data is a crucial enabler to make better as well as more informed decisions about sustainable mobility. With the development of an Urban Mobility Data Hub, TUMI is working together with its partners on making mobility data available for 40 cities in Africa, Latin America and Asia to shape the digital transformation of urban mobility in a climate-friendly way.

Urban development and trans­port are intercon­nected. Cities are growing rap­idly, leading to overall growth in travel demand. Reaching a certain degree of saturation in industrialized countries, urban and transport development is progressing in other regions of the world with incredible dynamism. Especially in developing and emerging countries, unplanned urban growth is a challenge for achieving sustain­able urban mobility.

Gaps in Coverage, Quality and Usability of Data

With the digital revolution, accessibility of data has greatly increased, as well as ease of information sharing. But developing and emerging countries are being left behind. Despite the value of public intent data, particularly in developing and emerging countries, gaps in their availability, quality and usability per­sist. For example, 35% of the world’s largest cities and 92% of the largest low- and middle-income cities do not have complete land use or transportation maps.

Conventional land use maps, which divide the earth’s surface into categories such as “forest,” “water” or “tundra,” often group urban areas into a single category – such as “urban” or “built-up” – and do not reflect the complexity of urban spaces. OpenStreetMap, a citizen-generated geo­spatial application that relies on users to digitize the location of roads and other infrastructure, shows a clearly lower cover­age in lower-income countries. In India, only 21% of the road network had been digitized by 2015. Additionally, adapta­tion of technologies such as ground-based sensors, which can measure air pollution or climatic conditions, is still too limited to provide data at scale.

There is often partial data on movement patterns and mobility, but timeliness remains an issue particularly with survey and census data. In addition, it is often not accessible to decision-makers. Often, cities lack the know-how to make use of this data and incorpo­rate it into the practices of local govern­ments. There is a lack of concrete, data-based application examples to make the COreduction and scaling potential in this area tangible.

What TUMI Is Doing to Bridge the Data Divide

Bridging the digital divide is a social and economic imperative. In cooperation with the Latin American Development Bank (CAF), TUMI is developing a virtual Mobil­ity Data Hub, where open data relevant for urban and transport planning will be made accessible. A key component of the hub is the cooperation between TUMI and ETH Zurich.

Developed by students at the uni­versity, high-resolution satellite imagery is being converted into a physical representa­tion of cities with the help of artificial intelligence to be made usable for deci­sion-makers and planners in urban and mobility development. These data will be supplemented by mobility data from differ­ent sources (e.g., phone data, GTFS, GPS, LiDaR) to form a comprehensive data basis for integrated transportation and mobility planning. Another important data input will be the collection of gender-specific data, which is currently being collected in three African cities – Lagos, Nairobi and Gauteng – under TUMI’s Women Mobi­lize Women Initiative. TUMI is committed to highlighting socioeconomic and gender-specific data biases at an early stage.

The final element will be to pilot use cases in three cities, putting the Data Hub to use. TUMI will work closely to assist with mobility planning through the use of the data hub. We will jointly work to utilize the advantages of data-driven city planning, transport development and digitization of information. This will test and improve the versatility of the tool just built. Further engagement with the tech world will be adopted with localized and innovative demonstration activities such as hackathons or design thinking workshops with local stakeholders.

If cities miss out on the digital revolu­tion, they risk losing out on the transformation and climate resilience benefits that can come with sus­tainable mobility. TUMI is seeking to build the future of qualified experts and decision-makers to drive the change needed in every city. Improving digital literacy and provid­ing relevant skills to the respective govern­ment employees to make data-based, sus­tainable decisions in the field of transporta­tion and mobility planning is key.

Only if we make data available for all people, can we improve the quality of life in our cities and allow policymakers to make data-driven decisions that provide citizens with more efficient and sustainable mobility services and create a more livable, resil­ient and inclusive city.

This article was originally published in Internationales Verkehrswesen Magazin (74) Issue 1, 2022.

Editor’s Note: WRI is a partner of the Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative (TUMI) through the E-Bus Mission Project, a global coalition of stakeholders assisting with the transition to electric public transit in 20 deep-dive and up to 500 mentee cities.

Frederic Tesfay is Project Manager at the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

Lena Plikat is Junior Advisor at the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

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5 Priorities for Cities After COP26

As was once again made clear at COP26, cities are ready to step up and lead: More than 1,000 cities are now signed up for the Cities Race to Zero pledge and there were important commitments to reverse forest loss and curb methane emissions. But the resources cities need to deliver on their ambitions remain slim.

Now that the dust has settled from Glasgow, what does COP26 mean for cities? As we reflect on the outcomes, five priorities stand out for cities and national governments to focus on.

5 Priorities for Cities After COP26

By  and  | Posted on TheCityFix by World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on 8 December 2021

Without getting cities right, we cannot solve the climate crisis. Contributing to 75% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, it is impossible to overstate their central role. Cities’ choices influence and can drive change in every system that needs to be decarbonized and made resilient, from transport to food to energy. As the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted, cities — with their concentration of people, economic activity and infrastructure — are among the most powerful levers we have to drive decarbonization and build resilience fast enough to meet the Paris goals.

The Coalition for Urban Transitions has identified climate action in cities as an opportunity that could net $24 trillion in benefits by 2050, while reducing urban emissions by 90%. And cities are acutely vulnerable to climate impacts: 800 million people living in cities are vulnerable to sea level rise of half a meter by 2050, and cities will face the brunt of extreme heat due to heat island effects.

Unfortunately, the national support needed by cities to adapt and seize this opportunity remains largely missing. National delegations naturally take center stage at COPs, and this remained the case at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The Paris Agreement goals will never be met unless and until the crucial contributions of cities are fully recognized, reflected in climate action plans (or Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) and enabled and supported by national governments.

As was once again made clear at COP26, cities are ready to step up and lead: More than 1,000 cities are now signed up for the Cities Race to Zero pledge and there were important commitments to reverse forest loss and curb methane emissions. But the resources cities need to deliver on their ambitions remain slim.

Now that the dust has settled from Glasgow, what does COP26 mean for cities? As we reflect on the outcomes, five priorities stand out for cities and national governments to focus on:

1. Bridge the Gap Between City Action and NDCs

There is a massive missed opportunity in failing to more systematically link climate action by cities to enhanced national climate action plans. The symbiosis is obvious: Cities need more ambitious NDCs to achieve their science-based targets, and national governments need cities to realize the full urban greenhouse gas mitigation potential.

