WUF11 Background Paper: Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future
Organized by UN-Habitat, the World Urban Forum has become the foremost international gathering for exchanging views and experiences on sustainable urbanization. Drawing on the central theme of “Transforming our cities for a better urban future”, this WUF-11 Background Paper delves into the key issues that underline each of the thematic objectives of the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum.

WUF11 Background Paper: Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future

Published by UN-Habitat in May 2022

Organized and convened by UN-Habitat, the World Urban Forum has become the foremost international gathering for exchanging views and experiences on sustainable urbanization in all its ramifications. The inclusive nature of the Forum, combined with high-level participation, makes it a unique United Nations conference and major international gathering on urban issues.

The objectives of the World Urban Forum are to:

  1. Raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among stakeholders and constituencies, including the general public;
  2. Improve the collective knowledge of sustainable urbanization through inclusive open debates, sharing of lessons learned and the exchange of best practices and good policies;
  3. Increase coordination and cooperation between different stakeholders and constituencies for the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanization;
  4. To provide substantive and strategic inputs from multilateral organizations, subnational and national governments and other stakeholders for reporting on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

Drawing on the central theme of Transforming our cities for a better urban future, this WUF-11 Background Paper delves into the key issues that underline each of the thematic objectives of the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum.

Read the full background paper here or download the attached PDF of the document.

WUF11 Report of main proceedings for 27 June 2022

The official opening day of WUF11 was dominated by the themes of solidarity and resilience. Many speakers during the morning’s opening ceremony highlighted the multiple crises affecting cities, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate impacts, inflation, and armed conflict. In the afternoon, an Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery and a Special Session on Urban Recovery Frameworks allowed participants to discuss in depth how cities can respond. Roundtables on Local and Regional Governments, National Urban Policies in a Changing World, Business and Industries, and a Special Session on Urban Data and Circular Economy also convened in the afternoon.

Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11)

Report of main proceedings for 27 June 2022

Originally posted on 27 June 2022 by International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Opening Ceremony

Moderator Anna Butrym welcomed participants to WUF11. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, said the COVID-19 pandemic showed urban life must be redefined, prioritizing tackling inequalities in cities.

Via video, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said cities are central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and addressing climate change.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat, listed five themes for WUF11: housing services and urban development, climate action, urban prosperity, multilevel governance, and post-conflict and post-disaster recovery.

Via video, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev spoke on rebuilding cities in liberated territories and presented his country’s offer to host a future WUF. Colombia’s President Iván Duque Márquez described his country’s development as an “axis of sustainable future,” focusing on green urban development policies and projects.

Grzegorz Puda, Minister of Development Funds and Regional Policy in Poland, pointed to Katowice’s transformation into a modern city and Poland’s growth as examples for WUF11 discussions.

Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, Poland, said WUF11 organizers sought to involve the entire city in preparations, including a Youth Council. Underlining the importance of citizen involvement, Marcin Krupa, Mayor of Katowice, attributed his city’s transformation from “industrial to modern” to the work of thousands of residents.

Elisa Ferreria, Commissioner of Cohesion and Reforms, European Commission, stated that there is never a situation where less cooperation is beneficial, and that social and demographic challenges cannot be solved by being blind to the needs of cities and their surrounding areas.

Berry Vrbanovic, Governing President, United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), called for both city-to-city and local, regional, and national collaboration to create the enabling environment needed to achieve the SDGs.

Katarzyna Smętek, WUF11 Youth Council, said while WUF’s initiative to establish and work with a Youth Council represented progress, further efforts should meaningfully engage youth calling for systematic inclusion in delegation.

Lewis Akenji, Hot or Cool Institute, emphasized transforming cities by addressing social tensions: rising production vs. dwindling resources; poverty vs. consumerism; increasing waste vs. decreasing sinks. He urged “thriving” cities for people, not cars, with universal basic services; car-free centers; measures of well being; and capacity-building that avoids the “small action trap.”

Mohd Sharif then declared WUF11 officially open.

Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery

Emilia Sáiz, Secretary-General, UCLG, stressed the need to transform local systems to increase their efficiency in addressing crises of health, man-made conflict, and natural disasters.

Moderator Nigel Fisher, UN-Habitat, invited speakers to reflect on: the nature and scale of urban crises; how recovery can offer opportunities to accelerate necessary transformations; and the role of mayors as first responders and visionaries.

Leilani Farha, Director, The Shift, said the housing crisis is driven by the extraction of wealth from housing. Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics, said as wars are shifting to cities, civilians suffer the highest casualties and must thus be better protected. Clarissa Augustinus, UN-Habitat, urged agile, fit-for-purpose systems to enhance biodiversity and address housing and other equity issues.

Andy Deacon, Global Covenant of Mayors, explained that local leaders have the tools to “lead the way to the zero-carbon future we desperately need.” Filiep Decorte, UN-Habitat, noted communities need localized data to access resources needed to mobilize action.

