What is circular economy and why does it matter?

Circular economy aims to minimize waste and promote a sustainable use of natural resources, through smarter product design, longer use, recycling and more, as well as regenerate nature.

What is circular economy and why does it matter?

Originally published by UNDP Climate Promise on 24 April 2023

Circular economy visual 1©UNDP Climate Promise

What is circular economy?

Our current economic system can be considered a “linear economy”, built on a model of extracting raw materials from nature, turning them into products, and then discarding them as waste. Currently, only 7.2 percent of used materials are cycled back into our economies after use. This has a significant burden on the environment and contributes to the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises.

Circular economy, on the other hand, aims to minimize waste and promote a sustainable use of natural resources, through smarter product design, longer use, recycling and more, as well as regenerate nature.

Besides helping tackle the problem of pollution, circular economy can play a critical role in solving other complex challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

What are some examples of circular economy?

The first example most people think of when they think of circular economy is waste management, but circular economy is in fact so much more.

Circular economy approaches are all around us. They can be employed in a number of different sectors from textiles to buildings and construction, and at various stages of a product’s lifecycle, including design, manufacturing, distribution, and disposal.

In textiles and fashion, there are initiatives that employ regenerative agriculture to produce organic cotton and other natural fibres, using natural colorings and dye, thus ensuring higher quality and safer garments for the health of consumers and the environment. By producing higher quality garments, clothing can also last longer, be repaired, thrifted, and recycled.

In buildings and construction, circular solutions can include reducing virgin material use, re-using existing materials in circulation, or substituting carbon-intensive materials for regenerative alternatives such as timber.

In a circular economy, electronic goods are refurbished, water-soluble, recyclable and truly biodegradable packaging becomes the norm, and animal waste is used as natural fertilizers and processed into biogas for cooking, heating and lighting.

Circular economy visual 2©UNDP Climate Promise

Why is circular economy important for our planet?

Estimates show that we are already using more than the available amount of Earth’s natural resources. If current trends were to continue, we would need three planets by 2050.

In the past two decades, material consumption has risen by over 65 percent globally, reaching 95.1 billion metric tons in 2019. By the same year, an estimated 13 percent of the food destined for human consumption was lost after harvesting and another 17 percent was wasted at the household, food service and retail levels. The amount of electronic waste reached 7.3 kilograms per capita in 2019, and the majority is not managed in a sound way, harming the environment and our health.

For the survival and well-being of people and the planet, these statistics show us the importance of transforming the way we use and respect our finite resources. Studies show that, to return to safe limits of consumption, we need to reduce global material extraction and consumption by a third. Transitioning to a circular economy will be instrumental to achieving this.

How can circular economy address climate change?

A circular economy is essential for fighting climate change.

Currently, material extraction and use amount to 70 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That means that if we want to significantly reduce emissions, we have to look at “hot spots” of unsustainable consumption and production in high-impact sectors such as industry, buildings and construction, and agriculture.

Studies show us that, through efficient and more circular use of materials in just four key industrial materials (cement, steel, plastics, and aluminum), circular economy strategies can help reduce global GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2050. And if we also include circular approaches within the food system, we could achieve as much as 49 percent reductions in global GHG emissions overall.

As part of the Paris Agreement, countries are adopting climate pledges – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – to reduce GHG emissions and increase resilience against extreme weather and natural disasters. By ensuring circular economy approaches are embedded into these pledges, countries can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, protect the natural environment, and create green, decent, and dignified jobs as well.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), if the world implemented more circular activities such as recycling, repair, rent, and remanufacture, it would create 6 million jobs globally by 2030.

What are the challenges in transitioning to a circular economy? Why aren’t we there yet?

A more circular world is possible, but the transition isn’t a simple one. Several challenges exist.

The first challenge is limited knowledge. Not every country knows about the potential of circular economy or has a strategy in place for creating it. A better understanding of the benefits and impacts of circular economy measures, particularly for climate and biodiversity, is needed.

Businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as well as other organizations and actors, often struggle to access adequate finance to transition from linear to circular business models or systems. For example, it is estimated that it takes approximately three years for a smallholder farmer to shift from conventional cotton production to organic cotton production, and shifting to circular, regenerative practices can take equally long, if not longer. This transition, therefore, requires not only adequate investment and finance, but also knowledge transfer, community-building, and training throughout the transition period.    

Even if implementing or mainstreaming circular economy practices were easier, assessing their impact may prove to be a challenge. Hence, tracking and reporting progress can often be complex. For example, tracking reductions in “scope 3” emissions (the indirect emissions that an organization or company is responsible for up and down its value chain) presents challenges due to issues such as lack of transparency of supply chains, lack of direct connections with different tiers of suppliers, and complex accounting, among others.

School students in the Philippines making compost.©UNDP Philippines/Jilson Tiu

Ruth Cutipa of the Sibayo community in Peru holding a piece she knit. The wool was made using solar spinning machine.©UNDP Peru/Giulianna Camarena

Are there working models already? Which countries are leading on circular economy?

Yes, good news! Many countries and territories are already adopting circular economy approaches to shift development and growth to cleaner, greener, and more regenerative ones.

