‘Beat the heat’: UN challenges cities to add nature-based solutions to climate crisis

A giraffe in Nairobi National Park in Kenya with the city in the background. The UN encourages cities to adopt nature-based climate solutions, such as increasing urban forests, green belts and parks. WLDavies / E+ / Getty Images

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If you’ve ever sweated in an urban setting Heat waveit will not be difficult for you to understand why cities are incredibly vulnerable to climate crisis. Cities are heating twice as fast as the global average, and by 2100 they could be on average four degrees Celsius warmer than they are now.

To help reduce the heat, the United Nations Environment Program and its nonprofit and academic partners launched a challenge this year COP27 United Nations Climate Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for vulnerable urban areas in the South to adopt nature-based solutions like increasing urban forests, green belts and parks.

“We came to COP27 at a time of global crisis, but these crises are a reason to increase our climate ambition, not reduce it. The objective of the challenge – to develop nature-based solutions to combat the impacts of climate change in cities – is important,” said Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, global head of climate and energy at WWF – the one of the groups behind the initiative – in a press. press release emailed to EcoWatch. “Cities play a key role in avoiding the most severe impacts of global warming and it is important that we champion ambitious and sustainable efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.”

High temperatures are a major threat to public health in cities. The urban heat island effect occurs because cities build on pre-existing nature with heat-absorbing materials used to pave roads and construct buildings, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This puts city dwellers – especially those in predominantly minority or low-income neighborhoods – at increased risk of related to heat disease and death.

Given that the increase in urban heat is linked to the climate crisis, finding a solution is not as simple as expanding access to air conditioner, as a 2021 Lancet article titled “Health in a World of Extreme Heat” pointed out. This is because it burns energy which contributes to global warming and is often unaffordable for the most vulnerable. Instead, the authors recommended nature-based cooling solutions.

“Because extreme heat has greater effects on the health of people in urban settings, green spaces are crucial for cooling in cities, but also offer co-benefits: they reduce exposure to air pollution and sound, relieve stress, provide a framework for social interaction. and physical activity, and sequester carbon,” the study authors wrote.

UNEP seeks these solutions through the cool coalition, a group that also includes WWF, EforALL, Mission Innovation, RMI, World Resources Institute, University of Oxford and Durham University, among others. The coalition announced the Beat the Heat: The Nature for Cool Cities Challenge Wednesday.

The challenge has three goals, according to the coalition’s website:

  1. Show the effectiveness of nature-based solutions to cool cities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy demand.
  2. Raise funds to develop effective solutions.
  3. Let developers and funders know that there is a demand for these solutions.

The challenge would see municipal and regional governments in the Global South commit to increasing the relative number of nature-based solutions in their urban areas by 2030 and show evidence that progress has been made by 2025. donors should also set quantitative and financial targets. and promise three concrete actions for implementation.

The first pledge was made by the County Governor of Homa Bay in Kenya, Her Excellency Gladys Wanga, who pledged to integrate nature-based solutions into affordable housing in Homa Bay. The full list of pledges and their funders will be announced at next year’s COP28 climate conference.

“To make peace with nature, we need to rebuild our cities with nature in mind,” Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, director of UNEP’s Economics Division, said in the press release. “But truly replicable nature-based solutions require a partnership between local governments, the private sector, experts and practitioners. It is critical that financial institutions, investors and businesses step up and help make this vision a reality.

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