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Low and middle income countries lead the way in city climate fight

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Low and middle-income countries are leading the charge in the city climate fight, according to new research released today from UN-Habitat

The report, ‘Local Action for Global Goals: An Opportunity for Enhancing Nationally Determined Contributions’, reveals that just 27% of the 194 national climate action plans (NDCs) have a strong urban focus, with low and middle-income economies at the forefront. 

This comes following the launch of the Coalition for High Ambition Multi-Level Partnerships (CHAMP) initiative at COP28 in Dubai, where 72 countries pledged to develop more ambitious NDCs in collaboration with local governments. From these 72, just 21 had a strong urban focus.

Cities are home to over 50% of the world’s population and are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, they are also important in delivering climate solutions. Many have taken the lead to implement ambitious climate action plans,  known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), with successful outcomes. In recent years, such efforts have received increasing recognition, but little of this has been reflected in the bulk of NDCs that exist today. 

The deep dive analysis of the 72 CHAMP signatory countries finds that only 21 NDCs included strong urban elements. The remaining two-thirds of NDCs have either ‘moderate’, ‘low’ or ‘no’ urban content in their climate commitments, and include high-income economies such as Australia, Canada, Japan, the US, and EU member states.

The frontrunners 

Low and middle-income countries are frontrunning in the inclusion of strong urban elements in their NDCs and form part of the 27% of CHAMP signatory countries that do so. These include Colombia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Jordan and Morocco. 

“Reviewing, revising, and submitting NDCs is a process driven by national governments,” Lea Ranalder, an expert on sustainable cities from UN-Habitat and Lead Author of the report, told Zag Daily.

“Cities might be an afterthought, but it’s a missed opportunity considering they are responsible for a high share of emissions and, in many places, are frontrunners for climate action – sometimes even more ambitious than national governments. So a stronger collaboration between local and national governments in the preparation of NDCs can be a game changer to help achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement.”

The stance on NDCs

NDCs form part of the 2015 Paris Agreement adopted by 194 countries, and outline targets to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions and the plans to achieve them. Countries are expected to update their NDCs every five years, with the next revision set to occur in 2025.

Last year’s first-ever Global Stocktake – which assesses where UNFCCC countries stand in relation to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – found that the world is far off track from limiting warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, one goal outlined in the agreement. 

Nations are therefore urged to set more ambitious goals to accelerate climate action, using multi-level partnerships to help achieve decarbonisation targets.

“This analysis I think is a wakeup call, and it’s possible that some may not even realise that their NDCs lack such focus on urban priorities,” explained Ranalder. 

“And it’s not to say that they are not taking this seriously because they might be working with their local governments through different engagement mechanisms. Including them in their NDCs can really be an opportunity for them to leapfrog on implementation.

“Cities have a lot of things under their control where they can accelerate emission reduction measures – such as low-carbon public transport, expanding public transport infrastructure, improving walking and biking infrastructure, car-sharing schemes and using financial incentives to encourage more environmentally friendly behaviour.” 

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