UN-Habitat: Cities at the crossroads – The UN System helping cities to accelerate climate action (COP26 Side Event)

Friday, 3 December, 2021

UN-Habitat: Cities at the crossroads – The UN System helping cities to accelerate climate action (COP26 Side Event held on 9 November 2021)

The world stands at a crossroads in its efforts to take action to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects. Time is running out to implement policies that will keep warming well below 2°C, as called for in the Paris Agreement, while also financing the adaptation actions needed to cope with the impacts of climate change.

Meanwhile, we have now crossed a tipping point in terms or urbanization, with 55% of the world’s population living in cities, a figure which is expected to rise to 68% by 2050.1 During this time, an additional 2.5 billion people will live in cities. Without effective mitigation actions, this urban growth could drive up greenhouse gas emissions, while many urban residents, particularly the poor and vulnerable people such as rural-urban migrants, may end up living in unsafe, climate-vulnerable locations along the coast or in flood plains.

Current and emerging local needs must therefore be anchored in the revised and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and policies, plans and actions, designed to achieve commitments made to the Paris Agreement.

The pandemic has exposed deep inequalities in how people live in cities, and how cities serve their residents. The already vulnerable groups have suffered the most. 24% of the world’s urban population live in slums. Less than half the global population can access open public spaces within 400 meters’ walking distance of their homes.

The reality is that the unpredictable trajectory of outbreaks of new virus variants will make it even more difficult to determine if a city or town is in its recovery process, or is yet to face the worst wave of COVID-19. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with the opportunity to invest in a green and sustainable recovery.

The UN Secretary-General concluded that, the COVID-19 recovery efforts present “a generational opportunity to put climate action, clean energy, and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies”.2

This One UN event showcases solutions for vertical integration of climate action with emphasis on national policy, local capacity, and finance in three focus areas:

  1. Mainstreaming local climate action into national policies: As Parties submit enhanced NDCs and develop NAPs, NAMAs, and related strategies, the UN supports Parties in incorporating urban priorities into planning and action, promotes innovative and transformative approaches to multi-level governance, and sets more ambitious and verifiable targets for local climate action.
  2. Building local capacities for informed, evidence-based climate action: Understanding urban climate and disaster risks helps governments make informed policy and investment decisions for greater resilience that consider climate scenarios and socio-economic development trends and vulnerabilities. The UN is strengthening local capacities, including participatory planning and nature-based solutions, to reduce climate and disaster risks.
  3. Unlocking climate finance to localize the NDCs: Limited access to climate finance is a barrier to adaptation and mitigation. Together with partners, the UN seeks to alleviate bottlenecks to finance local priorities as identified in NDCs and related policies and plans to truly localize climate action.

Additionally, this event will highlight how the UN has adjusted its programming to help Parties better address the COVID-19 crisis, including helping cities achieve a green, just recovery.

Further, it will reflect some of the emerging outcomes of the recently concluded Innovate4Cities Conference, co-sponsored by IPCC, that is channeling new science and innovation research into the IPCC Special Report on Cities & Climate Change and is updating the Global Research and Action Agenda (GRAA) on Cities and Climate Change Science. 

Opening Remarks

  • Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)


  • Ms. Natalie Pareja, National Climate Change Director, Ministry of Environment, Uruguay (in-person)
  • Dr. Zita Sebesvari, Deputy Director & Head of Environmental Vulnerability & Ecosystem Services Section, United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) (in-person)
  • Mayor Errick Simmons of Greenville, Mississippi, United States
  • Dr. Marcelo Marcos Morales, Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (MCTI), Brazil (in-person)
  • Dr. Hak Mao, Director of Department of Climate Change, Ministry of Environment, Cambodia (in-person)
  • Ms. Jakuta Imširović, Head of Department for Ecology & Utilities, City of Zenica, Bosnia Herzegovina (in-person)

Closing Remarks

  • Dr. Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, Vice-Chair, Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (in-person)


  • Mr. Bernhard Barth, Sub-programme Coordinator for Climate Change, UN-Habitat HQ (in-person)