Bogotá’s Mayor Claudia López Hernández recounted seven “waves” of crises in her city, from the pandemic to unemployment and social strife, and the democratic changes and sustainable policies that have built opportunities. Responding to a question about financial challenges, she discussed her initiative of freezing taxes for households while increasing taxes for industries profiting from crises.

Mohd Sharif called for youth and local governments to be given the means to lead on urban crises and warned we are returning to a world of “me, myself, and those I know” at a time when solidarity is needed. Sameh Wahba, World Bank, stated that investing in urban resilience is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. Raouf Mazou, UNHCR, stated that cities are absorbing most displaced peoples globally, facing difficulties in the process.

Gilles Carbonnier, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), spoke to the challenges of areas in urban warfare, namely ensuring the protection of citizens, critical infrastructure, and access to essential services.

Emmanuel Jal, independent artist and former child soldier, explained how he used imagination to survive and overcome trauma. He said access to books and education is essential to enable traumatized children to imagine a better future.

On solutions, Carbonnier outlined how health and education services were maintained in Brazilian cities through training service providers. Mazou said supporting refugees in cities rather than urban camps enables better services and integration. Wahba emphasized livelihoods and places as “two critically important dimensions that need to go hand in hand” in crisis recovery. 


Local and Regional Governments: The Local and Regional Governments (LRG) Roundtable featured panels on empowered local governments and caring cities.

The first panel on empowered local governments urged, inter alia:

  • Sufficient resources for providing vital services;
  • Rethinking forms of government, with emphasis on decentralization;
  • Green development;
  • Caring for vulnerable groups, with emphasis on women’s rights and sheltering those experiencing homelessness; and
  • Direct, “non-sovereign finance,” such as municipal bonds for water and large-scale equity partnerships.

The second panel on caring cities urged, inter alia:

  • Implementing lessons from the pandemic, such as creating open spaces, digitally transforming services, and building resilience;
  • Focusing on engaging in dialogue with people affected by crisis, and treating services, like education, as rights, not privileges;
  • Reconfiguring local institutions for innovation and inclusivity; and
  • Taking into account gender equality and the care of the elderly and children.

Emilia Sáiz, Secretary-General of United Cities and Local Governments, closed the roundtable, emphasizing that the LGR constituency is an “ally for multilateralism” and that “a culture of peace is the basis for development.” She prioritized: a “universal agenda” linking issues; decentralization and sharing power; strengthening communities and ensuring they receive necessary services; and human rights as the basis for caring cities.

National Urban Policies in a Changing World: The National Urban Policies in a Changing World Roundtable led by Poland began with a statement from Maimunah Mohd Sharif on the strength of National Urban Policies (NUPs) in fostering intersectoral and inter-regional coordination. Poland’s Minister of Development Funds and Regional Policy, Grzegorz Puda, then outlined the country’s new NUP, which responds to the challenges cities have been facing. After that, the roundtable began with a discussion including ministers and high-level European officials focusing on NUPs from the lenses of:

  • Innovation and technology, with Veronika Remišová, Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia highlighting the importance of data in effective decision-making;
  • Environment and energy transition, where the Deputy Minister of Regional Development from the Czech Republic, Radim Sršeň, spoke of the connection between digitization and resilience, while Ireneusz Zyska, Ministry of Climate and Environment, Poland, discussed diversification of energy sources, and energy sovereignty;
  • Housing, where Klara Geywitz, Germany’s Federal Minister for Housing, Urban Development and Building highlighted the urgent and widespread need for affordable, sustainable, and secure homes;
  • Mobility, where Sweden’s State Secretary to Minister for Housing and Deputy Minister for Employment, Mattias Landgren, noted the need for sustainable, efficient, and safe transportation systems; and
  • Spatial planning, where Karen Van Dantzig, Urban Envoy for the Kingdom of the Netherlands discussed efficient, functional, and beautiful land use when land is limited.

The session concluded with Poland’s Minister of Economic Development and Technology, Waldemar Buda, stressing the need to break through silos and foster cross-sectoral collaboration on urban development.

Business and Industries: This roundtable focused on how to increase private sector engagement in sustainable city development and how the private sector can help address financial bottlenecks. Participants were presented with two success stories: the Regent Park revitalization project in Toronto, Canada; and the Lagos Inland Waterways Program in Nigeria. A panel of experts then discussed ideas to overcome challenges in private sector participation, including: 

  • Increasing cities’ capacities to absorb public funding and private investments including for procurement, resettlement, and project development;
  • Social contracts that articulate a long-term vision that can survive electoral cycles;
  • Sound performance metrics and local sustainable development indicators to improve transparency and accountability;
  • Engaging stakeholders around solutions, rather than projects;
  • Involving all stakeholders, including the private sector, as early as possible in planning to ensure that the right solutions are procured;
  • Mobilizing local capital; and
  • Digital ecosystems to share knowledge and experience, thus allowing the scaling of successful projects.