Kosovo*, for example, is supporting innovative solutions for start-ups and SMEs, including the development of a mobile app for identifying environmental pollution and misconduct in urban areas.

Ghana is working to improve urban waste management by supporting entrepreneurs who are building houses made of recycled plastic waste.

Meanwhile, by transitioning to a circular economy, countries like Jordan are creating opportunities for women, allowing them to find employment, learn new skills, open their own businesses and take leadership positions in their community.

The Philippines has enacted a bill that requires large manufacturers to limit the use of plastic packaging and pay for the cost of managing plastic waste.

And an increasing number of countries, such as Mexico, are working to better connect circular economy solutions with their climate action plans. Mexico is developing and implementing training programmes for subnational authorities to identify circular economy actions that will contribute towards the roadmap for implementing the country’s updated NDC.

The island nation of Vanuatu is more circular than any other country whose circularity has been estimated. In 2021, its domestic consumption was estimated to be 59 percent circular. Ranking behind it were the Netherlands with 24.5 percent, and Austria with 9.7 percent. Meanwhile, global circularity has dropped from 8.6 percent in 2020 to 7.2 percent in 2023.

What is the connection between circular economy and Indigenous Peoples?

For a truly circular economy, we, as a collective, need to not only look ahead to new innovative approaches or technologies, but also look back to see what has already worked, and continues to work.

Indigenous Peoples have been implementing circular solutions as a way of life for thousands of years – whether it is through agricultural practices that ensure natural systems are regenerated, or building housing and structures using regenerative materials such as bamboo or adobe bricks.

These experiences and practices offer a lot of wisdom and guidance on how to create a truly circular world. In following principles set by these practices, we can better foster local economies centered around holistic approaches and in the process nurture resilience, reciprocity and respect between people and planet.

Circular economy visual 2

©UNDP Climate Promise

How is UNDP supporting countries on circular economy?

Whether focusing on climate change, sustainable energy, food and agriculture, or chemicals and waste management, UNDP is working with countries to scale and accelerate transformative change by integrating circular and green economy approaches. For example, under UNDP’s Climate Promise, The Gambia, Lao PDR, South Sudan, Uganda and Vanuatu conducted detailed circular economy assessments as part of their NDC revision process to identify and prioritize circular economy interventions for enhancing their climate ambition.

We’re also supporting a wide range of actions including national, urban, and sectoral planning and budgeting, and by convening and engaging key stakeholders and partners at global, regional, and national levels to help build capacities and raise awareness of circular economy and other important nexuses.

How can we accelerate the circular economy transition?

Despite the urgent need to shift to a circular economy, material extraction is rising every year, with circularity declining – from 9.1 percent in 2018 to 7.2 percent in 2023. This means that we are using more virgin materials and becoming more wasteful.

To start closing the loop, UNDP believes that countries should leverage their national climate pledges – their NDCs – to include circular economy measures. As of May 2023, only 27 percent of NDCs include circular economy, so there is ample room for action.

On this journey, it will be key for governments to engage a broad range of stakeholders across different value chains and at all stages, ensuring that all voices are heard in the process, particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable. This way, we can ensure that the best solutions are prioritized in the NDC, are inclusive of all those affected, and have local ownership to be effectively implemented on the ground.

With the next round of NDC revisions required in 2025, now is the time to define circular economy measures to include in NDCs, helping to accelerate the transition to a more circular and regenerative world.

* All references to Kosovo shall be understood in the context of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

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Biodiversity - our strongest natural defense against climate change

The Earth’s land and the ocean serve as natural carbon sinks, absorbing large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Conserving and restoring natural spaces, and the biodiversity they contain, is essential for limiting emissions and adapting to climate impacts.

Biodiversity - our strongest natural defense against climate change

Photocomposition: a butterfly on the tip of a branch, representing biodiversity

The Earth’s land and the ocean serve as natural carbon sinks, absorbing large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Conserving and restoring natural spaces, and the biodiversity they contain, is essential for limiting emissions and adapting to climate impacts.

Biological diversity — or biodiversity — is the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms, from genes and bacteria to entire ecosystems such as forests or coral reefs. The biodiversity we see today is the result of 4.5 billion years of evolution, increasingly influenced by humans.

Biodiversity forms the web of life that we depend on for so many things – food, water, medicine, a stable climate, economic growth, among others. Over half of global GDP is dependent on nature. More than 1 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods. And land and the ocean absorb more than half of all carbon emissions. 

But nature is in crisis. Up to one million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. Irreplaceable ecosystems like parts of the Amazon rainforest are turning from carbon sinks into carbon sources due to deforestation. And 85 per cent of wetlands, such as salt marshes and mangrove swamps which absorb large amounts of carbon, have disappeared. 

How is climate change affecting biodiversity?

The main driver of biodiversity loss remains humans’ use of land – primarily for food production. Human activity has already altered over 70 per cent of all ice-free land. When land is converted for agriculture, some animal and plant species may lose their habitat and face extinction.  

But climate change is playing an increasingly important role in the decline of biodiversity. Climate change has altered marine, terrestrial, and freshwater ecosystems around the world. It has caused the loss of local species, increased diseases, and driven mass mortality of plants and animals, resulting in the first climate-driven extinctions.

