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UNSG calls Urban leaders influencers to chart new path for world cities

Anjali Sharma and Ahmed Fathi

UNITED NATIONS – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called Mayors of Mexico City, Bogotá, New Orleans, Freetown, Gaziantep and Barcelona joined other urban leaders, designers, activists and thinkers from around the world on Wednesday, to chart a new path for cities.

A launch event called Cities at the Crossroads, kicked off at the British Academy in London marked the inaugural session of the new UN-backed Council on Urban Initiatives.

The international group of eighteen mayors, activists and academics was formed in response to the Secretary-General’s call to use the COVID-19 pandemic as an “opportunity to reflect and reset how we live, interact, and rebuild our cities.”

Guterres remembered that cities large and small, “have been epicenters of COVID-19 and are on the frontline of the climate crisis,” Ina video message to the conference

According to UN estimates, they face severe risks from climate change, which will only grow.


By mid-century, over 1.6 billion urban residents may have to survive through average summertime highs of 35 degrees Celsius. More than 800 million could be at direct risk from sea level rise.

SG said that the pandemic “must be an inflection point to rethink and reset how” people live, interact and build cities.

“Investment in pandemic recovery is a generational opportunity to put climate action, social justice, gender equality and sustainable development at the heart of cities’ strategies and policies”, he said.

Guterres also noted that more and more cities across the world are committing to net zero by 2050, or before.

“The sooner we translate these commitments into concrete action to reduce emissions, the sooner we will achieve green job growth, better health, and greater equality”, he argued.  

UN-Habitat Executive Director asked for “a bold new narrative now.”

“We need to bring visionary mayors to the table to help address these interlinked global crises and reframe the discourse on the role of cities, urban governance, design and planning”, Maimunah Mohd Sharif said.

UN Habitat said that the Council’s mission is to ensure a healthy global debate over urban issues, to help chart a sustainable future. The work will be organized around three challenges: the JUST city, the HEALTHY city and the GREEN city.

It will begin its work to keep the goal of 1.5 degrees of global warming, within reach.

Over 75 per cent of the world’s energy consumption and over 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, cities are at the core of climate action.

World Expo in Dubai, the UN launched the Climate Smart Cities Challenge.

The initiative is an open innovation competition to identify climate smart solutions and reduce urban impact, between the cities of Bogotá, Colombia; Bristol, United Kingdom; Curitiba, Brazil; and Makindye Ssabagabo, Uganda.

According to UN-Habitat, “the climate ambitions of these cities are impressive and addressing them will have a powerful impact in shaping how city leaders, innovators and local communities respond to the climate emergency.”

The UN agency said that with these four cities selected, the competition is now asking innovators, including technologists, start-ups, developers, finance experts and more, to submit their best solutions to the unique challenges identified. The application period closes on 5 January


Up to 80 fi

nalists (up to 20 per city) will be selected to work closely with these four cities, learn more about their challenges, collaborate on solutions, and ultimately form teams to demonstrate solutions in the real-world.

The winning teams will share up to 400,000 Euros to leverage further investment and build towards system demonstration in 2023.

Around 4.5 billion people live in cities today, but that number is projected to grow by almost 50 per cent, by 2050. By mid-century, over 1.6 billion urban residents may have to survive through average summertime highs of 35 degrees Celsius.


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