One panelist noted that investment in municipal projects is often hindered by miscommunication about risk, with others agreeing that greater transparency is needed to allow investors to make informed decisions on whether a project is “investable,” and which types of capital are needed.

Special Sessions

Urban Recovery Frameworks: Moderator Nigel Fisher, UN-Habitat, noted international recovery partners tend to “parachute” into urban environments without fully understanding local realities.

Filiep Decorte, UN-Habitat, said urban recovery frameworks (URFs) offer integrated approaches to recovery but are difficult to implement when national and bottom-up frameworks are disconnected. Ryan Knox, UN-Habitat, gave a presentation on URFs piloted in Syrian cities. These were developed with local partners and sought to strengthen institutional arrangements.

In a first panel on governance and urban displacement, Martha Gutierrez, GIZ, said citizen consultations were essential when cities are confronted with an influx of internally displaced peoples. Lars Gronvald, European Commission, said the urban level is where multiple partners articulate a common strategy. Manuel de Araújo, Mayor of Quelimane, said there is a case for the management of crisis response to be allocated to local governments. Fatma Şahin, Mayor of Gaziantep, emphasized social justice as a key element of crisis recovery.

In a second panel on cultural heritage and financing, Yevhen Plashchenko, Ministry of Development of Communities and Territories of Ukraine, highlighted that the needs of Ukrainian refugees must be addressed in host countries now and Ukraine later when the country will prepare for their return. Ieva Kalnina, Swedish Association for Local Municipalities and Regions, noted it was preferable for humanitarian actors to work with local governments rather than NGOs. Wahba, World Bank, said both people-centered and infrastructural interventions are needed in crisis recovery.

Urban Data and Circular Economy: In the first segment of the special session on data and the circular economy (CE), Donald Simmonds, CitiIQ, discussed how simplified indicators could overcome data literacy issues, while Charles Mwangi, Kenya Space Agency emphasized that alongside data, open-source tools were needed to improve data uptake. Naledzani Mudau, South African National Space Agency, discussed data’s role in improving services, assessing risk, and managing utilities within informal settlements. Matt Benson, ThinkCity, explored how data could spur change, but expressed the importance of engaging the people behind the statistics. Angie Palacios, Corporacion Andina de Fomento, highlighted the divide between the growth in data availability, and the utilization of data by decision makers.

In the second segment, Mike Higgins, Circularwise, noted a primary barrier to achieving CEs lies in effectively communicating information to industry leaders. When discussing the support CEs required, Fedra Vanhuyse, Stockholm Environment Institute, mentioned open-source assessment frameworks, opportunities for resource recovery, and mapping the impact of transition. Jenni Philippe, Edge Environment, mentioned a shift beyond waste management and recycling was needed to develop a holistic vision for a CE measurement framework. Oriana Romano, OECD, cited the lack of government conviction and financial systems as barriers to achieving CEs. Umesh Madhavan, The Circulate Initiative, spoke specifically to CE gaps in ocean plastics, identifying them as a systems problem requiring significant investments to solve.

Access the full PDF report here:

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WUF11: Highlights and images of main proceedings for 27 June 2022
The themes of solidarity and resilience were woven into many of the events of the 11th World Urban Forum’s (WUF) first day. During the morning’s Opening Ceremony, Polish officials, including the Prime Minister of Poland and the Mayor of Katowice, reminded participants of the long and complex history of Polish cities, which ranged from post-War recovery and responding to COVID-19 to, most recently, taking in millions of refugees since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11)

Highlights and images of main proceedings for 27 June 2022

Originally posted on 27 June 2022 by International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Speakers cut the ribbon to open WUF11.

Want to dive deeper on today's talks? Ready the Earth Negotiations Bulletin daily report.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland

Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland

In UN-Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif’s opening remarks, she called the WUF a unique forum to share uncomfortable truths about our cities, including their inequalities, the war in Ukraine, global inflation, and the climate crisis. Youth were frequently described as necessary partners in tackling these issues, with a representative of the WUF11 Youth Council – the first of its kind – closing the ceremony by urging participants to include young people more systematically in their delegations.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat

Similar themes were also heavily featured in the Extraordinary Dialogue on Urban Crisis Response and Recovery that took place in the early afternoon. Observers such as Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics, noted that the nature of wars is changing as they increasingly take place in cities. Artist Emmanuel Jal evocatively explained how he used imagination to survive his traumatic childhood. The Dialogue also heard from several mayors about their experiences managing crises, including Bogotá’s Mayor Claudia López Hernández, who recounted her experience of seven “waves” of crises in her city, from the pandemic to unemployment and social strife.