A more concerted effort is therefore essential to make the case that city action contributes to and enhances national climate targets. This requires further research and analysis, specifically to quantify and demonstrate the added contribution of city-led climate action to meeting national climate targets. Furthermore, data that is being collected by cities (increasingly disclosed through the unified CDP-ICLEI reporting system) needs to be more consistently fed back up to national authorities.

The DK2020 project in Denmark, though not a government-led effort, could show a different way forward, as a climate action plan that starts with 95 cities each using a common planning framework developed by C40 and building up to what’s needed for the 1.5 degrees C goal.

The Coalition for Urban Transitions’ Seizing the Urban Opportunity report hones in on six emerging economies (together responsible for 41% of greenhouse gas emissions) and provides clear guidance and data aimed at national authorities on why and how to bring cities into the fold. Solving this disconnect is crucial to achieving a green and just transition.

2. Use Integrated Climate Action to Guide City Planning and Priority Setting

The 1,000+ cities that have signed up for Cities Race to Zero have committed to reach net-zero by 2050 at the latest. This is an incredible achievement.

Another initiative, the Cities Race to Resilience, was launched in July 2021 to address adaptation in a similar fashion, but so far it’s unfortunately gotten less traction and only a few dozen cities have signed up. The metrics for adaptation are not clear and unified, yet extreme weather events keep taking their toll, with the highest exposure in cities.

Cities cannot afford to address mitigation and adaptation as two independent workstreams and should instead focus their efforts on integrated climate action that also incorporates public health, equity and other sustainable development objectives.

Climate action cannot be seen as just another entry in a list, but as the one helping to prioritize comprehensive action across departments and sectors. Emphasizing co-benefits is key to get the broad support needed within bureaucracies and from constituencies. But to maximize the health, social and economic benefits of emission reductions, cities must also be prepared to deliver coherent policies and measures that manage the potential trade-offs. 

Integrated climate action can deliver cleaner air, greener and safer cities, more equitable mobility, and new jobs. Retrofitting buildings, for example, is one of the impactful climate actions in terms of the cost of emissions reductions as well as creating jobs, and it is essential to meeting any net-zero goal. Every $1 invested in retrofits can produce as much as $2 in benefits.

3. Develop a More Comprehensive Approach to Sustainable Mobility

COP26 was the turn in the spotlight for electric vehicles, with countries, the private sector, and global institutions such as the Global Environment Facility stepping up support and commitments around zero-emission vehicles. Ambitious scale up of electric vehicles is necessary, but we also know that electric vehicles alone cannot solve the climate crisis. It will take a lot more than engines to fix our issues — including much more investment in active mobility and public transport, smarter land use, and reducing investments in unnecessary vehicle infrastructure.

For the sake of our climate and the functioning of our cities, we need a broader view of sustainable mobility at future climate summits.

Active mobility and public transport in particular require serious attention to make sure cities stay accessible for all and to improve road safety and livability. The Transport Decarbonization Initiative paper on financing active mobility and WRI’s safe bike lanes guide are examples of how to bridge the gap to implementation and move from the what to the how. This more robust approach to sustainable mobility can also support green recovery efforts the world over.

4. Use Nature-based Solutions to Manage Water and Build Resilience

This was the self-proclaimed “nature COP,” with ambitious pledges to halt and reverse deforestation and water at long last gaining a “seat at the table.”

Urbanization and water scarcity and variability are converging in sharp ways. WRI’s Urban Water Resilience in Africa initiative launched the Addis Ababa Water Resilience Action Plan to bring a diverse field of urban stakeholders in the region together to think more holistically about water and identify visions and actions for implementation. With many African countries seeing the demand for water triple, water is impacting the way we plan and manage cities and exacerbating deep deficiencies in access to basic services. Bringing water supply, water management and water adaptation measures in sync, cities have an opportunity to capture supplies during peaks, manage droughts during downturns, and think through decentralized systems to provide cheaper and safer water to informal and disenfranchised communities.

WaterAid’s Resilient Water Accelerator and WRI’s new “Catalytic Fund” for scaling water resilience in African cities are part of complementary trends working to address urban water issues at scale. Better water management and resilience goes hand in hand with scaling nature-based solutions that help to mitigate urban heat islands, provide cleaner air, capture and purify water, and create more quality public spaces.

5. Put Equity and Inclusion at the Center of City Action

One in three urban dwellers globally lack access to one or more key services, like reliable electricity or safe water and sanitation. Nine of 10 people are breathing polluted air, with a disproportionate share of the burden of disease and mortality falling on poorer and more vulnerable populations. Reducing urban inequality is key to all climate and sustainable development objectives — and to the success of failure of cities this century. Without equity, we can have no development; without equity, no resilience; without equity, no zero-carbon.

Though still insufficient, we are seeing some greater understanding of this relationship. The World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City provides clear pathways for cities to break the status quo, and in Glasgow we heard from key mayors, ministers and other urban leaders on the complexity and the imperative of moving from rhetoric to action. “Healthy NDC scorecards” were also introduced, which grade the impact of climate commitments on public health and may help bring cross-cutting issues like air pollution to the fore.

In many places, COVID-19 recovery packages are an opportunity for cities to help shift the narrative on both equity and climate — and making meaningful changes.

With the focus of many governments on infrastructure investments and a newfound appreciation of more diverse, accessible and low-carbon urban mobility, there’s an opportunity to transform cities on a scale that might have seemed impossible just a few years ago. In this way, cities are at the forefront of the effort to build a more equitable world as well. They have an opportunity to galvanize support in the year ahead for a forward-looking agenda that shapes more inclusive cities that work better for everyone on multiple levels.

Retrieved from

This article originally appeared on WRI’s Insights.

Rogier van den Berg is Acting Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Leo Horn-Phathanothai is Head of WRI’s UK Office and Director for Strategy and Partnerships at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Cover Photo by SO Photography - Cities are among the most powerful levers we have to drive decarbonization and build resilience fast enough to meet the Paris goals. 

