As the world continues to manage pandemic-related challenges, C40 cities are taking urgent action to rebuild their economies and achieve a fair, inclusive and green recovery

Side view of motion blurred unrecognizable cyclist riding bike against West Lake, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
© xia yuan / Getty Images

The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by cities, communities and individuals globally. But it is the most vulnerable in society whose health, wellbeing and economic security have been hit hardest. The impacts continue to be particularly acute for the poorest communities worldwide, as well as those in the Global South – two groups that have long suffered environmental injustices as a result of the climate emergency.

The pandemic exposed the inextricable link between public health, the environment and the economy. As well as being at the forefront of challenges including poverty, inequality and unemployment, cities are also on the frontlines of the climate emergency. This is why C40 cities across the globe are pursuing a fair and inclusive recovery from the pandemic. It is clear that this is the only way cities and their residents can secure a more healthy, resilient and prosperous future where everyone can thrive.

Bike sharing in Hangzhou

In May 2008, the Chinese city of Hangzhou launched the Hangzhou Bicycle Service, a bike share scheme to provide residents with a clean, convenient and low-cost way of navigating the city. The project was introduced to take action on air pollution, traffic and parking in the city. Since the launch and up to the end of 2019, more than 1 billion journeys had been made on public bicycles – equivalent to reducing over 1.3 million tons of carbon emissions from reduced car use. 

Despite the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the Hangzhou Bicycle Service was able to remain in operation thanks to careful disinfection and maintenance. Throughout the year, nearly 80 million journeys were taken using public bikes, allowing a safe, efficient and green means of travel during the pandemic. Alongside improvements in public transport and road infrastructure in the city, the Hangzhou Bicycle Service has contributed to the city’s efforts to adhere to the Beautiful China Initiative, the nationwide plan for China’s sustainable development.

Food security in Quezon City

Food security has been a crucial aspect of Quezon City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has been introducing urban farms on unused land through its urban agriculture programme GrowQC. The programme is targeted at residents most impacted by COVID-19, including those who became unemployed as a result of the pandemic. 

Quezon City, Philippines: urban farming
© Joy of Urban Farming / C40

The creation of urban community farms has provided Quezon City residents with a sustainable source of fresh and nutritious vegetables, and has significantly reduced transport and agriculture-related emissions. Within a year of the programme launch, GrowQC distributed 52,374 seed starter kits, created 41 school-based urban gardens, and developed a further 166 gardens and seven model farms, involving 49 separate civic organisations. GrowQC has enhanced the livelihoods of 868 urban farmers, 258 displaced workers and 298 vendors, helpers and jeepney drivers. Due to the city’s improvements to its food systems, residents of Quezon City are becoming more food-self-reliant and self-sufficient.

Clean, green travel in Medellín

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Medellín worked hard to improve public transport and encourage walking and cycling. It has built 11.6 kilometres of temporary bike lanes to promote active travel and tackle pollution caused by the use of private vehicles. The city is planning to increase its bike lane network to 53 kilometres by 2023.

Medellín is also electrifying its transport network. The city has expanded its electric bus fleet and purchased 64 electric 80-passenger buses, meaning 69 battery electric buses are now in operation. In addition, the operator Masivo de Occidente has purchased four 40-passenger electric buses with a charging infrastructure of 0.4 MVA. Medellín is also expanding its mass transit network, with the construction of an additional 27 stops along the O Line and five stations on the 2 Line. 

To drive uptake in electric vehicles and reduce emissions from fossil-fuel-powered cars and trucks, the city has also built two electric charging points with a capacity of 3 megavolt-amperes (MVA). Residents and visitors are now benefitting from expanded and improved public and active transport options to travel through the city.

Protecting residents from extreme heat in Barcelona

Heat waves are expected to become more intense and frequent because of the climate crisis. In Barcelona there is currently a heat wave every four years on average. That frequency is expected to multiply by eight in the best of cases and up to 16 in the worst. 

In order to protect the most vulnerable in society, including the elderly, Barcelona has established a Climate Shelter Network Programme. The network is open to the public, providing a safe, cool and accessible space for residents in high temperatures, especially those who do not have access to cooling in their homes.

Barcelona has scaled up the number of shelters from 155 in 2021, to 202 climate shelters in 2022. The city has also trained 246 home care workers to provide energy poverty advice to their service users who include the elderly and the most vulnerable residents in the city.

Food resilience in Johannesburg

In Johannesburg, one out of every four people goes to bed without a meal. In the poorest neighbourhoods, that number increases to one in two—meaning one-half of all residents are left hungry. Because food insecurity is such a serious problem, the city has invested in a food resilience programme. The programme has already established 50 cooperatives, four new farms and an urban agri-zone, where farmers can grow and sell produce.

This programme is a critical way to expand local food production and generate local revenue by encouraging the growth of this sector in line with Johannesburg’s Climate Action Plan. Increasing jobs in agriculture and food production results in numerous positive impacts, including increased self-reliance, more local produce, better nutrition, and healthier and more sustainable communities with greater social equality.

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