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BRIEF April 22, 2021

Advancing Climate Action and Resilience through an Urban Lens

Aerial view of Mumbai at sunset

View of Mumbai showing the Bandra Worli Sea Link/Shutterstock


Cities are on the frontlines of the global climate emergency. Although cities occupy only 2% of land area, they consume over two-thirds of the world’s energy and account for over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Cities are also the world’s major growth engine, generating more than 80% of global GDP, while helping millions of people lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

Urban centers’ share of emissions is only expected to grow, as urban areas accommodate 2.5 billion additional inhabitants by 2050 including rural-to-urban migrants in search of better livelihoods and quality of life -- or those who are forced to migrate due to  conflict and increasingly frequent climate disasters.

When planned for and managed well, urbanization contributes to economic growth and poverty alleviation, as well to sustainability and climate change mitigation. Unplanned growth, however, results in a proliferation of slums, congestion, pollution, lack of affordable housing, poor access to sanitation and waste management, and vulnerability to natural hazards, which are exacerbated by climate change.

An estimated 1 billion people live in informal settlements. In addition, the number of people affected by natural hazards tripled to two billion in the past decade – impacting the poor disproportionately. Global average annual losses from disasters in the built environment are now estimated at $314 billion and could rise to $415 billion by 2030, pushing 77 million more urban residents into poverty.

If managed well, the physical and economic density of cities can provide the impetus for technological change and infrastructure investments that support low-carbon development. The built environment of cities shapes the preference for public transit use, which is essential to reduce GHG emissions.

When cities grow vertically rather than sprawl horizontally, floor space per inhabitant increases, avoiding crowding while offering densities that justify public transport investments.

Retrofitting buildings to lower energy use and resource consumption, and redesigning cities to increase green spaces and promote walking and biking, will generate savings over time, create jobs and yield long-term climate benefits. In addition to enhancing livability and sustainability, investments in public spaces, sidewalks and bicycle lanes at the expense of vehicular (road and parking) space require relatively limited public outlays at a time where municipal revenues are constrained.

World Bank Strategy

As the world continues to urbanize, how cities are built and managed will determine the trajectory of GHG emissions. By making the right low-carbon investments and tackling deep-seated inequalities, especially in terms of access to land, housing, infrastructure and municipal services, governments and city leaders can avoid locking-in unsustainable infrastructure, create much-needed jobs and transform their economies so that they are more inclusive, resilient and sustainable.

The World Bank’s work in urban development aims to support this objective, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable as well as the World Bank’s goals to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. Transforming cities is a key component of the Bank’s first Climate Change Action Plan (2016-2020) and forthcoming update covering 2021-2025.

The Bank works with countries to integrate or enhance low-carbon considerations into urban planning, policy and investment. This approach includes investments that improve urban air quality, promote green buildings, support solid-waste management and circular-economy approaches, and provide clean and active urban mobility, open green spaces and nature-based solutions for urban cooling, wastewater management and urban biodiversity.

Several partnerships and collaborative initiatives are also geared toward this common goal:  

  • The World Bank and the European Investment Bank are implementing the City Climate Finance Gap Fund, a new partnership supporting the development of a pipeline of climate-smart investment projects to enable green, inclusive, resilient, creative, and competitive cities in developing countries. Through donor support, technical assistance, and targeted finance of at least €100 million (approx. $117 million), the Gap Fund aims to unlock an estimated €4 billion ($4.7 billion) to help cities transform climate ambition into finance-ready projects.
  • The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is a global partnership and grant-funding mechanism managed by the World Bank, supporting disaster risk management projects worldwide and helping developing countries better understand and reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change. GFDRR works with over 400 local, national, regional, and international partners, to build resilience, by providing knowledge, funding, and technical assistance.
  • The City Resilience Program (CRP) – a partnership between the Bank and GFDRR – is a multi-donor initiative for mainstreaming risk considerations in planning and increasing financing for urban resilience. As a starting point for engaging with cities to support them in effectively planning for resilience, the CRP has delivered 55 City Scans which provide a series of maps, visualizations, and analysis which spatially lay out the city’s risk information and the built environment.
  • The Bank’s Global Platform for Sustainable Cities is a partnership and knowledge platform to promote integrated solutions and cutting-edge knowledge for cities seeking to improve their resilience and overall urban sustainability. It includes 28 cities across 11 countries that have received $151 million from the Global Environment Facility and leveraged $2.4 billion in project co-financing.