Safe Bicycle Lane Design Principles: Responding to Cycling Needs in Cities during COVID and Beyond

This guide aims to assist with the design of high-quality, safe, temporary cycling measures that also create the foundation for systemic and lasting changes that nurture a culture of cycling, facilitate the development of quality cycling networks, and move cities and urban mobility toward a sustainable future.

Safe Bicycle Lane Design Principles: Responding to Cycling Needs in Cities during COVID and Beyond

8 November 2021

This Guidebook is part of Urban Mobility within the WRI Ross Center for Sustainability Cities. Reach out to Nikita Luke for more information.​


Primary Contacts


  • Creative Commons

Cycling has become a popular, resilient and reliable travel option during the pandemic in cities around the globe. The implementation of emergent, or pop-up, bike lanes has received an overwhelming response since early 2020 and has also created a growing desire for safe and efficient bicycle infrastructure. Between March and July 2020, 394 cities, states and countries reported interventions that reallocated street space for people to cycle and walk more easily, directly and safely. This shift to cycling comes at a perfect time when cities have been making efforts to meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

Pop-up bike lanes are typically implemented with temporary materials to segregate a traffic lane for the use of cyclists only. Despite this initial temporary condition, any new cycling infrastructure must be designed and implemented thoughtfully and to the highest standards to reduce or eliminate risks that cyclists face during trips, especially novice cyclists who might be biking in the city for the first time. When a crash occurs between a vehicle and a bicycle, it’s the cyclist who is most likely to be injured. According to the WHO, every year 41,000 cyclists die in road traffic-related incidents worldwide, representing 3% of global road traffic deaths.

Temporary and quickly designed bike lanes should not compromise on safety. Bike lanes that are deployed now may have a significant impact on travel patterns and safety in cities for years to come, especially as the broad range of temporary materials available can be rapidly installed yet offer a semipermanent solution.

For this reason, it is important to get the design and planning right. And right means safe. This guidance equips government agencies, designers, and civil society organizations that are participating in the health crisis response with an understanding of how to protect cyclists through safe and appropriate design. Cities are investing considerable effort and resources to implement safe cycling lanes under very challenging conditions, and this energy should not be wasted.

The guidance provided here is based on the broad experience of the global team of authors, led by the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities in collaboration with the Dutch Cycling Embassy, the League of American Bicyclists, Urban Cycle Planning (Denmark), and Asplan Viak (Norway).


Cycling has become an appealing option due to reduced public transport capacity and ridesharing options under physical distancing requirements, lower vehicle traffic volumes during various forms of “lockdown,” increased awareness of the link between physical activity and mental health, and increased comfort provided by temporary bike lanes.

  • Cities need to consider two public health issues when planning for immediate and future cyclist needs: road safety and physical distancing.
  • Temporary, or “emergent,” cycling lanes are an excellent way to address the increased demand for safe cycling and support increased cycling volumes even as traffic levels increase or the necessity for physical distancing is reduced.
  • Cycling is one of the cleanest and healthiest modes of transportation. This surge in cycling is here to stay.
  • Temporary bike lanes must meet safe design standards, be linked with speed management, and fit within the city’s cycling and mobility network and strategies.
  • The purpose of this guide is to help cities make quick, effective, and safe decisions and actions to make cycling a safe and appealing transport option during and beyond the current global health emergency.

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World Resources Report Synthesis Launch: Seven Transformations for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities
Seven Transformations for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities is the culmination of a six-year research effort revealing a new vision for urban development based on what has worked in many cities around the world. We find that income and GDP can no longer be the sole measures of poverty and a city’s success. And we show that improved access to core services like water, sanitation, energy, transport, and housing for the urban under-served can lead to citywide prosperity and sustainability.

World Resources Report Synthesis Launch: Seven Transformations for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities

Webinar by World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities | Tuesday, October 19, 2021 | 9:00am - 10:30am EDT

To make faster progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, our planet needs thriving, low-carbon cities. But new WRI research finds that the key to more sustainable cities is making them more equal.

You are invited to join WRI experts along with global, city, and community leaders to explore how to make cities work for more people – and generate economic and environmental benefits worldwide.

Seven Transformations for More Equitable and Sustainable Cities is the culmination of a six-year research effort revealing a new vision for urban development based on what has worked in many cities around the world. We find that income and GDP can no longer be the sole measures of poverty and a city’s success. And we show that improved access to core services like water, sanitation, energy, transport and housing for the urban under-served can lead to citywide prosperity and sustainability.

This session involved:

  • Fireside chat with Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat and Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO of WRI, on making progress on the SDGs and COVID-19 recovery
  • Presentation of 7 crucial transformations to reduce inequality and improve citywide outcomes
  • Panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges of implementing a new urban vision with Bijal Brahmbatt (Mahila SEWA Housing Trust, India), Parks Tau, (Gauteng Provincial Government, South Africa) and Frannie Léautier (SouthBridge Investments)

The provision of more reliable, affordable and accessible core urban services can lessen the burden on everyday lives and our natural resources in ways that echo for generations. Decisions made in cities today have the power to create transformative change for people and the planet.

How to Build Smart, Zero Carbon Buildings – and Why it Matters
Reducing carbon emissions in buildings will be critical to achieving the Paris climate goals and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Buildings represent 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 28% in operational emissions and 11% in building materials and construction.

How to Build Smart, Zero Carbon Buildings – and Why it Matters

By  | September 8, 2021 | Posted on TheCityFix by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Decarbonization of the world’s buildings is critical to meeting global climate goals. Photo by Fabio Achilli/Flickr

Reducing carbon emissions in buildings will be critical to achieving the Paris climate goals and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. Buildings represent 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 28% in operational emissions and 11% in building materials and construction.

Global building floorspace is projected to double by 2060 and only 3% of investment in new construction is green and efficient, locking in high emissions for decades. The renovation rate for existing buildings is barely 1%, less than a third of the rate needed to meet the Paris climate goals.

While the decarbonization challenges for buildings are significant, so are the opportunities. Efficient, zero-carbon buildings take advantage of available, cost-effective technology to reduce emissions while increasing health, equity and economic prosperity in local communities.

