UN-Habitat released today new research that looks at whether national climate action plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), have included urban priorities as a key focus. 

The findings come on the back of 72 countries joining the Coalition for High Ambition Multi-Level Partnerships, or ‘CHAMP’ initiative, which was launched at COP28 in Dubai and spearheaded by the COP28 Presidency and UN Special Envoy on Climate Solutions, Michael R. Bloomberg. The CHAMP-endorsing countries pledged to cooperate with their local governments in developing their climate strategies, including making their NDCs more ambitious ahead of COP30 in 2025.

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 in implementing ambitious local climate action plans 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 27% of NDCs included strong urban elements. The remaining 63% of NDCs have either ‘moderate’, ‘low’ or ‘no’ urban content in their climate commitments. 

Low- and middle-income economies lead the way in having ‘high’ urban content, including Colombia, Jordan, Morocco, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, while high-income economies such as Australia, Canada, European Union member states, Japan and the United States tend to have ‘moderate’, ‘low’ or ‘no’ urban content in their NDCs. 

The findings demonstrate the need for many nations to go further and seize the opportunity that cities offer to achieve decarbonisation targets. Multi-level partnerships between local and national levels can help close the gap between current commitments and global climate goals. 

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, C40 Co-Chair Mayor of Freetown, said: “As the level of government closest to citizens, cities have time and again proven themselves to be nimble, progressive and responsive. From decarbonising public transport systems to combating emissions from waste, mayors and governors are ‘doers’ when it comes to climate action. Cities across the globe stand ready to work together with national governments to collectively move further and faster.”

NDCs are a key element of the 2015 Paris Agreement adopted by 194 countries. They outline national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and describe plans to achieve them, along with climate adaptation actions. Countries are responsible for updating their respective NDCs every five years. The next round of revisions is due for submission in 2025.

In 2023, the first-ever review of global climate efforts, known as the Global Stocktake, concluded that the world is far off track from the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C, with a rapidly narrowing window to meet this commitment.

This new analysis highlights opportunities for countries to work with city leaders to increase urban content in climate plans and therefore set more ambitious goals to accelerate global climate action.

Michal Mlynár, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Acting Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said: “In an era marked by the climate crisis, decisive and collective action is crucial. As witnessed during the Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change, many national governments are committed to closer cooperation with local governments to shape climate strategies. In the context of Member States revising and updating their NDCs, the analysis from UN-Habitat showcases a prime opportunity to achieve our climate aspirations through swift multilevel climate action.”

Adnan Amin, CEO of COP28, said: “The COP28 Presidency highlighted the imperative of elevating our climate ambitions within this critical decade, signalling a transition into a new era of climate action. The recent research conducted by UN-Habitat underscores the necessity for a synergistic approach between national and local governmental entities to strengthen NDCs. This advancement can only be achieved through the inclusion and active participation of sub-national actors, emphasising their vital contribution to our shared commitment to a resilient and sustainable future.”

Download the full press release to learn more about the new research.

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