Recent World Bank analytical work in this area includes:

Project Results:

  • Using low-cost digital tools, the Tanzania Urban Resilience Program,  a DfID-funded initiative jointly implemented by the World Bank and the Government of Tanzania, was able to conduct flood modelling for the city at a fraction of the cost and with greater accuracy than traditional surveys.  The program has also created an innovative Resilience Academy, where students learn practical digital skills while working to make their countries safer from climate change. Using drones and household surveys, students mapped the whole island of Zanzibar, for example.
  • The Mozambique Cities and Climate Change Project includes a stormwater drainage system whose 11 kilometers of canals and flood control systems to prevent the city from flooding, strengthening the city’s resilience to weather-related hazards. Soon after cyclones Idai and Kenneth hit and affected millions of people, the port of Beira was back in operation and the city was cleaned up, partly thanks to this project which also includes solar-powered street lighting, which at one point was the only source of light in the city.

  • In Belize, the Bank supported the national government in developing and implementing the National Climate Resilient Investment Plan (NCRIP) through the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project, which helped position the country to leverage additional climate financing from international financing institutions.

  • An estimated 10 million tons of CO2 emissions will be avoided over the next 20 years as a result of a World Bank-supported national waste management project in Azerbaijan. In addition to investments to improve the environmental conditions of the existing waste disposal sites in the capital city, including landfill gas capture, the project has supported measures to increase waste collection and reduce indiscriminatory dumping, the development of the National Waste Management Strategy, institutional and capacity building activities to improve operations, management, communication, data collection and planning.

  • In Eastern Caribbean countries, the Bank has mobilized over $200 million to enhance climate resilience and strategically reducing their vulnerability to climate change and disasters caused by natural hazards, including $83 million from the Strategic Climate Fund, and immediately following disasters (e.g., Saint Lucia Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project).

  • The Indonesia National Slum Upgrading Program  supports community-led planning and infrastructure delivery in 6,000 slums across the country. The project has mainstreamed disaster risk reduction at the community level, focusing on flood and fire prevention. About 1.5 million meters of drainage have been built through the project, in addition to improved road access for emergency vehicles. It has also scaled up its cash for works program, creating two million work days of employment benefiting 1,000 poor communities to support the country’s post-COVID-19 recovery efforts.  

  • The $120 million IDA-funded Sindh Resilience Project in Pakistan helped mitigate flood and drought risks in selected areas and strengthened the Government of Sindh's capacity to manage natural disasters. About 3.3 million people across the province have benefitted from project interventions till date.

  • The $784 million Sustainable Cities Program in Turkey is working with diverse municipalities in mainstreaming sustainability and climate and disaster resilience in both city planning and a range of sustainable city infrastructure needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change, such as stormwater, emergency response, solid waste, renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable urban transport, and social amenities. The Turkish government is also looking to scale up ways to enhance the resilience of cities. With World Bank support, the government carried out three citywide disaster and climate risk assessments to identify key infrastructure and housing that require urban resilience investments – such as housing retrofitting, drainage improvements, public space, and social infrastructure, among others.

  • The Scaling-up Urban Upgrading Project in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Region has brought innovations to urban upgrading approaches through mainstreaming green infrastructure and universal accessibility in its sub-investments financed under the project. The region is highly impacted by climate change and suffers from intense flooding along with other major natural disasters, and also is known for its high incidence of disabilities, mobility challenges and a lack of accessibility, which is gaining importance in the context of its rapidly aging population. In consultation with the national and local governments, a series of hands-on technical assistance on green infrastructure and universal accessibility was offered to clients over the course of three years: improvement for investment designs in roads, canals, resettlement sites, development of Green Infrastructure and Universal Accessibility Design Guidelines for national-scale application and through a series of training courses for Government officials.