There are four crucial trends driving zero carbon buildings: decarbonization, electrification, efficiency and digitalization. These four good “DEEDS” work in combination to reduce the carbon emissions and overall cost of building operations and supporting infrastructure. Buildings can achieve zero-carbon (or zero-carbon ready) performance by eliminating fossil fuel use for heating, using on-site and/or off-site renewable energy, reducing the use of high global warming potential refrigerants, and using low-carbon, reused or recycled materials in construction.

Global warming will result in more electricity demand. Image: Statista

Global warming will itself result in more electricity demand as previously moderate regions, as recently occurred in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, require air conditioning to minimize heat stress. Unseasonably cold weather can also increase electricity demand in warmer regions. This will, in some cases, result in higher costs for building owners due to the lower (often subsidized) cost of fossil energy and increased electricity infrastructure investment for expanded generation, transmission, distribution and management of an increasingly intermittent renewable energy supply.

Energy efficiency must remain a top priority for zero carbon buildings, even with a decarbonized energy supply. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency saves about two dollars in energy supply, whether that investment is made in local, on-site generation or at a grid level. It also reduces the total cost of future grid infrastructure to meet increased demand. While passive measures, such as increased insulation and higher efficiency equipment, can reduce overall electrical demand, active efficiency measures including automated demand response and dynamic energy optimization can provide demand flexibility to match intermittent renewable generation.

Digitalization is an important enabler of energy efficiency and demand flexibility in buildings. These “smart” buildings benefit from advanced sensing and controls, systems integration, data analytics and energy optimization to actively reduce energy use and demand while also improving occupant comfort, health, productivity and facility resilience. Embedding these digital capabilities in “smart” equipment and appliances can provide additional benefits including improved reliability and remote management in addition to energy and emissions reductions.

The potential energy savings from smart buildings is significant. Basic automated building controls can save 10-15% of energy in commercial buildings. More advanced functionality, such as demand-controlled ventilation, can save an additional 5-10% in energy. Integrating building systems together can yield incremental energy savings of 8-18% over basic HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and lighting control. Energy Information Management Systems that use advanced metering infrastructure and monitor the end use in buildings save 3% on average, while automated fault detection and diagnostics can save an average of 9% in energy use.

A recent study suggests that Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings can reduce energy costs by up to 20% through active demand management. Energy optimization can control a building’s energy use based on the real-time carbon intensity of the grid and coordinate the use of clean heating resources with backup fossil fuel equipment to minimize carbon emissions on a 24/7 basis while providing demand flexibility and resilience.

The Unisphere building in Silver Spring, Maryland, is one of the largest net zero energy projects in the U.S. It incorporates geothermal heat pumps, on-site solar energy and an integrated control system including HVAC, lighting, energy and dimmable windows. The eight-story office building of the Powerhouse Brattorkaia in Trondheim, Norway, is energy positive across the entire building lifecycle, including energy consumed in producing and transporting building materials, on-site construction and end-of-life deconstruction. The building has 3,000m² of solar panels and a natural refrigerant heat pump at its water source that provides cooling and heating. The building is highly efficient, incorporating both passive and active measures, including occupant adaptive HVAC and lighting systems.

Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, Norway. Image: Lyndsayclose/Wikimedia

Global warming and climate change will also have a strong impact on tropical climate regions where buildings’ energy consumption is driven by rising demand in electrical cooling. Singapore’s decarbonization strategy in its Green Plan for 2030 has an ambitious goal to quadruple solar energy deployment by 2025 and achieve 2GWp (gigawatts peak) of solar energy by 2030. From 2030, 80% of new buildings will be “Super Low Energy buildings” with an 80% improvement in energy efficiency compared to 2005 consumption levels for best-in-class green buildings. At least 20% of schools will be carbon neutral by 2030.

The NUS School of Design and Environment 4 (SDE4) is the first newly built, net zero energy building in Singapore and is the first building in South-East Asia to be awarded the Zero Energy Certification by the International Living Future Institute. The six-level building features an innovative hybrid cooling system to effectively reduce the building’s energy consumption. Advanced monitoring of occupancy, space usage, indoor air quality and weather conditions helps optimize system operation. Electricity produced by 428 kWp of rooftop solar panels is used to power all systems with any excess exported dynamically to the campus grid for adjacent building usage. Since its opening in January 2019, the building has been net energy positive, it produces more energy than it consumes, by more than 460 MWh.

The SMU-X Net Zero Energy Building, Singapore city center’s first large-scale mass engineered timber building has offset 100% of its yearly energy consumption through a photovoltaic system located at the building. Elsewhere, the NUS School of Design and Environment 1 and 3 (SDE 1&3) is a highly efficient, renovated building with an advanced building façade that balances the amounts of natural light and heat entering the building and an advanced lighting control system and a solar roof to meet net zero energy performance. The Development Bank of Singapore’s Newton office is a renovation project of an existing four-level building aiming for 70% energy savings and net zero energy performance with the installation of bi-facial photovoltaic modules (photovoltaics panels that can produce power from both sides) with advanced Internet of Things power optimization technology on the building roof.

All these buildings show just how critical digitalization is as a factor in clean electricity for heating in the global north and cooling in the global south. It is also a crucial element in achieving efficient, zero carbon building performance while reducing future investment in electric grid infrastructure – a top priority if we are to meet the 2050 goals.

This article was originally posted by the World Economic Forum.

Clay Nesler is Global Lead for Buildings at World Resources Institute.

Khee Poh Lam is Dean of the School of Design and Environment at the National University of Singapore.

Bertrand Lasternas is Associate Director – Energy Manager at the National University of Singapore.

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WRI, UNEP, GEF and Partners Launch “UrbanShift” to Transform Cities for People and Planet
UrbanShift will support 23 cities in Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Rwanda and Sierra Leone to adopt integrated approaches to urban development, helping shape cities that are efficient, resilient, and inclusive.

WRI, UNEP, GEF and Partners Launch “UrbanShift” to Transform Cities for People and Planet

by World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities | September 24, 2021

NEW YORK (September 24, 2021)--At Climate Week NYC 2021, World Resources institute (WRI), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), C40 Cities, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – Local Governments for Sustainability, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) launched UrbanShift, a new global initiative to improve lives and transform cities into green and livable spaces, concurrently addressing climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

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

“Cities have to work for people, for the planet and for the economy if we are to be successful as we go forward,” said Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO, WRI. “UrbanShift was formed to help city leaders solve complex urban problems  and  use their limited resources to invest in the outcomes we need. We can't just be solving one problem; we need to make cross-sectoral solutions the norm.”