On land, higher temperatures have forced animals and plants to move to higher elevations or higher latitudes, many moving towards the Earth’s poles, with far-reaching consequences for ecosystems. The risk of species extinction increases with every degree of warming.

The Earth is feeling the heat.

In the ocean, rising temperatures increase the risk of irreversible loss of marine and coastal ecosystems. Live coral reefs, for instance, have nearly halved in the past 150 years, and further warming threatens to destroy almost all remaining reefs.

photocomposition: a turtle swimming in the ocean

photocomposition: a turtle swimming in the ocean

photocomposition: a turtle swimming in the ocean

Overall, climate change affects the health of ecosystems, influencing shifts in the distribution of plants, viruses, animals, and even human settlements. This can create increased opportunities for animals to spread diseases and for viruses to spill over to humans. Human health can also be affected by reduced ecosystem services, such as the loss of food, medicine and livelihoods provided by nature. 

Why is biodiversity essential for limiting climate change?

When human activities produce greenhouse gases, around half of the emissions remain in the atmosphere, while the other half is absorbed by the land and ocean. These ecosystems – and the biodiversity they contain – are natural carbon sinks, providing so-called nature-based solutions to climate change.

Protecting, managing, and restoring forests, for example, offers roughly two-thirds of the total mitigation potential of all nature-based solutions. Despite massive and ongoing losses, forests still cover more than 30 per cent of the planet’s land.

Peatlands – wetlands such as marshes and swamps – cover only 3 per cent of the world’s land, but they store twice as much carbon as all the forests. Preserving and restoring peatlands means keeping them wet so the carbon doesn’t oxidize and float off into the atmosphere. 

Ocean habitats such as seagrasses and mangroves can also sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at rates up to four times higher than terrestrial forests can. Their ability to capture and store carbon make mangroves highly valuable in the fight against climate change.

Conserving and restoring natural spaces, both on land and in the water, is essential for limiting carbon emissions and adapting to an already changing climate. About one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed in the next decade could be achieved by improving nature’s ability to absorb emissions. 

Is the UN tackling climate and biodiversity together?

Climate change and biodiversity loss (as well as pollution) are part of an interlinked triple planetary crisis the world is facing today. They need to be tackled together if we are to advance the Sustainable Development Goals and secure a viable future on this planet.

The Earth is feeling the heat.

Governments deal with climate change and biodiversity through two different international agreements – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), both established at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

Similar to the historic Paris Agreement made in 2015 under the UNFCCC, parties to the Biodiversity Convention in December 2022 adopted an agreement for nature, known as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which succeeds the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted in 2010.

The framework includes wide-ranging steps to tackle the causes of biodiversity loss worldwide, including climate change and pollution.

“An ambitious and effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework, with clear targets and benchmarks, can put nature and people back on track,” the UN Secretary-General said, adding that, “this framework should work in synergy with the Paris Agreement on climate change and other multilateral agreements on forests, desertification and oceans.”

In December 2022, governments met in Montreal, Canada to agree on the new framework to secure an ambitious and transformative global plan to set humanity on a path to living in harmony with nature.

“Delivering on the framework will contribute to the climate agenda, while full delivery of the Paris Agreement is needed to allow the framework to succeed,” said Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Programme. “We can’t work in isolation if we are to end the triple planetary crises.”

Watch our interview with Elizabeth Mrema, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Read the UN Secretary-General’s speech at the Countdown to COP15: Leaders Event for a Nature-Positive World in September 2022, and his remarks at the December 2022 Biodiversity Conference and Press Conference.  

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Beyond avoided losses: capitalizing on the secondary benefits of investments in urban flood protection

Faced with increased climate variability, cities are increasingly considering investments in urban flood protection. However, when evaluating infrastructure investments, they often consider only the direct benefits derived from avoided losses with the costs of infrastructure works, neglecting the many secondary benefits that these investments can bring. Take Bangkok's Centennial Park. It serves not only as a retention area for floodwaters but also as an urban park that integrates nature-based solutions to provide valuable space for recreation and protection from heat for citizens.

Beyond avoided losses: capitalizing on the secondary benefits of investments in urban flood protection

Published on 4 May 2023 on World Bank Blogs


Water retention pond.

Park with retention pond.

Bioretention illustration

Figure 1. Bioretention is a nature-based solution used to augment traditional gray stormwater and sewerage infrastructure (source: A Catalogue of Nature-Based Solutions for Urban Resilience)

By considering these and other secondary benefits in the decision-making processes, we can better understand the true value of flood protection and make more informed choices for our communities. It's time to start taking these benefits seriously.

Types of Secondary Benefits of Flood Protection

A recent study by Doeffinger and Rubinyi (2023), with support from Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s (GFDRR) City Resilience Program, highlights how an investment in urban flood protection can have many additional or secondary benefits across several areas: society, the economy, the environment, and infrastructure systems. 

Societal benefits: Flood protection measures can provide a safe and resilient environment, reducing the physical and psychological impacts of flooding on communities. Parks and green spaces designed to manage floodwaters can also provide recreational opportunities and community gathering spaces.

