Mayors and officials from more than 200 cities worldwide are gathering in Seoul this week to talk urban sustainability at the ICLEI World Congress.
They won’t be the people negotiating a global climate deal in Paris this December. But they have arguably more power to make climate action happen.
As Won-soon Park, mayor of Seoul and incoming president of ICLEI puts it: “A president talks about principles, but a mayor collects garbage.”
Here are five reasons cities are essential in global efforts to slash emissions and protect people from the impacts of climate change.
1) Cities are where people live…
Some 54% of the world’s population lives in cities today. That is expected to rise to more than two thirds by 2050 and 90% by the end of the century.
Most of the growth will come from Asia and Africa, with the UN estimating India alone will add 400 million urban-dwellers by 2050.
In China alone cities will be home to close to 1 billion people, or 70% of the population.
2) …and emit
Some 80% of global emissions, according to Mayor Park, come from urban areas. People are drawn to jobs in factories. They generate wealth, they buy cars, they buy new goods.
3) They are increasingly vulnerable
As more and more people flock to cities to improve their prospects, many end up in densely packed and cheaply built housing.
There, they are often exposed to risks of sea level rise, flooding and storms.
“The urban climate change risks, vulnerabilities and impacts are increasing,” warns Hoesung Lee, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “These risks are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities.”