The National Urban Policies in a Changing World Roundtable focused on a presentation from the Polish government on their National Urban Policy (NUP). Afterwards, the roundtable discussed NUPs from the lenses of: innovation and technology; environment and energy transition, housing, mobility, and spatial planning.

Local and Regional Governments Roundtable panelists shared ideas, many drawn from challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, on empowering local governments and building caring cities. Participants stressed the importance of decentralization, inclusivity, adequate resources, and rights-based approaches.

Participants in the Business and Industries Roundtable discussed ideas to increase private sector engagement in sustainable city development, including ways to improve collaboration and stakeholder engagement and increase transparency for investment decisions.

During a Special Session on Urban Recovery Frameworks, speakers considered ways for international partners to work more fairly and effectively with local governments in recovery efforts, including by trusting these are the primary experts in local realities. Speakers also discussed the current and future needs of refugees who left Ukraine since the war.

In a Special Session on Data and the Circular Economy, panelists stressed that the challenges they face lie in communicating benefits to decision-makers, not in an absence of knowledge and expertise. Panelists showcased their work and noted areas of friction they encountered.

Read a more detailed report of the proceedings from each session here:

Retrieved from

Photos by IISD/ENB | Diego Noguera.

Multi-level Action for Equitable and Sustainable Cities

Decision-makers and experts explore how to deliver on the promise of multi-level action to make cities more equitable and sustainable. This session will also serve as the official reveal of the 2021-2022 WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities finalists.  

Multi-level Action for Equitable and Sustainable Cities

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities invites you to attend this virtual and in-person session at WUF11 in Katowice, Poland

The event can be live streamed or attended in-person at WUF11 (Multifunction Hall, Room NE 101). General registration for WUF11 (free) is required for all attendees. Register here or use the mobile app.


  • Wednesday, June 29, 2022

  • 16:30-18:00 Central European Summer Time (CEST)


This event led by WRI, in partnership with SDI, C40 and ICLEI, will demonstrate how national, state and city/metropolitan governments can collaborate to make cities around the world more equitable and sustainable. We will share concrete examples of how these actors might work together with each other and with key stakeholder groups, to put equity at the center of decisions related to cities and climate.

The session will draw on research by WRI and partners in the World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, and the Coalition for Urban Transition’s Seizing the Urban Opportunity. The session will also serve as the official announcement of the 2021-2022 WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities finalists, showcasing how to adapt to uncertainty and disruption in equitable and sustainable ways.

We will feature a range of national, regional, local and community leaders as well as experts, working to unpack how to deliver on the promise of multi-level action means by exploring themes of urban infrastructure, service delivery, finance, data and governance. The audience will learn how multi-level action can help advance the principles of the New Urban Agenda, driving transformative climate action and a rapid shift to more equitable and sustainable cities.

Decision-makers and experts will explore how to deliver on the promise of multi-level action to make cities more equitable and sustainable. This session will also serve as the official reveal of the 2021-2022 WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities finalists.  


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Taking the High Road: Strengthening Coastal Flood Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure

This webinar will examine the steps that governments are and could be taking to make sure that new transportation investments are resilient to risks posed by coastal storm flooding and rising sea levels.

Taking the High Road: Strengthening Coastal Flood Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure

Online webinar on Wednesday, June 29, 2022 from 1 PM to 2:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time)

Register here:


The infrastructure we build today will be with us for many decades to come, so it needs to be “future proofed” to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Bipartisan infrastructure legislation (such as the recently passed IIJA) authorizes a generational investment in new and upgraded transportation facilities – roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports, and public transit. Many new transportation projects will be in coastal areas, home to almost forty percent of Americans. There is growing evidence that more severe storms and rising sea level pose a risk to transportation infrastructure in coastal areas.

We’ve prepared a primer with the most up-to-date information on threats to coastal transportation infrastructure, the federal policy framework influencing resiliency of coastal transportation infrastructure, and state-level examples of initiatives to incorporate resiliency into decision-making. This will provide helpful context to webinar attendees and anyone else interested in this topic.

Some of the questions to be addressed in the webinar include:

  • Are there new approaches or tools that can strengthen resilience of transportation investments to coastal storms and rising sea levels?
  • How can mechanisms such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard be used most effectively to reduce risk to transportation investments in coastal areas?
  • How can plans for new transportation infrastructure in coastal areas be coordinated with plans to adapt communities and ecosystems to more severe storms and rising seas?
  • What are the tools, policies, or regulations that have worked or are needed to support coastal resilience planning in transportation infrastructure?

Panelists from federal and state government and civil society will describe how they incorporate resiliency into transportation decision-making, including the tools they have developed and their applicability across the United States. Panelists will have a facilitated discussion about challenges and opportunities associated with coastal transportation infrastructure, including considerations for stakeholder engagement and equity.