Economic benefits: Flood protection measures can increase proximal property values, reduce business disruption, and attract new investment to the area. Redevelopment on formerly flood-prone waterfronts made possible by flood protection measures like embankments can provide new economic opportunities, including housing, commercial development, and tourism.

Environmental benefits: Flood protection measures can protect and enhance the natural environment by reducing erosion, improving water quality, and promoting biodiversity. Green infrastructure solutions, like wetlands, can manage stormwater while also providing habitats for wildlife and improving the aesthetic quality of urban areas.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction benefits: Flood protection measures can play a role in reducing GHG emissions by incorporating low-carbon urban mobility options and green spaces within their design. By integrating greenways and bike paths alongside embankments, cities can promote sustainable transportation. Moreover, green spaces that have been integrated into the project design can function as a carbon sink.

Why Aren’t Secondary Benefits Being Considered

While the benefits of flood protection measures beyond risk reduction are well documented, rarely are they fully incorporated into economic analyses.  This is largely due to the difficulty in quantifying them and the questions they raise around the necessary spatial and temporal scales. The study on secondary benefits of urban flood protection by Doeffinger and Rubinyi (2023) examined 20 urban flood protection projects financed by international finance institutions, finding that only seven of them mentioned secondary benefits and only three quantified and included them in the cost-benefit analysis.

One of the projects that did calculate multiple types of secondary benefits was the Can Tho Urban Development and Resilience Project. The project utilized the World Bank’s triple dividend of resilience framework to assess project benefits and costs. Under a base case (i.e. assuming no alternative scenarios), potential secondary benefits from the project accounted for 12.7% of the project’s net present value of total benefits. The Liberia Urban Resilience Project also utilized the triple divide framework and assessed the potential increase in economic activity by using a fixed percentage of the direct losses. The assumption being that investors would be more likely to finance projects due to an increased sense of safety or reduced risk. Nevertheless, the limited consideration of secondary benefits in the majority of the 20 projects’ economic analyses assessed highlights the need for improved methods to capture and quantify these benefits, as they can play a significant role in the decision-making and approval process for flood protection infrastructure investments.

Paths Forward

Climate change is already affecting our cities, and there is an urgent need for adaptation, including investing in flood protection measures.  An approach that fails to integrate the multiple benefits of flood protection risks resulting in sub-optimal levels of protection and missed opportunities for enhancing urban resilience. To fully realize the benefits of urban flood protection investments and better prepare for the challenges of climate change, it is crucial to consider the secondary benefits they can bring. Here are three action points to help incorporate these benefits into the decision-making process:

  1. Take advantage of research and technological advancements, such as combining economic and spatial models and utilizing remote sensing, to better understand and assess the full range of benefits that flood protection measures can provide.
  2. Adopt a more holistic approach to cost-benefit analysis, such as frameworks like the triple dividend of resilience, to better capture and quantify the secondary benefits of urban flood protection measures.
  3. Plan ahead by incorporating nature-based solutions into flood protection strategies and exploring alternative financing mechanisms, such as land value capture, to maximize a project’s secondary benefits and incentivize private sector participation.

By taking these actions, we can make more informed decisions about flood protection investments and fully realize the potential benefits they can bring to our cities.

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How to create women-friendly public transport in cities in India
Drawing on global ideas, in India, it is crucial to ensure that urban mobility systems and public spaces are designed to be safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive.  This is an essential element for achieving a new, self-reliant India - Atmanirbhar Bharat - and facilitating a shift from women’s development to women-led development. And authorities across megacities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and others are making efforts in this direction – be it by establishing specialized gender labs for policy making, undertaking safety audits, or investing in dedicated bus services.

How to create women-friendly public transport in cities in India

Originally published on 8 February 2023 on World Bank Blogs


Passengers waiting for the metro

Passengers waiting for the metro in Delhi, India

Almost two decades ago, the City of Vienna, Austria, established a Women’s Office. Its role was to look into gender-responsive urban planning, and ensure that the 4Rs – representation, resources, reality, and rights – were actually achieved in Vienna’s public spaces. Over time, this became the Gender Mainstreaming Office.

The result? As of 2022, Vienna has implemented over 60 projects with gender mainstreaming, improving street lighting, widening the pavements, setting special timings when just women can use the parks, creating additional seating for women in public transport, public spaces, apartment complexes, and social housing estates that were designed by and for women, and improving the safety of shortcuts and alleyways by adding mirrors.

Drawing on these global ideas, in India, it is crucial to ensure that urban mobility systems and public spaces are designed to be safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive.  This is an essential element for achieving a new, self-reliant India - Atmanirbhar Bharat - and facilitating a shift from women’s development to women-led development. And authorities across megacities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and others are making efforts in this direction – be it by establishing specialized gender labs for policy making, undertaking safety audits, or investing in dedicated bus services.


Indian women looking at the camera.

Group of women in Aurangabad, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

So, how can city authorities go further in the design of transport infrastructure and services to address mobility needs across genders, while improving safety and inclusivity?