Cities are home to 4.2 billion people, more than half of the world’s population. But they face growing challenges – from floods, storms and heatwaves triggered by the climate crisis to dangerous air quality, lack of affordable housing and deep social divides. Cities also account for about 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It’s imperative for the world’s cities to become carbon neutral by 2050 in order to hold global temperature rise to under 1.5 °C, all while expanding to provide for nearly 70% of the world’s population.

“Cities are at the frontline of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director, UNEP. “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 industriousness 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 program will engage mayors, the private sector, city networks, UN agencies, multilateral development banks and many other partners to support national and city governments. It will also serve as a knowledge and learning platform to connect cities with global expertise and cutting-edge research, as well as offering a space to share experiences and forge partnerships.

“We are aiming for ambitious city-level transformation, which we plan to achieve in two ways,” said Rogier van den Berg, Acting Director, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “One, by working directly with cities to promote integrated urban development approaches such as nature-based solutions, low-carbon public transport systems, low-emission zones and integrated waste management. Two, by offering a suite of capacity-strengthening activities to urban practitioners and leaders across the globe, from participatory workshops to online trainings, national-level dialogues, advanced climate action, urban labs, and much more.”

Objectives include mitigating 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 1 million hectares of land. With $146 million in GEF funding and $1.7 billion in co-financing, the program is  expected to impact the lives of more than 58 million people.

“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, GEF.

UrbanShift is aligned to the UN’S Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 vision to consider the social, environmental and economic dimensions integrated and indivisible. UrbanShift will particularly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, but also several other SDGs such as SDG13, SDG3 and SDG15.

For more information, visit

About UrbanShift

UrbanShift is supporting 23 cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America to adopt integrated approaches to urban development, helping shape cities that are efficient, resilient and inclusive. UrbanShift is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and led by UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI), C40 Cities and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank (ADB). For more information, visit:

About WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is World Resources Institute’s program dedicated to shaping a future where cities work better for everyone. It enables more connected, compact and coordinated cities. The Center expands the transport and urban development expertise of the EMBARQ network to catalyze innovative solutions in other sectors, including air quality, water, buildings, land use and energy. It combines the research excellence of WRI with two decades of on-the-ground impact through a network of more than 370 experts working from Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Turkey and the United States to make cities around the world better places to live. More information at

About the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

The GEF is the largest multilateral trust fund focused on enabling developing countries to invest in nature. It supports the implementation of international environmental conventions on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals, and desertification. Since its establishment 30 years ago, the GEF has provided $21.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $117 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 projects and programs.

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Cover Photo by Second-Half Travels/Flickr
How Cities Can Rethink Housing After COVID-19
With talks of a post-pandemic rebound, it’s clear that the fundamental issues plaguing housing, particularly in global south cities remain unperturbed. Affordability, displacement, and hyper-privatization are still the biggest concerns. Yet although the challenges are the same set, the economic disruption of COVID should shake us into new ways of thinking about property – and, subsequently, who actually has access to living on it securely.

How Cities Can Rethink Housing After COVID-19

By  | August 25, 2021 | Published in TheCityFix by the World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Innovative solutions to longstanding housing issues exist but they require us to reimagine what’s possible. Photo by Kyle Laferriere/WRI

When the world shut down last March, the urban housing conversation took on a radically different hue.

Suddenly, housing was a public health concern – which, of course, it always had been. Where you live, and under what conditions, appeared viciously linked to your likelihood of getting sick. The question of who has stable housing and what “stay at home” looks like came front and center. In some countries, eviction moratoriums and rent freezes became the new normal. And as deaths soared, talks of “livability” dominated policy debates.

Fast forward a year later. The tick-tock of vaccinations and variants has left the world in a race against time, as outbreaks swing between the global north and south. But with talks of a post-pandemic rebound, it’s clear that the fundamental issues plaguing housing, particularly in global south cities remain unperturbed. Affordability, displacement, and hyper-privatization are still the biggest concerns.

Yet although the challenges are the same set, the economic disruption of COVID should shake us into new ways of thinking about property – and, subsequently, who actually has access to living on it securely. Before and throughout the pandemic, researchers from PEAK Urban, a five-continent initiative based out of the University of Oxford, have been investigating innovative living arrangements that could address several core housing issues. But they require the world’s growing cities to reimagine what’s possible.

Learning from Occupation

The phenomenon of “vertical occupation,” when residents occupy an underutilized or abandoned building without holding formal ownership, has been around in South Africa for some time, in cities like Durban and Johannesburg. But it’s relatively new to Cape Town, says researcher Nobukhosi Ngwenya, who’s based at the African Centre of Cities there. And it came at a time when she and her colleagues were thinking about what institutional knowledge can be gleaned from similar “do-it-yourself” housing solutions coming from informal settlements.

“It added a very interesting dynamic to occupational practices in Cape Town,” she told me. “But also, on how we’re thinking about providing inclusionary housing and more affordable housing in the heart of the city and central business district.”

In many ways, Cape Town resembles what has been happening to major global capitals for years now. The central business district is increasingly unaffordable, even for young professionals like Ngwenya. Property prices have skyrocketed. And buildings are being bought up by wealthier residents, many who live elsewhere, or converted into tourist lodging. That has left an increasingly challenging situation for poorer residents.

Hence, the vertical occupations, which, in a sense, are doing what government and the market have failed to do, in better utilizing un-used space at a cheaper and faster rate.

Ngwenya and her colleagues have been tracking two occupations in particular: one in Woodstock, of a now fully decommissioned hospital; and another in Green Point, of a former nurses home. Both properties are state-owned and had security on site that occupiers had to sneak around at first, she said. But eventually, numbers grew. The occupiers, under the social movement Reclaim the City, soon found themselves in legal trouble.

“We have a very litigious local government who doesn’t hesitate to go to the courts and begin eviction proceedings,” said Ngwenya.

In South Africa, the public discourse around occupiers, she explained, is rife with stigma, with terms like “hijacked buildings” fairly common. But rather than seeking evictions in court, Ngwenya argues that municipalities should look to learn from occupations, which current legal and funding mechanisms prevent. “They really leave no room for innovation,” she said.