Taking the High Road: Strengthening Coastal Flood Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure is organized by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University in partnership with Resilience Roadmap and the Coastal Flood Resilience Project.

logo for Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Logo for Resilience RoadmapLogo for Coastal Flood Resilience Project


Jeffrey Peterson

Jeffrey Peterson (moderator), co-facilitator of the Coastal Flood Resilience Project

  • Jeffrey Peterson is a co-facilitator of the Coastal Flood Resilience Project, a network of nonprofit organizations working to strengthen policy and programs to prepare for more severe storms and risings seas. His book A New Coast: Strategies for Responding to Devastating Storms and Rising Seas, was published in 2019 by Island Press. Before retiring from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, he was Senior Advisor in the EPA Office of Water responsible for climate change policy. In that capacity, he co-chaired the EPA Sea Level Rise Workgroup and was a member of the Federal Interagency Sea Level Rise Workgroup. He also worked for almost four years at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), where he co-chaired the Interagency Water Resources and Climate Change Workgroup and authored the first national plan addressing water resources management and climate change.

Heather Holsinger

Heather Holsinger, Office of the Secretary of Transportation at U.S. Department of Transportation

  • Heather Holsinger is a Senior Climate Policy Specialist in the Office of Policy, within the Office of the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Her work at the Department involves policy development and analysis in the areas of transportation system resilience, decarbonization, and sustainability. Prior to joining the Office of the Secretary, Heather served as an Environmental Protection Specialist on the Sustainable Transportation and Resilience team at the Federal Highway Administration, a Senior Policy Fellow and Program Manager for Adaptation at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a Senior Analyst with the Natural Resources and Environment team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and as an economic and environmental management consultant. She holds Masters Degrees from Duke University in resource economics (MEM) and public policy (MPP) and a BA from the University of Virginia with majors in Economics and Environmental Science.

Jeremy Ketchum

Jeremy Ketchum, California Department of Transportation

  • Jeremy Ketchum is an Assistant Division Chief for the Division of Environmental Analysis at the California Department of Transportation and also serves in an ex-officio Commissioner role as State Transportation Agency representative on the California Coastal Commission.  Mr. Ketchum provides expertise and oversight for a team that develops and maintains environmental standards, policies, procedures, and practices implemented by the California Department of Transportation's 12 District Environmental Branches.

Kym Meyer

Kym Meyer, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center; Leader of SELC's Government Accountability initiative

  • Kym litigates on a wide range of cases in both federal and state court. Kym is the lead attorney challenging President Trump's rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act. She recently argued before the North Carolina Supreme Court for the North Carolina NAACP in a groundbreaking case that challenges whether a racially gerrymandered legislature can amend the NC constitution. Kym has been involved in many cases involving climate change, including reaching a ground-breaking settlement with the North Carolina DOT which resulted in unprecedented environmental protections, and a number of new statewide climate change policies. Kym got her law degree at Georgetown. She lives in Chapel Hill with her husband State Representative Graig Meyer and their Brady Bunch of children.

Read-Ahead Primer:

PDF icon Taking the High Road: Strengthening Coastal Flood Resilience of Transportation Infrastructure Read-Ahead Primer


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UNDP's engagements at the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF-11)
Convened by UN-Habitat and the Government of Poland in Katowice, from 26-30 June, 11th session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11) focuses on "Transforming our Cities for a Better Urban Future", with a special dialogue on "Urban crisis response and recovery", and six key focus areas of "Equitable Urban Futures", "Greener Urban Futures", "Innovation and Technology", "Building Urban Resilience", "Urban Planning and Governance", and "Future Urban Economy and Finance". Here is a quick snapshot of UNDP's engagements at WUF11.

UNDP's engagements at the Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF-11)

Air pollution kills – Evidence from a global analysis of exposure and poverty
Globally, poor air quality is estimated to cause some 7 million deaths each year, as it increases the risk of a wide range of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Yet the exposure to and impact of air pollution are not equally distributed. Air pollution is particularly prevalent in industrializing developing economies. Less stringent air quality regulations, the prevalence of older polluting machinery and vehicles, subsidized fossil fuels, congested urban transport systems, rapidly developing industrial sectors, and cut-and-burn practices in agriculture are all contributing to heightened pollution levels. The lack of affordable quality healthcare services further increases air pollution related mortality.

Air pollution kills – Evidence from a global analysis of exposure and poverty

Originally posted on 18 May 2022 on World Bank Blogs | Authors: JUN RENTSCHLER and NADIA LEONOVA

Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank

And within countries, poorer and marginalized communities are often more exposed. Low-paying jobs are more likely to require physical outdoor labor, leading to heightened exposure. Pollution sources, such as industrial plants or transport corridors, are disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods. And as air pollution increases, housing prices go down, which in turn reinforces the low-income status of neighborhoods. In short, as health, well-being, and productivity suffer, air pollution can reinforce socio-economic inequalities .