An obvious but highly effective intervention is ensuring adequate and well-positioned streetlighting. City authorities, urban planners, urban local bodies, public transport agencies, and other service providers can analyze where lighting gaps occur. Providing adequate lighting on streets and at bus and metro stations can improve safety, especially on routes frequented by women and persons of minority genders. 

Improving walking and cycling tracks to ease first and last-mile connectivity particularly benefits women, as they are bigger users of non-motorized transport. Building continuous, shaded, wider footpaths with minimal encroachment, alongside dedicated cycling lanes and parking spaces, as well as providing incentives for women to use shared cycling services are all potential interventions.

Studies across cities show that given their need to balance household and work responsibilities, women typically combine tasks necessitating several short trips across multiple modes, i.e., trip chaining, rather than a unimodal, long trip from origin to destination. Planning public transport systems so that users can easily switch, say from a bus to a metro, or rickshaw, thus benefits women. This will require coordination between different agencies to have combined information displays, common fare cards, and integrated schedules. In Vytilla, Kochi, for instance, a multi-modal mobility hub is being developed so that city and intercity buses, metro, and riverboats can intersect in one place. Drop-off zones for auto-rickshaws and intermediate public transport are also planned to enhance last-mile connectivity.

Procurement rules may be set to ensure that new fleets of buses have lower handlebars, wider gangways, space for strollers, access ramps, storage space, as well as emergency buttons, and even closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs).

Services can also be increased during off-peak hours or on routes frequented by women. And guidelines can be created for preferential boarding for women, such as designating one of the doors for women’s priority access. In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) launched a “ladies-first” bus service, where women passengers are given priority in boarding. 

Request stops, allowing women to disembark from buses at a location other than a bus stop may be started. One successful example is the Telangana State Transport Corporation, which recently directed bus drivers and conductors to allow women to disembark anywhere along the bus route after 7:30pm within the Greater Hyderabad Zone, to reduce the last mile walk between the bus stop and their homes.

Ideally, stations, terminals, depots, and rest stops, apart from being well-lit and providing adequate shelter, would also include separate toilets for women, feeding rooms, and designated seating areas. They could also display passenger information, route maps, and helplines/emergency numbers in different languages.

Standard checklists can be drawn up for public facilities to be classified as “gender-inclusive.” For instance, as part of its women-friendly city project, Seoul produced manuals with a clear list of requirements for restrooms, parking lots, walkways, parks, etc. Excellent facilities were awarded a “women-friendly facility mark.”

Shops within terminals and depots can be awarded to women and persons of minority genders on a preferential basis, or quotas can be applied (e.g., 50% of shops to be auctioned to female vendors) to increase “eyes-on-the-street,” and the feeling of safety.

The use of gender-inclusive signages – where the flashing green and red signals for walkers depict a woman - is another novel way of promoting the feeling of inclusion. Cities across the world, including Mumbai, Melbourne, and Geneva, have experimented with gender-inclusive signages at traffic lights – contributing to increasing conversations for breaking gender stereotypes around women’s presence in public spaces.

Women are amongst the biggest users of public and non-motorized transport across Indian cities.  On average, 45% women walk, and 22% take the bus when commuting to work compared to 27% and 14% of men, respectively (Census 2011). In such a scenario, urban mobility infrastructure and services designed with a gender lens can enable women and girls to access a wider array of choices about their future – preventing dropouts from school or college, taking up a job, or attending a skill training program. Gender-responsive public transport and public spaces, thus, have macroeconomic benefits.

Building on international and domestic good practices, the World Bank’s Toolkit on Enabling Gender Responsive Urban Mobility and Public Spaces in India provides several intervention options for gender mainstreaming to strengthen urban mobility infrastructure and services. It provides a detailed “how-to” guide with templates, case studies, and implementation actions to ensure that we build mobility systems that enable accessibility for all.  

This post benefited from the contribution of Gerald Ollivier, Lead Transport Specialist, World Bank.

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Seismic resilience in Metro Manila: Accessing healthcare after a catastrophic earthquake on the West Valley Fault line

Metro Manila—one of the largest economic hubs in Southeast Asia—is the economic powerhouse of the Philippines, home to roughly 11% of the country’s population and contributing 32% of the national GDP. Metro Manila escaped relatively unscathed in 2019, but a larger risk is looming in the background: the threat of a major earthquake along the West Valley Fault (WVF, Map 1), which runs directly underneath the metropolitan area and poses the most serious threat out of the multiple earthquake generators transecting Metro Manila.

Seismic resilience in Metro Manila: Accessing healthcare after a catastrophic earthquake on the West Valley Fault line

Originally published on World Bank Blogs on 28 March 2023


Aerial view of metro Manila Aerial view of metro Manila

On April 22, 2019, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Luzon in the Philippines—the fourth most populated island in the world, causing multiple deaths and injuring many more people. The epicenter was 82km northwest of Metro Manila, which saw a few buildings tilting due to soil liquefaction—but escaped more severe damages that day.

Maps of roads

Potential Impacts

A Metro Manila risk assessment estimated that a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the WVF (a probable maximum scenario, so-called "The Big One"), could result in an estimated 48,000 fatalities, and $48 billion in economic losses. It also poses a severe threat to urban mobility in the metropolitan area and the provision of key public services, including the health system, as well as lifeline infrastructure like water and energy supply.