She lists three reasons to see vertical occupation as more than a nuisance. The first, she said, is innovation in terms of materials for retrofitting, as Ngwenya outlined in a recent paper. With low funds, occupiers often reuse construction materials, like wood and concrete, and patch up any deficiencies through stopgap measures. While perhaps not structurally ideal in the long run, these practices have potential to generate new ideas at a time when industries are being called on to decarbonize their construction methods through more sustainable uses.

The second is innovation in how occupiers connect to local infrastructure, and access services. “So water, electricity, and sanitation, which can be a bit trickier.” Taps for water can be fixed and reconnected to water mains, while downed electrical services can be revived. This, Ngwenya says, has led to occupation of state-owned lands, where services are more readily available.

And the last is innovation in self-organizing. The occupiers in Cape Town have been able to mobilize support from surrounding communities and prepare formidable cases for court.

“It’s really highlighted that we’ve underestimated those who we’ve classified as poor or characterized as government beneficiaries,” Ngwenya told me. “There is a lot that they are indeed capable of doing, but it’s just a matter of learning how their processes of organizing and mobilizing resources can fulfill a common goal or end.”

Ngwenya said that a shift in South Africa’s housing policy is being led by more progressive planners, from mandating a top-down heavy approach of construction to letting people build themselves with more accessible resources. Now elected officials just have to get on board.

“If the politicians in charge don’t see value, it falls by the wayside,” she said. “But the momentum is there.”

Being Better Prepared for ‘Forced Urbanization’

Housing crises are nothing new in Colombia, a country with the most internally displaced people in the world. (Estimates peg the total at nearly 8 million, but advocates think it’s even higher.) Edwar A. Calderón, a PEAK researcher based at Medellín’s EAFIT University, explains that scars from the country’s decades-long civil conflict play out in rural-urban migration. It lands countless residents in “marginalized settlements” along the urban fringe, where realities shift fast.

“It’s a phenomenon that no local ordinance can handle,” Calderón told me. “When I talked to some government stakeholders, they say, ‘I visited that zone last month, and I came back today, and literally a new neighborhood emerged in that period of time.’”

“It’s such a rapid and unpredictable phenomenon that the government doesn’t have the technical or financial capacity [to keep us],” he added, “so I wanted to focus on that.”

Along with colleagues, Calderón is mapping out what displacement and what he calls “forced urbanization” looks like using satellite imagery and socio-spatial analysis.

For example, how much vegetation does the marginal settlement have? What are the built structures in the area? What places of individual or collective significance have been built or created? And what color or texture are they?

By understanding the shape these settlements take, and what works (or doesn’t) for specific populations, governments can provide longer-term, cost-efficient, and customizable solutions rather than one-size-fits-all answers, Calderón argues, which leads to repeating past mistakes.

Perhaps that means a greater emphasis on place-making, where nodes of ‘social infrastructure,’ like community centers, parks, plazas, and libraries, allow refugees to rebuild their civic lives. Or designing street networks that encourage social cohesion – with active storefronts, less vehicular traffic, and shorter paths – rather than discourage it. Collecting that data could even help guide engagement, where residents are asked what they’d like to see in their community.

Calderón says he hopes the project will help local governments in Colombia and other countries in the global south make smarter, more effective planning decisions, rather than construct faceless housing for vulnerable populations on a dime. “Countries have been demolishing these types of buildings [and neighborhoods] since the 1980s,” said Calderón. “They don’t work. They generate more segregation, marginalization, and violence. And yet 30 years later, we’re building them. What is our learning process?”

An Alternative Vision

The city of Medellín is also home to Moravia, a former trash heap that was converted into a landscaped hillside barrio. In recent years, the municipal government has looked to privatize it through land titles and, eventually, compulsory purchases, which residents often accept due to their high value. Sales to developers and even evictions if people try to negotiate, have followed suit.

The approach, says Nicholas Simcik Arese, a professor of architecture and urban studies at the University of Cambridge affiliated with PEAK, is typical for the developing world. “The dominant policy towards informal settlements or self-built neighborhoods is to give people property rights, but in a very particular way,” Simcik Arese explains. Property rights formalize the land, he explains, thus allowing more people to enter the market-driven world of loans and mortgages. The idea, Western in origin – British, to be precise – has helped fuel what some say is a global enclosure movement.

But there’s an issue: in places like Moravia, residents often quickly sell their titles and then leave the informal settlement, thus opening it up to development. It also aggravates extortion and blackmail, says Simcik Arese, as some residents are forced to sell their homes by illicit parties. “It’s a mistaken approach because it takes the property imagination of the global north, a particular North Atlantic one, and assumes that’s the best-case scenario for so much variety across the global south,” he said. “When in reality, it’s much messier.”

Simcik Arese and his team are revisiting the concept of property itself. For decades, liberal countries have grown accustomed to believing that land can only hold singular ownership: one owner, one property. When in reality, Simcik Arese argues, the banks and developers are slicing and dicing up land as they see fit. Think condos, subprime mortgage packages and credit-default swaps. So, why can’t people?

“There’s an immense imagination, possibility and experimentation with property that’s not understood as experimental,” said Arese. “The bank owns the mortgage, shareholders own the bank, and all of those people own your house. There’s this gap of imagination of what property is and what reality is. And somehow, some people are allowed to do these things, and others aren’t.”

Through community workshops, Simcik Arese is leading an interdisciplinary team to provide residents with ideas of alternative forms for ownership, like community land trusts, where residents each buy a share of their land. In the global north, the model is growing in interest in cities like New York and Oakland; in the south, organizations in Kenya, Brazil and Bangladesh are deploying it in informal settlements. (A Honduras model applies a CLT model to the protection of a local watershed.)

A small stake allows residents to stave off real estate interests from buying up the land without unanimous consent, Simcik Arese argues, and maybe even benefit from local land value growth without displacement by gentrification. They are also looking to digitize the tools, joining a movement for more open-sourced, accessible financial tools called “platform cooperativism.”

“How can we think of property systems like Moravia that can be suitable for this transaction?” Simcik Arese says. “What we want to do is give people agency, to facilitate people achieving agency over what should be theirs by any standard.”

