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Priority 6: Proactively plan for a just transition to zero-carbon cities

Part of the publication Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity

Laying a strong foundation


Strengthen tenure security for the urban poor. A legal address is often required to enrol as a voter, open a bank account, access entitlements such as health care or primary education, and get formal connections to water, sanitation and electricity networks. Secure tenure thus enables families to access risk-reducing services and infrastructure that improves their quality of life and enhances their resilience to climate shocks and stresses. A lack of comprehensive land registries and cadastres, meanwhile, limits governments’ ability to shape urban growth for enhanced economic productivity or reduce exposure to climate hazards. National governments can help city governments improve tenure security in informal settlements by supporting partnerships between formal and informal actors, as Namibia has done (see Box 3); setting up simplified registration systems as Rwanda has done (Box 7); reforming land regulation to favour the consolidation of occupancy rights (particularly protection against eviction) over the provision of property titles; devising tenure formulas that support collective ownership and prioritise collective rather than individual interests; and training and employing surveyors to accelerate regularisation, tenure and titling programmes (see Priority 4.2).


Enhance climate resilience and gender equality in cities by educating all young people. Recognising the wide range of factors that shape climate resilience, women are – on average – more vulnerable to environmental hazards than men. They have lower incomes, fewer assets, less formal education and less access to support, despite having more responsibility for children and the elderly, especially in the Global South. This means that women face greater risk during and after extreme weather events, so there is a need to implement gender-responsive climate change action plans, policies or strategies. Mandating and resourcing universal, high-quality education for all young people irrespective of gender – in line with SDG4 and SDG5 – can further enhance climate resilience. Better-educated women tend to be healthier, earn more, find (formal) jobs, marry at a later age and have fewer children, who in turn have better access to health care and education opportunities. This has huge relevance to cities where formal labour markets are overwhelmingly concentrated and where most population growth will take place over the next 30 years. Education of all forms can also be provided very cost-effectively in urban areas.

Seizing the opportunity


Use revenues from carbon taxes or fossil fuel subsidy reforms to compensate those who bear any costs associated with climate action. Poorer households tend to spend a greater share of their income on essentials, such as fuel. Consequently, vulnerable groups such as fixed-income households and informal workers in urban areas can suffer more from actions such as fossil fuel subsidy reform, even though energy subsidies are generally regressive. National governments can redress this inequality by explicitly using the savings from fossil fuel subsidy reform and carbon pricing (see Priority 3.1 and Priority 3.2) to fund social protection and invest in new low-carbon industries with high potential for job creation. This strategy can also minimise the potential political fallout, as Indonesia’s recent successes demonstrate (see Box 10). Governments spent about US$41.6 billion subsidising fossil fuels in urban areas in 2016 (see Figure 14) and raised about US$33 billion in carbon pricing revenues in 2017. This offers significant fiscal space to fund social protection and productive infrastructure.


Support community-driven upgrading of informal settlements at the national scale. Sustaining appetite for climate mitigation and enhancing urban resilience will depend on more inclusive development policies and practices. Participatory upgrading programmes can help to transform “slums” into neighbourhoods that are dense, liveable and affordable. To date, there are few examples of large-scale informal settlement upgrading schemes; most examples are at the project or (occasionally) city scale. While upgrading is primarily delivered by local authorities working in partnership with grassroots organisations of the urban poor, national governments have important roles to play in: reforming minimum plot sizes and maximum floor-area ratios that limit density and increase costs; reforming construction regulations to allow for incremental housing solutions as the incomes of the residents permit; providing funding for core infrastructure to both municipal governments and organised communities; and allowing collective ownership to resist pressures of gentrification. The Chile Barrio programme illustrates how national and local governments can work with communities to systematically upgrade informal settlements (see Box 9). At the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, a number of national governments will commit to bolster community adaptation in citywide planning and national policies, including by putting the urban poor at the centre of Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans.

Raising the ambition


Anticipate, protect and support the workforce of the future, including by developing transition plans for fossil fuel-based workers and industries. Nearly 1.5 billion workers around the world are in sectors critical to climate stability, including 200 million people in manufacturing, 110 million in buildings, 88 million in transport and 30 million in energy. Some cities are largely dependent on carbon-intensive industries. In these cases, local governments cannot manage the consequences of a zero-carbon transition alone. National governments need to anticipate and respond to shifts in the labour market, including the spatial distribution of employment opportunities. They can support local governments, trade unions, employers, investors and communities to collaboratively plan for a just transition through establishing joint management-labour committees with transparent terms of reference and appointment processes. These forums can seek ways to minimise the trade-offs of climate action, forecast employment opportunities, and plan for appropriate retention, reskilling and redeployment of workers. National governments can also ensure adequate and sustainable social protection for job losses and displacement. At the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit, a number of national governments will commit to support a just ecological transition, pledging to create mechanisms for inclusive social dialogue, supporting skills development to enable people to find work in a changing labour market, and designing social protection policies to protect workers and vulnerable groups in the context of long-term climate strategies.


Support local governments to make well-located, serviced land available for growing urban populations. The urban population is expected to expand by 1.5 million people every week to 2050, with 90% of this growth concentrated in Africa and Asia. There is no evidence that policies to slow rural-to-urban migration are effective. Actively preparing for this population growth offers national governments an opportunity to create compact, connected and clean cities with healthy, productive residents. Otherwise, these people will largely end up in costly, unsafe informal settlements. Retrofitting infrastructure after settlement has occurred can be three times more expensive than investing beforehand. National governments can help municipal governments make well-situated, serviced urban land available by opening up new areas for managed urban expansion; altering jurisdictional boundaries so that municipal governments can develop and implement plans in this extended area; providing funding for core infrastructure such as transit systems, sewers and water mains to connect these parts of the city; and allowing some flexibility in planning standards to accommodate the needs of poorer households.