Hospitals and the health system play a crucial role in the direct aftermath of an earthquake. Operational facilities are necessary for government continuity plans and for meeting surge demand caused by an earthquake, while simultaneously continuing to provide the baseline services needed by everyday patients and people with preexisting health conditions—a population group with heightened vulnerability to begin with. The ability of such facilities to provide critical care depends on their ability to withstand the seismic shock, but also on being accessible once transport infrastructure is hit.

Accessibility analysis

To assess the risk and enable strategic preparations, as part of the Philippines Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience Project we analyzed seismic risks in Metro Manila using government data on soil liquefaction (i.e. earthquake-related ground deformation), hospital locations, transport networks, and estimated disruptions to urban mobility. Map 2 shows the location of roads exposed to liquefaction in case of an earthquake from the WVF. However, liquefaction and ground deformation are to be expected, as well as ground shaking. Around 5,300 road segments directly cross the WVF—and in the event of an earthquake they would incur significant damage and may become impassable. As a result, people may not be able to access critical public services and jobs, while the government may be prevented from effectively responding to the emergency.

Our analysis suggests that in the case of a WVF earthquake, over 7,000 km of roads—roughly 34 percent of Metro Manila’s road network—could be affected by liquefaction, causing ground deformation and obstructing roadways. Access times to health facilities increase significantly compared to baseline nonpeak traffic. On average, across all of Metro Manila, access times increase by about 148% (Map 3). In several locations affected by liquefaction, access times could be ten times longer, thus effectively cutting people off. Map 3 highlights the locations in Metro Manila with the largest increases in access time.  Figure 1 summarizes these numbers. The results also suggest that in the post-earthquake scenario, hospital access by ambulance would now exceed one hour for almost 10% of the population of Metro Manila (or 1.1 million people) – compared to 0.7% in the baseline scenario.

Map and charts of people's access to health care post-earthquake

Preparing for "The Big One"

To minimize the impacts of an earthquake, investing in preparedness and response systems is key. Targeting critical road segments and neighborhoods for emergency preparedness and response investments can accelerate recovery times and strengthen people’s access to essential public services during a disaster and in its immediate aftermath. This is the objective of the World Bank’s Philippines Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience Project. To strengthen the city’s resilience to earthquakes and other disasters, it retrofits buildings of high public importance, enhances the preparedness and response capacity of key government agencies, and strategically positions emergency response capabilities to access critical services. Based on a seismic vulnerability assessment, 425 public buildings including health facilities and schools are being upgraded. Furthermore, emergency preparedness is increased through planning transport and mobility restoration and improving crisis communication and information management. This helps strengthen the capacity of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to respond to emergencies and provide essential support after a disaster. 

Disasters like the earthquake on April 22, 2019, have underscored the urgent need to prepare Metro Manila for earthquakes with epicenters closer to the city. Through this project, the Philippine government is doing just that, by actively increasing the resilience and safety of the population and proactively strengthening its disaster preparedness.

This work is part of the Thematic Area on Climate and Disaster Risk Management for Health Systems at the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), which is funded by the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming DRM in Developing Countries. The Program collaborates with World Bank teams to assist governments with building more resilient healthcare.

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Secondary cities and towns in the Sahel: Creating places of opportunity

Secondary cities and towns in the Sahel: Creating places of opportunity

Originally published on 4 April 2023 on World Bank



  • Judy Baker, Lead Economist, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience & Land Global Practice
  • Sylvie Debomy, Practice Manager
  • Soraya Goga, Lead Urban Specialist, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience & Land Global Practice

Bamako, Mali Bamako, Mali

High levels of poverty coupled with conflict, instability, and climate-induced disasters, make the Sahel a difficult environment for the people that live there.  Challenges from droughts and conflicts are on the rise threatening the livelihoods and food security of a large share of the population, particularly in rural areas. In search of refuge and opportunity, many are moving to cities, which are emerging as centers of resilience offering some glimmer of hope in this difficult environment. Close to five million refugees, asylum-seekers, refugee returnees, internally displaced people (IDP), and IDP returnees are estimated in the Sahel (2022 UNHCR). In Kaya, Burkina Faso, for example, a city of 120,000 (2019), the population has doubled in the previous two years due to an influx of IDP. The city is a securitized urban area, acting as a “last post/last bastion” between Ouagadougou and the conflict areas in the North, providing a safe haven for many.

The growth of cities and towns can bring opportunities through new livelihood opportunities and better access to services if well-planned and managed.  At the same time, the rapid influx of population also presents challenges as cities cannot keep up with the strains on infrastructure and services. Many settle on unsuitable land which puts residents and businesses at risk of climate impacts and the integration of new residents may be threatening to some, creating heightened social risk.  As one migrant in Sikasso put it, “At first, we were offered help. It gave us a real sense of relief. But, as you know, there’s a limit to aid. People did their best … but this couldn’t last forever.”

