City Environmental Actions Elevate Local to Global Heroes

Welcome to the Cities and Regions summit ahead of the sixth UN Environment Assembly, or UNEA-6. My thanks to the summits partners: UN-Habitat, C40 Cities, ICLEI, the World Resources Institute, and many others, including Bloomberg Philanthropies and UNDP.

This summit has been a recurring feature at environment assemblies, for good reason. Cities hold immense gravity. They pull people in with the promise of opportunities, of services, of healthcare. This gravity is growing stronger. More than half of us live in urban areas, soon to be over two-thirds. This means that how we build, manage and live in our cities is a key determinant of the sustainability our species, this planet and every creature that lives on it.

Right now, cities are the biggest drivers of the triple planetary crisis: the crisis of climate change, the crisis of biodiversity loss, and the crisis of pollution and waste. They consume the lions share of energy, food and resources, giving back around 70 per cent of CO2 emissions and over 50 per cent of global waste. The chickens come home to roost in the form of extreme heat, water scarcity and devastating storms. Coastal cities, of course, face specific challenges from sea-level rise and inundations. And when cities lose their nature and biodiversity, the become less attractive to live in. Nobody wants to live in a concrete jungle.

But the gravity of cities means they are where great minds congregate and make innovation happen. Cities can implement climate and nature-based solutions at scale. Small changes at the policy level can cascade across tens of millions of people. This is why local and subnational governments are so important. You are local leaders, closer to the people. You have not just the care of the people, but the care of the environment, in your mandate. It is so good to see this forum give you a voice.

Cities are already implementing solutions. On the circular economy, sustainable mobility, green infrastructure like wetlands, permeable parking and pavements, smart buildings. They are working on disaster management, renewable energy, composting and recycling.

We at UNEP are committed to working with local governments to boost such action including by revitalizing the Greener Cities Partnership with UN-Habitat. And at this summit, you will look at how to amplify these solutions through multilevel governance and urban finance.

Multilevel governance is critical.

We need whole-of-government approaches from local councils to national parliaments to unlock solutions. Part of this includes local and subnational governments engaging with Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), which allows for the development of tailored solutions that are more likely to be effective.

At this time, I urge engagement in all MEAs, but let me focus for a moment on the negotiations for the instrument on plastic pollution, which we are hoping to conclude this year. Obviously, cities dont have to wait for negotiators to finish to start acting on plastics. There is a lot they can do, and obviously are already doing. For example, those coming into Nairobi will have seen the signs saying single-use plastic bags are banned in Kenya. And the authorities in the city stage raids, akin to drug busts, on illegal producers of such plastics. So, cities can act in many spaces. They can also raise their voices in the negotiations to help ensure a strong outcome.

A strong outcome means an instrument that eliminates single use- and short-lived plastics. That then addresses overall elimination and reduction, by, for example, looking at different ways to package goods. That looks at redesigning products; do we, for example, need all our detergents, shampoos etc. to be liquid?

A strong outcome includes take-back and Extender Production Responsibility schemes. Transparency. Chemicals of concern. And, of course, a just transition for millions of informal workers, like waste pickers. All of this governed with timebound goals and targets.

So, please do engage. The sub-national story will be critical to the success of the plastics instrument.

Sub-national governments should also be included in discussions on loss and damage. Between 2000 and 2019, the world suffered at least US$2.8 trillion in loss and damage. As many insurable assets and infrastructure are in cities, local governments must be part of the conversation.

Tailored financial support is also crucial.

Access to finance needs to be simplified for urban solutions that deliver multiple wins.

But by mobilizing urban communities a lot can be accomplished with minimal finance. And we know that a ten per cent increase in tree canopy cover buffers temperature extremes, while bringing in biodiversity that delivers vital services.

National governments can establish funding mechanisms for local action. The financial community can simplify and streamline financial instruments. Multilateral Development Banks and Development Finance Institutions can work with cities to implement innovative financing models. Bringing nature into the balance sheet can make a strong business case for city leaders, financiers and the private sector.

I look forward to hearing the voices of cities and regions on these important topics and seeing them feed back into the outcomes of UNEA-6. As I close, let me remind you that what you do in your cities resonates across the world. When you make your cities green and sustainable, you are not just local heroes, you are global heroes.

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