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Lessons from five daring cities that are paving the way toward a just and equitable climate emergency response

Throughout this year, hundreds of cities, towns, and regions have gathered at Daring Cities 2023 to discuss their approaches in the face of the climate emergency. These exchanges have produced a set of key findings, which emerge from three core pillars: justice and equity, innovative climate solutions, and multilevel action. 

So, how does this translate into practice? Daring Cities 2023 showcased many real-life cases that provide inspiration for other local governments to follow suit.

Daring Cities 2023 Key Finding #I: Justice and equity should be at the core of the response to the climate emergency

1. Recife, Brazil: Promoting gender-responsive solutions

In May 2022, the city experienced torrential rains. More than 50,000 properties were impacted by floods and landslides, leaving 3,500 people homeless and around 100 dead. The disaster revealed a social gap: women, especially those from black communities living on hills and precarious slopes, were the most affected. 

Bridging these inequalities, Recife implemented the Urban Requalification and Resilience Program in Socio-environmentally Vulnerable Areas – ProMorar Recife. This six-year initiative aims to offer decent, safe, regularized housing with all the infrastructure that families living under socio-environmental vulnerability deserve. Its transversal axis incorporates gender equity as an indicator to evaluate the program’s results. 

The project covers the regularization of settlements, guaranteeing the property’s title to the residents, especially for those women-led households. There are also training courses where 1,000 women will be certified in productive inclusion and another 500 as community leaders in climate disaster risk management. Overall, the program is expected to benefit more than 110,000 inhabitants. Due to Recife’s longstanding commitment to addressing climate disaster risks with an inclusive lens, the city has been recognized as a Resilience Node by the Global Coordinating Committee of the Building Resilient Cities 2030 initiative (MCR 2030), of which ICLEI is part.

Watch the Daring Cities 2023 session: Who gets what in a climate disaster?


2. Avellaneda, Argentina: Towards 100% renewable energy for all

“Will the energy we use for transportation, sanitary water, heating, or cooking today be the same one we will use in the future? How is our local energy matrix supplied? What is the local potential for renewable energy development?” These are some of the questions Avellaneda has asked itself to reach its ambitious goal: to transition to 100% renewable energy by 2050.

The city was chosen in 2020 as a ‘deep-dive city’ in the 100% Renewable Energy: Cities & Regions Roadmap. This ICLEI-led initiative offers technical assistance to local governments in their just energy transition. Navigating Avellaneda’s energy shift has involved scrutinizing national and supranational regulatory frameworks and pinpointing local renewable energy schemes for immediate and mid-term execution. In its strides towards this ambition, the city is adopting LED technology in its road network, deploying energy-efficiency measures in public buildings, and setting up solar-powered stations in green urban areas for recharging mobiles and heating water. This initiative aims to raise awareness among its residents about the everyday benefits of these cutting-edge technologies.

Watch the Daring Cities 2023 session (in Spanish): Implementar una transición energética justa y equitativa: lecciones de los municipios argentinos


Daring Cities 2023 Key Finding #II: Cities are already providing innovative climate solutions on the ground

3. Teinainno Urban Council and Betio Town Council, Kiribati: Resilience building through bottom-up collaboration

Kiribati, a low-lying, Small Island Developing State in the Pacific, is among the most financially challenged and vulnerable regions. The country grapples with the escalating impacts of climate change and sea-level rise, owing to its territory elevation, not exceeding 3 meters above sea level, primarily composed of coral sand. Seawater regularly floods the roads and villages due to spring tides or onshore winds. As a result, the ground has become salty, hindering the growth of vegetables. Similarly, the salinity level of the water makes it unfit for drinking.

Since November 2022, the Blue-Green Development in Kiribati project has aimed to build resilience to climate change and pandemic impacts by curbing dependence on external supplies and services. Ten local communities in the Teinainno Urban Council and Betio Town Council partake in this project, which operates on a bottom-up collaboration approach, meaning that the project’s governance remains within the community, respecting their “maneaba” system which involves an inclusive dialogue process where each participant has a voice. 

This approach has yielded unique evidence to identify priorities and working methods. Primary community concerns revolve around food security underpinning the need for climate-resilient home gardening skills and aquaponic gardening for those communities whose soils have become salty, using composted seaweed and organics and trialing Biochar to combat salinity and retain moisture. Potential initiatives include livestock management, a community-based horticulture training hub, commercial beach seaweed composting, and sea grape cultivation as a food source. The emphasis is on local expertise, where Kiribati’s knowledge of atoll horticulture has been an ancient practice. 

Watch the Daring Cities 2023 session: Building resilience in Small Island Developing States: Community-centered approaches


4. Cape Town, South Africa: Integrating nature-based solutions into the urban landscape

For years, the Hout Bay community, a seaside suburb of Cape Town, lived with a sand problem: due to the wind, the area’s dunes have been migrating, burying city infrastructure and private properties under the sand. The Hout Bay Dune Rehabilitation Project was implemented to reduce the impact of the mobile dune system. How? Instead of heavy machinery, they used wind net installation, marram grass planting, dune thicket vegetation planting and seeding, selective irrigation, and intensive maintenance. These nature-based solutions were key to the now-established and stable dune system. The project also considered the Expanded Public Work Programme by selecting ten workers from the local sub-council database who benefitted from the temporary employment opportunities and green skills development, where they trained on wind net management, maintenance, seed collection, plant propagation, ecology, irrigation management, and fertilizer application.

Between 2015 and 2018, Cape Town endured a drought that brought the city to severe water scarcity. The New Water Programme aims to develop additional water supplies to increase reliability and produce approximately 300 million liters (Ml) per day through groundwater abstraction, desalination, and water reuse by 2030. One of its projects considers removing alien invasive plants -pines, gums, wattles, eucalyptus- responsible for losing 55 billion liters of water a year -approximately two months of water for Cape Town-. 

The plant clearing plan focuses on mountain catchment areas, feeding important water supply dams for the city, thus maximizing the surface run-off yield and rehabilitating the area. To turn water losses into gains, 54,300 ha has to be cleared, making this the most cost-effective and sustainable way to secure Cape Town’s water supply and meet future water demands.

Watch the Daring Cities 2023 session: CitiesWithNature supports local governments in the climate emergency with nature-based solutions


Daring Cities 2023 Key Finding #III: Multilevel action is the new normal in the global climate agenda

5. Concord, New Hampshire, USA: Pioneering the local stocktake

“Where are we, where do we want to go, and how do we get there?” Those were the questions that the city of Concord asked its community last 22nd of May when they hosted the first-ever local stocktake event at the City Wide Community Center. Following the toolkit provided by the LGMA Constituency on how to host a mini-Cop, the city gathered its representatives, such as the Planning and Finance Departments, the Energy and Environment, Transportation, Conservation and Solid Waste committees, as well as the Concord School District and members of climate NGOs and civil society to discuss around Concord’s climate goals on achieving 100% renewable thermal and transportation energy by 2050, with an interim goal of renewable electricity by 2030. 

The event emphasized the role of the local community in addressing the global Paris Agreement goals and the influence of national policies on local decision-making. Key outcomes included the community’s need for access to low-cost renewable energies at a residential level, demanding more choices and control over their electric supply. These results will be reported to the UNFCCC ahead of COP28 in Dubai. In the meantime, the city took this event as a practical kickoff exercise to further community engaging climate discussions through additional meetings to create a feedback loop between authorities, business stakeholders and residents, understanding that multilevel actions start from the bottom up.

Watch the Daring Cities 2023 session: How to host a mini-COP in your townhall: Localizing the global stocktake



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