The study, Sahel, The Urban Link: Transforming Rural Economies and Addressing Fragility, analyzes the economic potential, fragility, and climate risk of cities/towns in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger, with a deeper look at three selected secondary cities - Kaya, Burkina Faso; Maradi, Niger; and Sikasso, Mali. The study points to the role these urban areas play as economic centers for the surrounding areas, particularly concerning markets and services, also providing opportunities for migrants. Analysis shows that the economic role of these cities is important and could be further developed as many have untapped potential. Border towns stand out across the region as having higher than average economic potential. 

To achieve this potential, urgent investments in secondary cities are needed.  This includes resilient basic infrastructure and services, connectivity, transformative infrastructure, capacity for urban planning and management, and opportunities for microfinance and training that will foster job creation and social inclusion. When designing such interventions, the study points to a few guiding principles and lessons:

  • Interventions should particularly focus on approaches that integrate and address the needs both of the urban area and the hinterland given the strong economic linkages; 
  • Sequencing investments can help ‘balance’ immediate urgent basic service delivery needs with long-term development.  Simple design is key for low-capacity cities, with opportunities for differing implementation modalities, particularly for fragile environments; 
  • Investing in local government capacity building is key to successful development and requires a long-term perspective for impact;
  • Targeting opportunities for jobs and human capital improvements will help to increase economic opportunities over time, with particular attention needed for women and youth to address social exclusion; and   
  • Social inclusion of the forcibly displaced should take a ‘people in place’ approach which accounts for the needs of both existing and new communities to address vulnerabilities and mitigate social tensions.

This messaging aligns closely with the recent Country Climate and Development Report: G5 Sahel, which points out opportunities to prevent risky urban growth and create climate-resilient cities, calling for policies to create a resilient urban development pathway over the next three years.

While the region will continue to evolve and face many challenges, secondary cities can offer an opportunity for many in need.  To help the cities reach their full economic potential and provide an environment of opportunity for residents, urgent priority action is needed.

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Cluj-Napoca: Seven steps toward climate neutrality by 2030

Did you know that Cluj-Napoca is one of the first cities – not just in Romania or Europe, but in the entire world – to initiate the adoption of a NetZeroCity Action Plan? The NetZeroCity Action Plan is a blueprint for making the transition to climate neutrality by 2030 , along with details on needed resources to achieve this transition and key stakeholders that must be engaged.

Cluj-Napoca: Seven steps toward climate neutrality by 2030

Originally published on World Bank Blogs on 13 February 2023

Author: Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu, Senior Urban Development Specialist, The World Bank

 Upgraded urban infrastructure in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Upgraded urban infrastructure in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Photo: Cluj-Napoca City Hall

Recently, the World Bank has provided support to the City of Cluj-Napoca and the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca to identify the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the city and to propose a comprehensive list of actions to reduce these emissions by over 80%, compared to their 2011 value. This is just one of the many ways in which the World Bank is supporting Cluj-Napoca on its path toward achieving climate neutrality by 2030.

2030 Goals

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is a clear priority for the world. Through the European Green Deal, the European Union (EU) has set for its member countries a biding target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Through the Fit for 55 package, EU countries have committed to cutting their GHG emissions by 2030 by at least 55% from their 1990 level . Moreover, through the 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 Mission, the EU will provide targeted support to 100 cities, in addition to 12 cities from associated countries, to become climate-neutral by 2030 and serve as an example for other urban areas in the EU. Cities across Europe have prepared detailed applications, and one of those that has been selected is Cluj-Napoca.

Since 2020, the World Bank has been supporting the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca in meeting its GHG goals. The World Bank has worked closely with the municipality on preparing the Integrated Urban Development Strategy 2021-2030 for the Cluj Metropolitan Area, with a clear goal in the Strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2030, along with a number of clear measures associated with this goal. More recently, the municipality has asked the World Bank and several local stakeholders to provide support with turning key proposals from the Integrated Urban Development Strategy into a NetZeroCity Action Plan—a pre-condition for accessing dedicated EU funds. In response to this request, the World Bank together with a locally formed NetZeroCity Coalition has developed one of the first-ever NetZeroCity Action Plans not only in Europe but in the world.  The Plan will undergo consultations with local stakeholders before being approved by the city council.

Furthermore, the World Bank carried out a diagnostic identifying the main sources of GHG emissions, namely the built environment and transport, which comprise 78.3% and 21.3% of total GHG emissions respectively. The diagnostic also shows that Cluj-Napoca faces the following main challenges: poor energy performance of its private and public buildings, traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as an underdeveloped system of green spaces at the city and metropolitan levels.

CIty of Cluj-Napoca

Photo: Cluj-Napoca City Hall

Seven Interventions

Fortunately, Cluj-Napoca has already taken important steps in tackling some of these challenges, with over 55% of the around 101,000 apartments in communal housing units having already been thermally refurbished. Based on the diagnostic, the Action Plan lays out next steps.

Cluj-Napoca could reduce its GHG emissions by 80% by 2030, over 2011 levels , by pursuing these seven key interventions:

  1. integrated urban regeneration of apartment block neighborhoods (where 77% of Cluj-Napoca residents live)
  2. deep renovation of public and commercial buildings (responsible for half of GHG emissions from buildings) and brownfields redevelopment
  3. improvement of public spaces quality to encourage people to spend more time outdoors and limit urban heat islands
  4. extension of the network of electric charging stations and benefits for electric car users
  5. extension of the Walkable City Program (which has been under implementation for a few years) and an update of the parking policy
  6. major green transport infrastructure and reduction of congestion in the city
  7. continued expansion of green areas (with a focus on a metropolitan green belt with around 12,500 hectares of new forest).

