Nature-based solutions in MENA Cities: A key theme across the MENA Climate Week

This blog was written by León Díaz-Bone, Dr Nuha Eltinay, Madison Hodges, and Heba Mousa from ICLEI World Secretariat.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region, identified as a climate change hot spot by the IPCC, faces immense challenges in adapting to climate impacts and achieving a just transition. Cities, often located in low-lying coastal areas with a high concentration of population, infrastructure, and assets, are the frontline response to many climate-related hazards. While countries in the MENA Region have increased their climate commitments by updating their NDCs, cities are still struggling to understand the costs and potential economic risks of climate change at the local level. At the same time, these cities bear great potential as drivers for climate action and can contribute to a just transition, given the appropriate resources. About 65% of MENA’s population lives in urban areas – exceeding the global average of 55% – and these areas consume about 78% of countries’ energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. The potential for an energy transition is heightened by the regions’ natural resources: MENA receives 22-26% of all solar energy striking the Earth and 75% of the region experiences wind speeds eligible for utility-scale wind farms.

To discuss these issues, key actors of the international and regional climate community gathered in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from 8-12 October for the 2nd UNFCCC MENA Climate Week, which included a dedicated Track on cities, urban and rural settlements, infrastructure and transport. The MENA Climate Week is one in a series of UNFCCC Regional Climate Weeks that aim to drive regional implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

Following Hurricane Daniel in Derna, Libya, the first response was largely delayed due to damage to the road infrastructure entering the city and connecting the eastern and western sides of the valley, practically isolating several neighborhoods. A larger focus on these sessions was paid to climate adaptation and resilience, which was discussed with particular focus on protecting urban populations from heatwaves, designing climate resilient infrastructure systems and buildings, as well as integrating nature-based solutions into adaptation measures.

One of the ambitious pioneers in the region is ICLEI Member Greater Amman Municipality, which was represented by Nisreen Daoud, Manager of the Amman Sustainable Development and Resilience Unit. Amman was the first city in the region to conduct a GHG inventory and formulated a Resilience Strategy geared towards 2030, which was released in 2017. 2 years later, in 2019, the city followed up by presenting an ambitious Climate Action Plan that includes a Climate Neutrality Target by 2050, with a 40% reduction by 2030. More recently, the city is working actively to integrate nature based solutions into its urban landscape to manage local microclimates and protect its citizens from heatwaves. 

As a speaker in the cities’ track session on Multilevel Governance and access to finance, Ms. Daoud shared the need to coordinate with different levels of government for successful implementation and mobilization of resources. Amman and other Jordanian cities were consulted in the formulation of the updated Jordanian NDC. As a result, the cities’ actions and plans have been reflected in this NDC. Overall, however, the uptake of urban components in NDCs across the region remains very heterogeneous, as confirmed by several interventions during the session on “whole of society approaches.”

Understanding the importance of local integration in national climate plans and the strong demand for resource mobilization demonstrated by Ms. Daoud and the region more broadly, ICLEI engaged in MENA Climate Week emphasizing such key points. ICLEI’s side event “Capacity Building towards enhanced Urban Resilience and Just Transition in the MENA region” assessed the sustainability challenges faced by cities in the MENA region and the capacities  needed to better address them, so ICLEI can advocate on MENA cities’ behalf at upcoming COP28 negotiations. 

Beyond the Regional Climate Weeks, ICLEI continuously advocates for multilevel action in UNFCCC negotiations and improves adaptive capacity in the region through various initiatives. For example, ICLEI’s Transformation Action Program mobilizes financial institutions, project preparation facilities, and the private sector to help local and regional governments transform their net-zero and resilient development infrastructure concepts into mature, robust and bankable projects ready for financing and implementation. One of such projects is a wind power production project in Menjez, Lebanon which will cover up to 30% of the annual electricity needs for Menjez inhabitants and a net GHG reduction of 23.1% if funded and implemented.  

ICLEI hopes that, through the active engagement of cities and city networks in the LGMA in this years’ MENA Climate Week, the urban voices and the theme of sustainable urbanization at large will find even more consideration across the region, both in the formulation and the implementation of NDCs and concrete action on the ground. 

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