When I asked the PEAK Urban researchers if the COVID-19 crisis changed the semantics of the issues they’re exploring, none said it did explicitly. If anything, they said it reinforced why it is so important in the first place. It places a greater emphasis on why secure housing is an essential urban right, as coronavirus will certainly not be the only global crisis that we collectively face.

In Colombia, Calderón told me, COVID “froze everything.” But because lockdowns pushed more workers into the informal economy, perhaps for the foreseeable future, it left them with less money for a roof over their head. “Post-pandemic, it’s going to get worse,” he said. “That’s why we need to study this.”

John Surico is a journalist and researcher. He is a fellow at Center for an Urban Future, a leading think tank in New York City, and teaches urban journalism at New York University. He holds an MSc in Transport & City Planning from University College London.

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Lessons from Delhi on Making Mobility Data Work Better for Women
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted public transportation as an essential service for the functioning of all cities. But especially for many women, the closures and general instability of public transit systems have meant loss of access to services and customers they rely on every day. In general, women tend to rely on public transportation more than any other household member, from buying food to attending to childcare to employment.

Lessons from Delhi on Making Mobility Data Work Better for Women

by  and  | 26 March 2021 | The CityFix by World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities

Part of the problem, though, is how little we know about the differences between how men and women use transport. Traditional planning practices measure broad origin and destination pairs, and the process severely underrepresents the mobility requirements of women. Lack of more detailed data impedes transport systems’ ability to measure, anticipate and respond to women’s unique needs, putting them at a greater risk of reduced access to mobility and other disparities, as research has shown.   

As the global transport sector looks to rebound from COVID-related shutdowns, a data-driven understanding of mode choices can inform the direction of future investments and policies for low-carbon transport options. Understanding distinct, complex mobility patterns and subsequent solutions by gender can lead to higher levels of public transit usage and safer walking and cycling.

Public transit agencies in Indian cities are increasingly using Intelligent Transport Systems, digital ticketing and mobile applications to improve operations and deliver better services. Smartphones, social media platforms and machine learning also hold myriad abilities to bridge the gap in gendered mobility data and enable better service provision for women and operational capacity for transit agencies generally. However, very little is being done to utilize these tools.

Below are examples from Delhi on existing gaps in women’s mobility data and how specific technologies can help bridge them.

Digital Ticketing

In February 2021, as a precautionary measure to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) commenced the final trial of a new app, Chartr, that allows commuters to book bus tickets through their smartphones. Cash has been the traditional means of transaction between commuters and transit systems in India. But as people started warming up to purchasing tickets through the app, DTC observed that the largest uptake of digital ticketing was from women – about 67%. (Since October 2019, all bus tickets are free for women in Delhi, as a way to boost safety and ridership, but they can still reserve their tickets using the app.)

The uptake highlights an important observation: given the right technology, women may adopt digital transit transactions quite quickly.

The digital ticketing interface is not only easier for many people, it now provides DTC with a way to capture more detailed spatial and temporal mobility patterns of commuters than a simple cash transaction, since they can collect gendered data of users and associate with usage of the system. Analysis of daily, weekly and monthly data from the app could inform DTC’s decisions on routes, schedules and frequencies that better cater to women commuters, and create a much more detailed understanding of the impact of different policy changes too.

Safety and Security Reporting

In 2018, a female student from Delhi narrated a harrowing encounter with sexual harassment in a crowded bus on Route 544. The tweet soon gathered popularity as more women and students narrated similar experiences on the same bus route. The route was recognized to be notorious for organized and systematic attempts by men to take the advantage of crowds to inappropriately touch women, with documented episodes going back as far as 1985.  The outrage led authorities to launch a women-only bus for the route. But there is a need for more systematic measures to counter harassment.  

Other cities have experimented with smartphone applications that make it easier for women to report sexual harassment. Machine Learning algorithms can also be equipped to capture keywords, hashtags and other information from Twitter and other social media platforms to automatically identify specific areas of transit infrastructure or services that are the biggest problems. These methods of gathering perception and incident data can supplement traditional incident reports because they can cover a much broader range of interactions. The data can then be used to inform targeted measures to adapt services or operations – hopefully earlier than in the case of the Route 544 bus.

Closing the Gap on Gender-Blind Planning

The two examples demonstrate the need for a closer investigation into how cities can utilize digitization, social media footprints and other such technologies to address two of the biggest challenges that are typical of gender and mobility: the void in gender-sensitive data collection and data-informed planning, and safety and security. 

However, gender-disaggregated mobility data is being collected every day in every city around the world, through mobile phones, geospatial data and the digital trail of social media. We need more creative approaches to putting it to good use.

Indeed, mobility data is intersectional and can be used to plan for more inclusive transport and improve operational efficiency for everyone. As other Indian cities digitize their public transit systems, incorporating a gender lens is vital to cater to the unique needs of all transport system users, across gender, age, income, ethnicity and geography.

Harshita Jamba is a Project Associate at WRI India Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

Vishal Ramprasad is a Manager for Integrated Transport at WRI India Ross Center for Sustainable Cities.

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Cover Photo by Nazreen Banu/Unsplash: Many technologies exist that can help bridge the gaps in women’s mobility data, but not enough is being done to utilize these tools. 

National governments can reap $12 trillion in returns, create millions of new jobs, reduce emissions through low-carbon investments in cities

New report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions spotlights six emerging economies to demonstrate how cities can be engines of COVID-19 recovery, shared prosperity, and climate action

National governments can reap $12 trillion in returns, create millions of new jobs, reduce emissions through low-carbon investments in cities

by World Resources Institute (WRI) Ross Center for Sustainable Cities | 17 March 2021

New report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions spotlights six emerging economies to demonstrate how cities can be engines of COVID-19 recovery, shared prosperity, and climate action

LONDON (March 17, 2021) — A new report from the Coalition for Urban Transitions finds that in order to accelerate COVID-19 recovery, achieve shared prosperity, and drive climate action, national governments must invest in cities to significantly accelerate decarbonisation and enhance resilience.

Recognising that developing and emerging economies face particularly complex challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, Seizing the Urban Opportunity focuses on six major emerging economies: China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa. These countries represent about 1/3 of global GDP, 42% of the world’s urban population, and 41% of global fossil fuel emissions. The report finds that the six countries could collectively cut emissions by up to 96% from key urban sectors (buildings, transport, materials use, and waste) by 2050, lead to $12 trillion in economic returns based on cost savings alone and deliver millions of new jobs.