Figure 1. Average annual PM2.5 concentrations in Southeast Asia 

Chart 1

Source: Rentschler & Leonova (2022) based on van Donkelaar et al (2021)

Poor people’s exposure to harmful air pollution.

While many studies have focused on air pollution in rich countries, a better understanding of the interplay between air pollution and poverty is crucial for several reasons. Studies from high-income countries on the health risks associated with air pollution may not be directly transferable to low-income communities, where the nature of occupations and healthcare differ substantially . The health and productivity implications of air pollution will impact the socio-economic prospects of developing countries. This is especially significant in low-income countries, which tend to still have relatively low anthropogenic air pollution levels compared to more industrialized middle-income countries. Here, there is still an opportunity to ensure that development progress does not come hand in hand with intensifying air pollution and the associated detrimental effects on health and well-being .

2.8 billion people face hazardous air pollution levels

In a new study, we provide a comprehensive account of the relationship between ambient (outdoor) air pollution exposure, economic development, and poverty in 211 countries and territories. It presents global exposure estimates for the World Health Organization’s 2021 revised fine particulate matter (PM2.5) thresholds. In addition, we provide estimates of the number of poor people exposed to unsafe PM2.5 concentrations. The findings are based on high-resolution air pollution and population maps with global coverage, as well as subnational poverty estimates based on harmonized household surveys.

Our estimates show that globally 7.3 billion people, or 94 percent of the world population, face air pollution levels considered unsafe by the WHO (annual average PM2.5 concentration over 5 μg/m3). For 2.8 billion people pollution levels are hazardous – with PM2.5 concentrations over 35 μg/m3, which implies a mortality rate that is more than 24 percent higher than in safe areas.

Figure 2. Share of population exposed to PM2.5 concentrations over 15 μg/m3

Figure 2

One in ten people exposed to unsafe air pollution live in extreme poverty

We estimate that 716 million people living in extreme poverty, calculated as living on less than $1.90 per day, are directly exposed to unsafe PM2.5 concentrations; of these, 405 million, or 57 percent are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, 275 million people living in extreme poverty are exposed to hazardous PM2.5 concentrations (over 35 μg/m3). Approximately one in ten people exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution live in extreme poverty –making them particularly vulnerable to prolonged adverse impacts on their livelihoods and well-being. For the extreme poor, the same air pollution level likely means increased severe health risks compared to higher income households, as the effects of air pollution are compounded by other poverty risk factors in addition to inequitable access to affordable healthcare.

Pollution is highest in middle-income countries

Yet, the estimates also show that the vast majority of people breathing unsafe air are located in middle-income countries, where 5.5 billion people are exposed to hazardous PM2.5 levels (over 35 μg/m3) – compared to just 40.5 million in low- and high-income countries combined. As a share of the overall population, PM2.5 exposure is also by far the highest in middle-income countries. About 64.5 percent of people in lower-middle-income countries are exposed to PM2.5 levels over 35 μg/m3, compared to just 4.4 percent in low-income countries and 0.9 percent in high-income countries .

global exposure

Towards healthier lives and better livelihoods

Our study affirms the case for targeted measures that reduce the pollution intensity of economic growth – for instance, supporting the uptake of clean technologies and fuels. In addition, measures are needed to directly address the disproportionate exposure of poor people to pollution. For example, improving the provision of affordable and adequate healthcare in large urban centers can help reduce mortality. Mandating transparent accounting for environmental and health externalities in planning decisions can help to steer pollution sources, like industrial zones, away from low-income communities. Finally, removing incentives that perpetuate the over-consumption of polluting fuels can yield a double dividend for poor people. For instance, fossil fuel subsidies are well documented to benefit richer households disproportionately, but the air pollution externalities associated with subsidized fossil fuel consumption are also a burden that can be borne disproportionately by poorer households.

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Nature-based solutions for resilient cities and restoring local biodiversity
Working with nature to strengthen urban resilience can be cost-effective for addressing climate adaptation and mitigation while bringing out broader benefits for biodiversity, communities, and the local economy. The restoration of the urban wetlands in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is just one example of how improving flood control can go hand in hand with boosting species richness and supporting urban farmers.  

Nature-based solutions for resilient cities and restoring local biodiversity

Originally posted on 19 May 2022 on World Bank Blogs


Aerial view of a park with green trees and purple flowers in the city of Assuncion, Paraguay.

Lapachos rosados (Handroanthus impetiginosus), a native species, are an important refugia for birds in Asuncion, capital city of Paraguay. Photo: World Bank Environment.

Such nature-based solutions (NBS) like urban park development and river restoration are found to lead to an estimated 67% increase in species richness.  Achieving both resilience and biodiversity outcomes requires an integrated approach covering protection (local habitats that are still in good ecological conditions), restoration (of degraded ecosystems), or creation of new interventions if needed (Figure 1). These NBS need to be purposefully planned, designed, monitored, and maintained. Below are some practical steps for maximizing the biodiversity outcomes of an NBS.

