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OPPORTUNITY: CDKN invites research on enabling conditions for urban climate compatible development

More than half the world’s population already live in towns and cities, and the urban population will swell to almost 5 billion by 2030. Most of the growth will take place in smaller, secondary towns and cities in developing countries that have less capacity to respond to rapid growth, for example through service provision. Climate change impacts will exert added stress on urban systems, whilst cities are themselves responsible for 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Urban areas provide both unique opportunities and challenges for climate change adaptation, mitigation and development, making them crucial for achieving climate compatible development.

Challenges include the climate-exposed location of many cities, such as those in low lying coastal or delta areas. This puts at risk the lives and livelihoods of urban populations as well as trillions of dollars of physical assets. Infrastructure and planning are frequently poorly designed and implemented, while the scale and pace of change in cities is particularly challenging, with much growth stemming from unplanned settlements and informal economies. This poses a problem for conventional development – even more so for long-term strategic planning for climate resilience or shifts to a low carbon future. Inequality is particularly stark in developing country cities and there is a real need for inclusive growth that offers meaningful opportunities for different social groups, including young people and women, regardless of their socio-economic background.

Nevertheless, the characteristics of urban areas also provide opportunities for furthering progress on climate compatible development. Decision-makers at the subnational level have a better sense than national decision-makers of solutions that are effective in the local context, and know how to communicate the case for action effectively to local stakeholders. Decision-making and operational delivery come together in cities in ways that can facilitate the integration of climate and development objectives, and can lead the way for integration at higher levels of governance. The density of urban settlements means that many people can be simultaneously and cost-effectively engaged in efforts to scale out community-based adaptation (CBA), and strengthen climate resilience even in the context of informality. At the same time, action to mitigate climate change can result in many development benefits such as improved air quality, reduced traffic congestion, and improved income and livelihood prospects.

CDKN’s recently published Working Paper touches on some strategies for climate compatible development at the subnational and urban levels. Given the right enabling conditions, cities can provide great opportunities for innovation, and new ideas can be rapidly trialled and scaled up and out. Working with local leaders can form an important part of mobilising country-wide engagement and dialogue, while national policies require local implementation to deliver change on the ground. Building momentum at the city level thus becomes a key part of creating the best conditions for a global deal in 2015.

Action-oriented and politically aware research is needed to respond to these challenges and opportunities and help turn ideas into practice. Despite growing initiatives around the world however, there remain major gaps in understanding the enabling conditions for implementation of climate compatible development in rapidly growing cities in developing countries. To fully understand the complexities of implementing climate compatible development in urban contexts, research should be acutely aware of the politics, governance and power relations that influence decision-making, and address the political economy around climate compatible development.

CDKN is commissioning new research on these issues, with a view to generating evidence-based thought leadership and policy impact for climate compatible development.  See this page on the Climate compatible development Impact Research Fund for more details.

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