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The City of the Future: UNDP is re-imagining urban resilience to protect our people and our planet from climate change and build back greener from COVID-19

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Cities are on the forefront of climate change. In these buzzing centers of commerce and culture, millions of lives and livelihoods are being put at risk by the multiplying challenges posed by global pandemics, migration, rising seas, floods, spiking temperatures, environmental degradation, cataclysmic typhoons and uncontrolled wildfires.

Taken together, these impacts are forcing us to re-imagine the city of the future, and to put urban resilience at the forefront of the international agenda.

This work includes promoting climate resilient urban development and infrastructure, working with local governments to ensure risk-informed urban planning and budgeting, building the adaptive capacity of poor people living in urban settings, and using data and science to ensure informed decision making based on the risks posed by climate change. It also includes improved early warnings and climate information services, and integrated work with public health, clean energy, waste management, and other sectors – that together will also speed the green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

With over $200 million in investments from the vertical funds – including the Green Climate Fund, Global Environment Facility and Adaptation Fund – coupled with resources from bilateral donors, UNDP has protected over $220 million in vulnerable urban infrastructure over the past 12 years, and has supported local and national governments in developing over 50 disaster risk reduction plans for urban areas.

This investment in urban resilience will reap dividends in the future. Estimates of increased global economic costs from urban flooding – which is only getting worse as the result of climate change – are estimated to be around $1 trillion a year.

Responding to COVID-19

UNDP is leading the way in helping countries advance integrated approaches to inclusive, gender-equal and green economic recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic, including investments in long-term resilience building to address co-vulnerabilities of the climate and health crises, and rethink urban planning – and urban resilience – into the 21st century.

Africa offers a shocking illustration of challenges facing urban dwellers. This is the most rapidly urbanizing region in the world, with 50-70% of urban dwellers living in slums. Three out of four people on the continent are food insecure, more than 320 million people are without access to safely managed drinking water, and over half the population lack access to any sanitation (both in the countryside and in urban areas).

To address this a focus on climate-smart local governance is key. To connect urban plans with enhanced National Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement and broader climate actions, UNDP supports some 20 African countries in developing National Adaptation Plans (and 64 nations worldwide). With a new round of finance from the European Commission, the Africa Adaptation Initiative will also support this localized agenda for climate resilient economic development, and a programme funded by Germany and co-led with FAO will Scale up the Ambition of Land Use and Agriculture.

Other cross-cutting efforts are underway. Diversified food production and low-input sustainable agriculture will protect global food systems and supply chains, ecosystem-based solutions will protect vital coastal infrastructure, and climate services are scaling up in places like Malawi, where people are receiving live-saving COVID-19 alerts via the early warning system.

Implemented in partnership with WHO with finance from the GEF, the ‘Building Resilience of Health Systems in Asian Least Developed Countries to Climate Change’ project is working in six Least Developed countries – Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Timor-Leste – to improve hygiene in health care facilities, implement climate resilient water safety plans, build capacity for health professionals, and disseminate health-related technical guidelines. All of this works toward urban resilience, and a better future for people living in the world’s cities.

Flood Protection in Samoa

A Small Island Developing State, Samoa is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and rising seas. In 2012, Cyclone Evan ripped through the country, flooding rivers, taking lives and causing an estimated $200 million in damage. When the Vaisigano River crested, it tore roads and bridges apart, flooded Central Apia, and pushed thousands of people from their homes.

Working with UNDP, the government of Samoa launched a series of projects to address flood risks, leverage ridge-to-reef approaches to restore ecosystems, and enhance plans and adaptive capacity with financing from the GEF.

In scaling up these projects, and building integrated and comprehensive flood management solutions for the Vaisigano River Catchment, the Government launched a US$65 million GCF-financed project in 2017. The project will benefit 30 percent of the population.

While investing in flood-proofing infrastructure in the flood-prone river catchments of the capital Apia – including drainage and sewage systems, river floodwalls and bridges – the project will establish a health surveillance system to track flood-related health issues, help institute better building practices and expand the coverage of early warning systems.

Taken together, these protections are enhancing coping mechanisms for people living in the city and region.

To build a strong economy – and even stronger environment – the project includes ecosystem-based adaptation enterprise development, cash for work, and payment for ecosystem services.


As governments finalize their updated Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement and work to rethink their economies and urban areas in light of COVID-19, work is accelerating across the globe to build more resilience in vulnerable urban areas.

In Liberia, coastal resilience projects financed by the GEF are protecting informal settlements and valuable coastal infrastructure. This is paving the way for further coastal resilience project development under the GCF in Liberia as well as projects in Nigeria and Mozambique, all focused on helping the most vulnerable urban poor reduce their risk from climate change. In Asia and the Pacific, cities in Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan are working with UNDP to assess risks and launch ‘resilience roadmaps’ to guide future investment in resilience.