Infographic showing nature-based solutions in cities.

Figure 1: Achieving both resilience and biodiversity outcomes from NBS projects requires an integrated approach covering the hierarchy of protect, restore and create. Source: World Bank Global NBS team.

1. Understanding the problem

In designing NBS that will benefit biodiversity and ecosystem services, the first step is to do initial screening to understand the environmental characteristics of the project area. Whether it’s erosion, floods, water quality or urban heat, it is critical to understand the origin and the drivers of the problem, the local environment, the stakeholders involved and the regulatory framework. Strong biodiversity baseline studies and stakeholder engagement are requirements for a proper NBS intervention selection that can benefit biodiversity, and innovations such as the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) are providing new ways of establishing such a baseline.

Free databases and tools to understand the ecological context of your project area

2. Building upon local biodiversity

Biodiversity is a basis for establishing a resilient ecosystem, and diverse ecosystems provide essential ecological services for humans such as food, timber, pollination, and climate mitigation. NBS must be designed to bring back local nature to increase environment benefits, while simultaneously restoring ecosystem services for providing climate functions such as flood control or carbon storage.

Single-species vegetation interventions such as monoculture reforestation result in limited fauna diversity and often store less carbon than diverse landscapes. Similarly, wetland restoration that is not designed taking into account the local drivers of degradation, species preference to salinity, and the interrelations among species risks failing in the attempt.

Using native species instead of introducing exotic species for NBS interventions in urban areas is more likely to boost biodiversity outcomes and offer more ecosystem services to urban dwellers, including air purification, irrigation, shade and production of flowers and fruits for birds.

3. Designing for scale

When designed well, the total biodiversity contribution can be larger than the sum of the individual interventions. An interconnected network of green and blue interventions enhances the generation of ecosystem services and increases species richness. NBS interventions within cities need to be informed by a disaster risk assessment to optimize climate resilience objectives and by a biodiversity assessment to maximize environmental outcomes. Scattered individual NBS interventions in a city can be effectively interlinked by green corridors to allow for ecological connectivity and boost biodiversity.  Especially important in cities, is the recovery of riparian areas, true corridors, and refugia for displaced fauna.

Figure 2: Infographic showing nature-based solutions in cities.

Figure 2: Urban level NBS can be optimized for addressing climate resilience and biodiversity outcomes by considering larger scales and ensuring connectivity. Source: World Bank/GFDRR, 2021; designs by Felixx Landscape Architects and Planners.

4. Establishing a baseline and tracking biodiversity goals

NBS projects aiming to strengthen biodiversity should include specific result indicators to measure their impact. Biodiversity indicators can track various aspects of an NBS intervention, including scale (hectares of natural area restored), improvements in biodiversity from the baseline (species richness, abundance, community composition, ecological connectivity), and the longer-term biodiversity gains or ecosystem services. The selection of biodiversity indicators depends on the scale of intervention, the available baseline data, and the monitoring ability and capacity of the implementing agency to ensure appropriate reporting. The baseline study (step 1) should help inform the biodiversity indicators that can be used.

5. Maintaining and managing

The climate resilience and biodiversity benefits of NBS take time to establish and require continuous monitoring, maintenance, and adaptive management to ensure the continued effectiveness of the NBS. For example, newly planted mangrove trees require over five years to reach their maximum storm wave reduction effectiveness, as the trees grow taller and root systems expand. Investment projects with a limited time duration should therefore ensure that a strong management plan is put in place that continues after project closure and that has sufficient funding (or financial instruments designed) and the government team has the technical capacity to ensure the sustainability of biodiversity gains. Working with communities and using new technology, such as the successful community-driven tree planting campaign in Freetown, can be an effective way to ensure sustainability after project closure.

NBS for climate resilience provide a unique opportunity to address climate change and biodiversity loss in an integrated way. The World Bank’s new Climate Change Action Plan and financing from its fund for the poorest, the International Development Association (IDA), can lead to greater investments by countries to tackle their nationally determined contributions (Paris Agreement) and biodiversity commitments (agreement forthcoming with the adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework). Acting now and sharing experiences on NBS can provide the inspiration and interest needed to increase resilience of people and nature.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is supporting the scaling up of NBS globally through the Global Program for Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience, which is implemented in partnership across the Urban, Resilience and Land (URL), Water, and Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy (ENB) Global Practices.

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Building disaster resilience among the vulnerable
Natural disasters cause billions of dollars in losses each year, but the damage estimates don’t tell the full story of their impact. The gravity of any loss depends on whom it affects, and the poorest people typically bear a much larger brunt of a natural disaster’s consequences.  With climate change bringing more frequent and severe natural hazards, ensuring a resilient recovery for all requires a better understanding of the impacts that policies can have – and particularly on the most vulnerable people. Experience shows that a wide range of relatively low-cost and effective measures can save lives and protect hard-earned development gains in the wake of disasters. 