“The best way to create jobs, reduce inequality and spur economic growth is by investing in cities. And cities need national governments to lead the way by including them in stimulus spending and enacting national policies that make them more resilient,” said Nick Godfrey, Director of the Coalition for Urban Transitions. “Looking at six major economies, we find it is possible to not only accelerate the required shift to net-zero emissions by focusing on cities, but also to drive shared prosperity.”

Across the six countries studied, implementation of the report’s solutions, using currently available measures, could collectively support:

  • Climate benefits, including cutting annual emissions from key urban sectors (buildings, transport, materials use and waste) by 87–96% by 2050 beyond their initial NDC commitments under the Paris Agreement.
  • Economic benefits including economic returns with a net present value of over $12 trillion by 2050, based on energy and material cost savings alone.
  • Development benefits including potentially supporting millions of new jobs in 2030: 15.2 million in China, 8.2 million in India, 2.3 million in Indonesia, 4.5 million in Brazil, 650,000 in South Africa, and 500,000 in Mexico.

“This report, Seizing the Urban Opportunity, shows how national governments can work with urban leaders to unlock the enormous potential in cities and in the urbanisation process,” said Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General. “Greater national support for urban action is essential to cut carbon pollution in key sectors including energy, transport, construction and land use.”

The Coalition’s report highlights the vital role of cities as engines of national economies and livelihoods. Yet it also makes clear that cities cannot do this on their own—national governments hold the key to urban transformation, given their scale, access to resources, and control over many policy realms. According to past research from the Coalition, local governments have primary responsibility for less than one-third of urban emissions reduction potential and national or other higher-tier governments have primary authority over the measures required to achieve two-thirds of the global urban emissions reduction potential.

“The run-up to COP26 in Glasgow represents a critical period for the world to put itself on track for a more prosperous and resilient future. Cities can deliver 58% of the energy-related emission reductions needed to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5°C, so they are a vital piece of the climate action puzzle,” said Nigel Topping, High Level Champion for Climate Action COP26.

The report comes at a time when COVID-19 has changed the way people live in cities, and it thus underlines that this is the time to rethink cities’ roles and invest in their recovery. The pandemic exposed economies and communities around the world to a wide range of challenges, with cities and the urban poor particularly hard-hit. This includes economic challenges (unemployment has soared and up to 150 million people are expected to fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic), social challenges (vulnerable communities are forced to live in overcrowded conditions and without access to adequate services, social safety nets, or transport), and climate challenges (cities continue to experience heatwaves, floods and landslides as climate hazards rapidly escalate). This is thus a pivotal time for national governments, especially with COP26 in Glasgow coming up later this year, as the choices they make will either put their countries on track for a more prosperous and resilient future or accelerate the climate emergency.

“The pandemic has exposed inequalities and deepened vulnerabilities, particularly for informal workers in the six countries highlighted in this report. National governments must prioritise sustainable urban infrastructure now to create millions of decent jobs in the near and long term as we recover from the pandemic,” said Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation.

The report highlights opportunities in each of the six countries and offers recommendations tailored to each nation’s specific context. For example:

  • China’s economic success story is built on cities, which are home to three-fifths of its population and produce 90% of GDP. While Beijing has taken major steps to build resilience and reduce air, water, and land pollution, its cities still struggle with congestion, pollution, sprawl, and severe climate impacts.
    • Successful implementation of the report’s solutions could result in an 89% reduction of GHG emissions from China’s cities by 2050, economic returns of $7.7 trillion by 2050, and 15.2 million new jobs in 2030.
    • Report recommendations include helping smaller cities become more climate resilient and putting sustainable cities at the heart of implementing the nation’s recently announced 14th Five-Year Plan.
  • Indonesia is an archipelago nation with a particularly large share of its population in low-lying coastal zones: 57.7 million people, 82% of them in urban or quasi-urban areas. While efforts are being made in several cities to work with local residents to manage flood risks, protect ecosystems, and build capacity for climate adaptation and mitigation, many residents still lack basic services and flood risks remain an urgent concern.
    • Successful implementation of the report’s solutions could result in a 96% reduction of GHG emissions from Indonesia’s cities by 2050, economic returns of $2.7 trillion by 2050, and 2.3 million new jobs in 2030.
    • Report recommendations include restoring and protecting ecosystems such as mangroves and coastal peatlands, which could both reduce land subsidence and flood risks and avoid large amounts of emissions and pollution from fires.

“This report is as critical as it is timely. By 2030 nearly a billion people will be added to the global urban population—and trillions of dollars will be invested in urban infrastructure—in the decade where global CO2 emissions must be reduced by around half for the target of holding temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C,” said Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics. “Focusing on compact, connected, and clean cities—where it is easier to move, breathe and work productively and greenhouse gas emissions can be far lower than in existing urban structures—will be at the heart of achieving climate ambitions and finding a new path to strong, sustainable, resilient, and inclusive growth.”

Read the Seizing the Urban Opportunity report here. The report will be launched at a high-profile webinar at 9:30 EDT / 1:30pm GMT on 17 March. Register here.

About the Coalition for Urban Transitions
The Coalition for Urban Transitions is the leading global initiative supporting the efforts of national governments to transform cities in ways that accelerate economic development and encourage climate action. The Coalition equips national governments with the evidence-based research and policy tools necessary to make cities zero-carbon, resilient, and inclusive. Its current in-country programmes in China and Mexico, historical work in five other countries, and its global policy and research work provide models for how national leaders can place cities at the heart of national development plans to meet their economic, social, and climate goals. Founded in 2016, the Coalition is comprised of 36 diverse stakeholders across five continents. It is a special initiative of the New Climate Economy and jointly managed by the World Resources Institute Ross Center and the C40 Cities. The Seizing the Urban Opportunity report was funded by the UK government, The Resilience Shift, the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation.

Follow the Coalition’s work at, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter.

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Photo: Representational image of Glasgow from Unsplash by Adam Marikar (@adammarikar) - The Coalition's new report aims to inspire action by other national governments ahead of the critical COP26 summit in Glasgow.