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Climate Change

The effects of urbanization and climate change are converging in dangerous ways.Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, and approximately 3°C in 2100 based on current national government commitments. This will have disastrous impacts on cities.

Cities are major contributors to climate change: although they cover less than 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, urban areas account for 71 to 76 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide from global final energy use and a significant portion of total greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, cities and towns are heavily vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by rising sea levels, increased precipitation, inland floods, more frequent and stronger cyclones and storms, and periods of more extreme heat and cold.

In fact, many major coastal cities with populations of more than 10 million people are already under threat as over 90% of urban areas are coastal. Climate change may also negatively impact infrastructure and worsen access to basic urban services and quality of life in cities. In addition, most of the vital economic and social infrastructure, government facilities, and assets are located in cities. The most affected populations are the urban poor – i.e. slum dwellers in developing countries – who tend to live along river banks, on hillsides and slopes prone to landslides, near polluted grounds, on decertified land, in unstable structures vulnerable to earthquakes, and along waterfronts in coastal areas. The urban poor is indeed increasingly vulnerable: more than 1 billion people live in slums and informal settlements and are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Despite these risks, many cities have not yet addressed climate change. The reasons include a lack of relevant city policies and action plans; existence of regulations on urban planning and environment which have not been adjusted to manage climate change; slow response to climate disasters due to lack of capacity and resources; and lack of public awareness on climate variability and climate change-induced hazard mitigation.

However, when properly planned, capacitated, and managed through the appropriate governance structures, cities can be places of innovation and efficiency. Together with their local authorities, they have the potential to diminish the causes of climate change (mitigation) and effectively protect themselves from its impacts (adaptation).


Climate-proof Urban and Regional Planning

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Pro-poor Approaches to Climate Action

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Multi-level Governance of Climate Action

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Low Carbon and Resilient Basic Services and Buildings

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Our Climate Action

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Protecting themselves: cities and climate change adaptation

For most cities in developing countries, the pressure to adapt to climate change is mounting. The measures needed to help cities cope with climate change vary considerably depending on political, cultural, historical, and climatic conditions. Such measures can range from “working with nature” (e.g., placing a greater emphasis on coastal resource management, or protecting mangrove and natural reef ecosystems), to a concerted “climate-proofing” of infrastructure, including storm-drainage systems, water supply and treatment plants, as well as protection or relocation of energy or solid waste management facilities. Some coastal cities may need to plan for investments related to a rise in sea level.

In regions where droughts are more likely to occur, on the other hand, improved water saving and water management measures may be required. Of equal, if not greater, importance to such physical and infrastructural adaptations are a broad range of measures that reduce vulnerabilities and increase community resilience to climate change. These include:

  • local economic development strategies
  • community early warning systems
  • better shelter options and participatory in-situ slum upgrading
  • relocation of urban populations to appropriate or improved locations (when in-situ upgrading is not feasible)
  • improved public health interventions
  • urban and peri-urban agriculture that takes into consideration a changing climate

Diminishing the causes: Cities and climate change mitigation

More than half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from urban areas. A number of cities around the world have shown farsighted leadership in setting targets and devising and implementing plans to reduce these greenhouse gas emissions. Cities can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously addressing other pressing local environmental problems such as air pollution, waste, and transport, not to mention other challenges such as local economic development.

The challenge therefore is to link climate change to local environmental and other developmental priorities. On the supply side, there are strategies that make certain alternative sources of energy more attractive to users than fossil fuels. On the demand side, a better planned city with reduced urban sprawl, greener buildings, and better public transport can reduce a city’s carbon footprint while at the same time providing a better quality of life for its citizens and an environment that is more attractive for business.

UN-Habitat's Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI)

UN-Habitat’s Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI) seeks to enhance the preparedness and mitigation activities of cities in developing and least developed countries, in more than 40 cities. It emphasizes good governance, responsibility, leadership, and practical initiatives for local governments, communities, and citizens. Building on UN-Habitat’s extensive experience in sustainable urban development, the Cities and Climate Change Initiative helps counterparts to develop and implement pro-poor and innovative climate change policies and strategies.

CCCI is also developing a suite of tools to support city leaders and practitioners in addressing the impact of climate change (adaptation) and to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). To these ends, UN-Habitat is working closely with a diverse range of partners: donors, government at all levels, other UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations, institutions of research and higher learning, capacity building and training agencies, land and property organizations, and private sector entities, among others. Find out more about the Cities and Climate Change Initiative (CCCI)

UN-Habitat´s work on climate change: I am City Climate Action

UN-Habitat supports transformative actions in countries, regions, cities and communities in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C in 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, developing mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change. The success of this adaptation depends critically on the availability of necessary resources, not only financial, but also knowledge, technical capability, institutional resources, and tools.

Our 4 domains of action:

COP24 Climate Change Brochure

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Climate-proof urban and regional planning

UN-Habitat use urban and regional planning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience. UN-Habitat delivers an integrated programme of assistance to local authorities, and work at the national and regional level as well, to improve systems aimed at “climate proofing” urban infrastructure, and to ensure that climate change adaptation becomes a key component of infrastructure design and urban planning.

UN-Habitat works with planners around the world though Planners for Climate Action (P4CA), a global collaboration to promote the value and contribution of better planning to sustainable cities facing the impacts of climate change. Under P4CA, the community of planners is able to have a voice on the importance and value of effective urban and territorial planning practices. P4CA Partners commit to incorporate climate change in their planning practices, help ensure that all cities have ambitious mitigation and adaptation plans, build the capacity of planners and support research that can help strengthen knowledge on the impact of planning practices.

Pro-poor approaches to climate action

Recognising that the urban poor are the most vulnerable to climate change, UN-Habitat directly addresses vulnerability in cities and communities through pro-poor approaches to Climate Action. UN-Habitat builds climate resilience in marginalized settlements by coordinating actions and planning between sub-national government, NGOs, local civil society organizations and communities.

Multi-level governance of climate action

The complexity of climate adaptation and mitigation in cities requires delivering climate action at different scales through the involvement of all levels of governments. UN-Habitat brings together all levels of climate action towards achieving common goals with plans, policies, strategies and implementation agreed by all.

Low-carbon and resilient basic services and buildings

UN-Habitat addresses mitigation by boosting low carbon action for urban mobility, energy, water and waste management, and sustainable buildings.Overall, at the local, national, regional, and global level, UN-Habitat works to raise awareness and to help counterparts to build the capacities needed to enable cities and local governments to address climate change effectively.

Find out more about our climate action.

Find out more about one of our key initiative: Urban-LEDS



Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 17.17.38 Learn about the Cities in Climate Change Initiative   Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 17.17.28 Learn about the City Resilience Profiling Programme

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