It’s not all about megacities. Small and medium municipalities join forces to deliver impactful climate action.

Cities have been making headlines this COP, but it’s often the climate action of big player metropoles that we see showcased. Small and medium cities have been mobilizing with the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM) to take on the climate crisis. At the session ‘Accelerating local climate action in medium & small municipalities committed to the GCoM:  looking at good practices across the Americas’ their leaders tell us how and why.

The rise of microcities

More than 50% of the world’s population live in urban areas today. That’s set to increase to at least 68% by 2050. But what’s the breakdown within cities? According to Jennifer Lenhart, Global Lead of WWF Cities, by 2030, cities with a population below one million residents will account for 32-40% of the total population, demonstrating that it’s not just the biggest cities that will need to adapt to population increases within a changing climate.

Smaller cities are more likely to experience funding and capacity issues as they simultaneously work to provide the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a larger citizen body and strengthen their climate action. Lenhart points out that higher rates of urban poverty and intra-city competition present further obstacles for smaller and medium cities as they respond to climate impacts. Barcelona is just one city feeling the heat.

“Barcelona is a global destination surrounded by a metropolitan area of 3 million people. But that also includes many micro-municipalities. We have industrial areas, forests… Some of our municipalities do not have enough technological or financial resources to implement ambitious climate action. We are already trying to do our part by giving our support to these municipalities, but we cannot do it alone. It’s important they receive support from other levels of governments, as well as the EU”

Nuria Marín, President of the Diputación de Barcelona


One factor contributing to population growth in smaller municipalities is a direct consequence of the climate emergency: climate migration. Mike Kelly, mayor of Roeland Park, Kansas, US, touched on how very real climate effects were creating novel patterns of migration towards small and medium municipalities.

“We know that climate migration is real and we expect half a million people to come our way (to the State of Kansas, US) in the next decades. But financial resources, capacity, and skilled people are all difficult to find in small and medium cities like ours. America’s polarization on climate change and science does not help.”

– Mike Kelly

Getting the data to deliver 1.5°C

Across the board, small and medium municipalities were turning to data tools and finance mechanisms to help overcome these barriers. Using locally-generated, scientific data to assess where they were on their climate goal trajectories, smaller cities have been able to decide what actions are necessary to align themselves with the 1.5 °C goals of the Paris Agreement.

WWF Cities’ One Planet City Challenge seeks to support municipalities on their 1.5°C journey. The challenge propels municipalities forward as they work towards their climate goals by raising their global profile and using CDP-ICLEI’s globally recognized reporting system. It also ensures their approaches are transparent, inclusive and foster the trust of citizens – their most important implementing partners. To this end, WWF Cities has just launched the Transforming Cities Together guide, which looks specifically at increasing public engagement.

“We need to know exactly what’s happening and what we need to do, and do that in a scientific way.”

– Shauna Sylvester, Professor of Professional Practice, Simon Fraser University

Navigating finance hurdles

Smaller cities still face the conundrum of accessing financial instruments, often caught in a catch-22 of needing to be big enough to warrant investment from the private sector, whilst needing to remain small enough to maintain their community connectivity and the sense of solidarity that enables them to act where larger metropoles cannot.

Attracting investment to these regions is crucial for the continuation of their climate work, says Fernanda de Souza Hassem César, Mayor of Brasiléia, Brazil. Size matters too when municipalities apply for public funding, with conditions regulating who can access what based on factors including population or geographical size.

 “Not all subnational governments in Argentina have the same rules to finance climate action, and that creates difficulties, especially for small and medium sized cities. While the national and some regional governments in Argentina cannot agree on how to deal with climate change and how to advance climate action, groups of cities and mayors are already coming together to act in a more ambitious way, leading the way.”

Dr. Carlos Briner, Mayor of Bell Ville, Argentina.

GCoM as a convener of municipal climate action

The Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM), the largest global alliance for city climate leadership, is supporting cities as they address increasing urbanization, a growing need for local climate data and financial constraints.

“Through the support of GCoM, we were able to create a regional climate plan, with a comprehensive emission inventory and climate vulnerability assessment. Sure, it’s not as local as at the city level, but it’s a great blueprint for now to understand what’s going to happen and where we need to act.”

– Mike Kelly, Mayor of Roeland Park, Kansas City Metro Region, USA

GCoM’s strength, says Lima’s mayor and GCoM Board Member, Jorge Muñoz Wells, is that it understands the importance of supporting all municipalities, not just big cities. “GCoM does just that. It helps us all understand where we are and where we need to go, through assessments of our current local situation, tools and training.”

The alliance pushes for city to city collaboration, rather than competition and creates a unified voice that puts smaller and medium sized cities in the global arena. With the ethos of stronger together, its commitment and network has helped members access guidance and knowledge, obtain financial support and receive visibility and recognition for their ambitious climate action.

 “Cities building is nation building!”

– Dawn Arnold, Mayor of Moncton, Canada

As COP26 closes, GCoM will continue to join together small and medium sized cities, alongside their largest counterparts, to ensure all municipalities can continue to act and lead in securing a resilient 1.5°C future for all.


Photo Credits: Dimitry Anikin, Unsplash