Building disaster resilience among the vulnerable

by ALVINA ERMAN and RUI SU | Originally posted on 

Fiji post Tropical Cyclone Winston. Photo: World Bank / Vlad Sokhin.

Fiji post Tropical Cyclone Winston. Photo: World Bank / Vlad Sokhin.

One such measure is the Unbreakable Resilience Indicator developed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and hosted by the World Bank.  Unlike typical disaster risk assessments that estimate expected asset loss, this indicator takes into account that $1 in asset losses does not mean the same to a well-off person as it does to a poor person. The indicator’s three tools ─ the country tool, the policy tool, and the advanced tool ─ measure the risk to well-being associated with asset losses and help a user understand several things: 

  1. Expected annual disaster losses to assets, well-being, and social resilience at the national level. which can be compared with other countries 
  2. Which policy measures result in the largest avoided losses and build resilience most efficiently on a global and country level 
  3. How changing a certain input in the model will affect the overall social resilience and expected asset losses and well-being losses of a specific country 

What is the most impactful policy mix?  

The country tool provides a bird’s eye view of current conditions, such as where a country excels or falls short in different resilience factors. It is based on a simple model that calculates asset and well-being losses for multiple hazards such as floods, windstorms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Socioeconomic resilience is then estimated as the ratio (0-100%) of expected asset losses to expected well-being losses. A larger socioeconomic resilience means that a country’s population can experience larger asset losses while maintaining its well-being. A resilience level of 50% means that $1 in asset losses from a disaster results in a loss of well-being equivalent to a $2 drop in national in income.  

Unbreakable Resilience Indicator

Take Malawi as an example. The country tool shows that assets equivalent to 1.01% of Malawi’s GDP are at risk from disasters, but because the country’s socioeconomic resilience is merely 59.6%, the risk to well-being is even higher, equivalent to 1.69% of GDP.  The tool reveals that socioeconomic resilience is lower because social protection in Malawi is far below global average, and people’s incomes are also meager. These shortcomings undercut people’s capacity to cope with disaster shocks, therefore magnifying disasters’ impacts on their well-being. The policy tool helps determine where to focus resilience-building efforts. It ranks the effectiveness of policy measures in terms of the annual avoided asset and well-being losses. Universal access to finance, for example, could reduce annual well-being losses in Malawi by 3.1%, or $7 million. 

The gravity of any loss depends on whom it affects, and the poorest people typically bear a much larger brunt of a natural disaster’s consequences.

Beyond an individual country’s context, the policy tool can also compare the benefits of different policy actions across countries globally or within certain regions. For instance, the policy tool suggests that while the Philippines can avert the most asset and well-being losses in absolute terms if it implements a full-coverage early warning system, Cambodia could benefit the most in relative terms (as a percentage of current losses). That is, Cambodia can reduce its current well-being losses by 21% and asset losses by 20% with universal early warning systems, a remarkable contribution to strengthened resilience. 

After understanding the country contexts and policy impacts, the advanced tool allows users to manipulate the input indicators to the model to evaluate the impact of specific policy actions and goals, in terms of their benefits. For example, for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, if we can decrease the poor’s exposure to riverine and coastal flood from 0.6% to 0.5%  and expand access to early warning from 40% to 60%, we can make a sizeable difference in disaster outcomes. The risk to assets (as a percentage of GDP) will be cut by 0.11 percentage points by these actions, and socioeconomic resilience will simultaneously grow by 6.64 percentage points. The synergies will result in the overall risk to well-being indicator declining to 1.30% from 1.69%. 

At a time when we increasingly see how poverty and exclusion exacerbate the impacts of disasters, these accessible yet impactful tools enable policymakers to avoid the worst disaster outcomes and support equitable growth. We cannot afford to neglect the vast potential of disaster risk management to rescue the vulnerable from the consequences of climate change. 

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National Urban Policies for Climate Neutrality

Organised by ICLEI Europe partner the European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN), this session will critically examine the concept of climate neutrality. Speakers will furthermore investigate the role that National Urban Policies (NUPs) can play in fostering green urban transition in Europe, as well as in supporting local, national and international projects that advance climate-neutrality.

National Urban Policies for Climate Neutrality

27 June, 12:15–13:30 CEST | Eleventh Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF11) | European Track Room

Our session on the Green City from a national and European perspective will aim at creating a discussion about the importance of National Urban Policies in achieving climate neutrality. Reacting to statements and engaging with the audience, our experts will aim to answer the question: ‘How can National Urban Policies support cities in delivering ambitious and urgent climate action?’

Learn more and register here: