City Mayors Respond to Urban Poor through Climate Action

On 8 December 2015, Mayor James Nxumalo of Durban, South Africa and Vice President of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability joined Councillor Wayne Walker of Auckland, New Zealand, member of the ICLEI Regional Executive Committee for Oceania; Amal-Lee Amin, Division Chief of Infrastructure and Environmental Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB); and Cristiana Fragola, Regional Director for Europe and Middle East at 100 Resilient Cities for a panel discussion focusing on the positive impacts of climate action on the urban poor. The session was convened as part of the Momentum for Change Initiative led by the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.

The panelists opened the session by discussing how climate action helps the urban poor fight the effects of climate change while improving their livelihoods. Mayor Nxumalo of Durban highlighted the rapid rate of migration from rural areas to cities and towns in South Africa, which is a particular challenge for cities such as Durban that are experiencing a high rate of population growth. To address the vulnerability experienced by the urban poor and migrants, Durban is connecting its citizens with the surrounding ecosystem.

“We need to put our communities and ecosystems at the forefront of climate adaptation,” Mayor Nxumalo stated. To this end, the city has created a system of community-based ecosystem adaptation, hiring hundreds of citizens, primarily consisting of women, to support afforestation. Durban aims to replicate this model across the city.

Councillor Walker explained that cities in New Zealand are taking in displaced low-income individuals from other island states, which presents challenges when it comes to integrating the new population. To address this challenge, it is important that cities establish programs to deal with climate, resilience, renewables, ecomobility and biodiversity, among other issues to ensure that the urban poor have access to clean air, safe water, safe food, ecomobility and shelter. The poor must also be included in processes to develop those strategies.

The discussion transitioned to questions around how to replicate climate actions that benefit the urban poor, during which Mayor Nxumalo and Councillor Walker emphasized the importance of knowledge sharing through national and global city networks such as ICLEI. Furthermore, Nxumalo explained, “we have to make sure we are able to educate our people” such that they are well equipped to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Councillor Walker also suggested that additional resources be used to better equip the urban poor for the impacts of climate change, by using carbon pricing to shift money away from fossil fuel industries and toward the urban poor and renewable energy industries.

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About Momentum for Change

Momentum for Change is an initiative spearheaded by the UN Climate Change secretariat to shine a light on the enormous groundswell of activities underway across the globe that are moving the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future. Momentum for Change recognizes innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.

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