Graphic designed by C40 that reads: "How can we create water-safe cities?". The graphic contains C40's iconic visual language with illustrations representing climate finance and water-related climate action.
© C40

By Rebecca Ilunga, C40 Head of Adaptation Research and Mark Watts, C40 Executive Director

Water hazards pose an existential threat to our cities and communities, with floods and droughts becoming more frequent and severe due to the impacts of the climate crisis. Following the key conversations and demands laid out at the UN Water Conference 2023, urgent action is needed to ensure that our cities can both survive and thrive in the face of these challenges. 

Unless cities are able to invest now to improve their resilience to growing hazards from climate breakdown, there is a risk that their capacity to contribute to cutting emissions will be diminished. 

What can global leaders do to accelerate action, protect millions of lives, and create thriving, water-safe cities? Let’s explore:

1. Within five years, commit to implementing early flood warning systems for the 100 most at-risk cities

Resilience isn’t possible without a plan. That’s why it is a condition of C40 membership that every city has a plan to halve emissions and improve resilience.

However, there are major gaps in other areas of preparedness due to lack of investment. Only 42% of C40 cities, primarily in the Global North, have flood early warning systems and plans for vulnerable communities in place. For example, New York City’s flood warning system cost USD $7.2 million. According to the Global Commission for Adaptation, investing USD $800 million in early-warning systems in developing countries could avoid losses of USD $3 billion to USD $16 billion per year.

To help bridge the investment gap, we urge the United Arab Emirates, as the future COP28 Presidency, and all nation states to provide funding and support for the rapid implementation of early warning systems in cities.

2. Stop the worsening of flood risk caused by inadequate waste management

Lack of waste management clogs rivers and drainage, polluting waterways and increasing flood risk. The solution to this problem is simple – reduce waste and improve waste collection – but the vast majority of C40’s 54 Global South member cities can collect less than 50% of waste currently, highlighting the need for improved waste management infrastructure. 

This is a proven solution. In Durban, keeping waste out of rivers could yield USD $130 million of savings in damages to municipal infrastructure and create 9,000 permanent good, green jobs.

Riverine restoration programme in Durban (eThekwini). The photo shows a riverside scene with trees, homes and people enjoying a community space. Photo courtesy of Durban eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.
© Durban eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality

Meanwhile, Mumbai is improving solid waste management to reduce both waste pollution in rivers and the impact this has on extreme flooding events.

To support cities with the most waste-polluted rivers to reduce their flood risk, greater investment is needed for establishing coordinated, community-led programmes for waste collection and river cleaning.

3. Boost dedicated urban water resilience funding

Improving water resilience could have both economic gains and financial returns for cities and the planet, but the existing multilateral funding architecture lacks specific urban climate funds. 

C40 research shows that if cities take action today, millions of lives can be protected from the risks of severe flooding and drought by 2050, and billions of dollars in urban damages can be saved. 

C40 can demonstrate the pipeline of projects in C40 cities to help governments and multilateral agencies invest in over 100 sustainable water infrastructure projects. But to enable this and help cities reduce their climate risk, there is an urgent need for a dedicated urban green bank. 

We urge national leaders at COP28 to:

  • Establish an urban finance fund for city water projects with a target of at least USD $5 billion by 2025.
  • Take action and invest in early warning systems, waste management, and urban resilience to drought and flooding.

Failure to act now will have dire consequences for our cities and communities. We must be united in action to create water-safe cities where everyone can thrive.

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