The process of elaborating the Cluj NetZeroCity Action Plan may serve as a model for other cities to achieve climate neutrality. Some key insights that may be relevant for other urban areas include:

  • Not starting from zero, but smartly using existing strategies and plans.
  • Taking the national context into consideration and a good national energy mix will have a significant impact at the local level. (e.g., high share of electricity generated from low-emission sources).
  • Having a baseline value for reducing GHG emissions, ideally for the year 1990, used internationally to measure progress in this field.
  • Having a clear list of interventions that includes both estimated GHG reduction goals per measure, and estimated budget per intervention, as this will give local stakeholders a better sense of how much needs to be done, and how much it will cost to achieve climate neutrality.
  • Having from the start a Theory of Change can help guide planning efforts. The World Bank used the Theory of Change approach used for Bank projects to prepare a framework for the Cluj NetZeroCity by 2030 Action Plan.

For more information about the Cluj NetZeroCity by 2030 Action Plan, please contact Mr. Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu, Senior Urban Development Specialist, SCAUR, at

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Improving Adaptive Capacity and Risk Management of Rural communities in Mongolia - Project Overview
Led by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, with the Ministry of Agriculture and Light Industry as a key partner, the 7-year UNDP-supported project 'Improving Adaptive Capacity and Risk Management of Rural communities in Mongolia', seeks to strengthen the resilience of resource-dependent herder communities in four aimags (provinces) vulnerable to climate change: Khovd, Zavkhan, Dornod and Sukhbaatar, thus covering steppe, desert steppe, mountain, mountain steppe and forest steppe zones.

Improving Adaptive Capacity and Risk Management of Rural communities in Mongolia - Project Overview

Published by UNDP Climate on 24 April 2023

With an observed temperature increase of 2.1°C over the past 70 years, Mongolia is among the countries most impacted by climate change. Increased temperatures, coupled with decreased precipitation, have resulted in a drying trend impacting pastures and water sources, and shifting natural zones.

Responses to climate impacts by herders have not been informed by climate information or by the potential impact of those responses on land and water resources. Unsustainable herding practices and livestock numbers are further stressing increasingly fragile ecosystems and related ecosystem services.

Herder households make up one third of the population in Mongolia, approximately 160,000 households or 90 percent of the agriculture sector. Around 85 percent of all provincial economies in are agriculture-based. While herder households are the most exposed to climate risks, their scale and thus potential impact also means that tailored interventions can support transformational change towards more climate-informed and sustainable herder practices, benefitting the sector, the economy and the environment.

With funding from the Green Climate Fund, the project focuses on three complementary outputs:

  • Integrating climate information into land and water use planning at the national and sub-national levels
  • Scaling up climate-resilient water and soil management practices for enhanced small scale herder resource management
  • Building herder capacity to access markets for sustainably sourced, climate-resilient livestock products.

Learn more:

Tuvalu leveraging 'LiDAR' technology in the quest for a more resilient future
With funding from the Green Climate Fund, the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project is working to develop innovative coastal protection solutions in one of the world's most vulnerable small island developing states. Implemented by UNDP in partnership with the government, the project has worked with Fugro, a world-leading geo-data specialist, to leverage airborne 'LiDAR' (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to capture precise coastal data - supporting adaptation planning into the future.

Tuvalu leveraging 'LiDAR' technology in the quest for a more resilient future

Published by UNDP Climate on 15 March 2023

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Locally-sourced: How Kiribati is boosting food security and communities' climate resilience
In 2016, the Government launched a project dedicated to enhancing food security in the context of accelerating global climate change. Supported by the Global Environment Facility-Least Developed Countries Fund and UN Development Programme, nine stakeholders from across the government of Kiribati have worked closely with communities on three pilot islands – Maiana, Abemama and Nonouti.

Locally-sourced: How Kiribati is boosting food security and communities' climate resilience

Published by UNDP Climate on 17 February 2023

With most islands just 1 to 3 meters above sea level, and with an average width of only a few hundred metres, Kiribati is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Damaging storm surges, more extreme weather, changing rainfall patterns, and warming oceans all pose a serious and increasing threat to the low-lying island nation.

Once abundant marine resources are dwindling due to human pressures and increasing sea temperatures. Fish are moving further offshore to cooler waters, reducing fishers' catch size. Increasing saltwater intrusion and more extreme weather patterns are threatening already limited agricultural production. Traditional food systems are in decline in favour of imported foods - foods typically rich in fats and sugar and low in nutritional value, impacting the health of communities.

The goals of the project, led by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development, have been to ensure sustainable management of lands and coastal fisheries, enhance food production and diversification, and improve the adaptive capacity and livelihoods of island communities. Pilot island communities are already seeing positive changes as a result of the project, with enhanced food supply on land and from the sea.

Learn more about the project (2016 - 2023):

Video produced by Sarina Webb, February 2023.