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Cities Must Lead Climate Action to Keep 1.5°C Global Temperature Rise Goal within Reach, Secretary-General Says at Launch of Council on Urban Initiatives

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message for the launch of the Council on Urban Initiatives, “Advancing a Carbon-Neutral, Resilient Recovery for Cities and Nations”, held today:

It is a pleasure to join you today for the launch of the Council on Urban Initiatives.  I want to thank Professor Richard Sennett and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) for initiating this effort.

Cities have been epicentres of COVID-19 and are on the front line of the climate crisis.  As mayors, researchers and practitioners, you confront these challenges every day — and you are showing how cities can respond effectively to the growing inequalities exposed by the pandemic and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement [on climate change].

Cities generate more than 80 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) and 70 per cent of greenhouse‑gas emissions.  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°C and more than 800 million could be at direct risk from sea‑level rise.  The most vulnerable will suffer most.

Cities must be leaders of climate action to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach.  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.

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.

Local is the space to connect all the dots — and cities can spearhead innovations with global impact by: Strengthening public health systems for COVID‑19 recovery and preparedness for the future; providing financial assistance to local business and expanding social protection measures, basic services and housing to support women, vulnerable groups and young people; building the infrastructure of the future and lock in low-emission, resilient development for decades; driving deep decarbonization through people-centred transformations of transport and buildings; leveraging technology and digitalization to deliver equitable solutions efficiently and at scale; and managing land growth and scaling nature-based solutions for the benefit of all.

The pandemic must be an inflection point to rethink and reset how we live, interact and build our cities.  We need a bold new narrative and long-term strategic thinking.  The Council on Urban Initiatives has an important role in reframing how we think about cities and urban governance, shape the international agenda, share best practices and fast-track innovation.

But, cities cannot go it alone.  Cities need coordinated support from all levels of Government; strong partnerships with the private sector and civil society; and the fiscal and policy space to bring solutions to scale.  Most cities, especially those in developing countries, are unable to access international climate finance.  They must have the resources they need to implement the climate action the world needs.

The United Nations is fully committed to working with you to connect the local with the global and together achieve green, just and healthy cities that help us to deliver on our global commitments.  I wish you a successful launch and look forward to hearing your ideas.  Thank you.

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