The 6th IPCC Report and what it means for cities

As the latest climate report was released this week, the messaging couldn’t have been more dire. The report states that the world faces ‘multiple climate hazards over the next two decades, some of which will be irreversible’. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres left no doubt to this warning when concluding that “today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”


Not good news in an already bad-news world. However, there are glimmers of hope, mainly when seen through the lens of opportunities. Winston Churchill once famously said: “never let a good crisis go to waste”, so let us focus on what can be done, the opportunities that have emerged, and the action we can take.

The report shows how cities can offer hope. While large urban centres are hotspots for climate impacts, they also offer the opportunity to avoid the worst impacts of warming. As cities continue to grow –an additional 2.5 billion people are projected to be living in cities by 2050 – they can push for renewable energy, greener transport, cleaner waterways, improved waste management and importantly, investment in nature-based solutions. This could limit destructive climate impacts for millions. “We point very clearly to the cities of the world as a key place for mobilisation,” said IPCC co-chair Debra Roberts.

GrowGreen, an EU partnership that supports cities’ commitments to increase liveability and sustainability, has seen significant progress in those cities adopting nature-based solutions in their climate adaptation strategies. Claire Warmenbol, IUCN Communications and Partnership Manager for the IUCN Global Water and Land Programme, outlined this in further detail during an interview on the cities-dedicated day at COP26 (see video interview).

A good example of a nature-based solution for cities can be found in one of the GrowGreen partner cities Wuhan, China. Like many countries around the world, China is concerned about flooding as a consequence of a changing climate. Their Sponge City Programme aims to soak up excess floodwater (like a sponge) and improve water quality by working with nature and investing in rain gardens, permeable pavements, bio-swales and detention ponds.

Instead of paying for expensive grey infrastructure, Wuhan has adopted a less costly and more nature-friendly approach in developing green infrastructure as part of their adaptation measures whilst simultaneously benefitting urban biodiversity and the health and wellbeing of urban communities. The city of Manchester in the UK –another GrowGreen partner city- has replicated this approach by building a ‘sponge park’.

The report further warns that cities will get warmer due to what is known as the increasing urban heat island effect, further amplifying extreme air pollution which in turn negatively  impacts human health. Cities which invest in green vegetation and healthy water bodies help release and absorb trapped heat, supporting natural cooling and offering spaces for outdoor relaxation and exercise.

Cities are places of challenge, opportunity and change. They offer space for innovation, including how to better integrate nature-based solutions which can be adopted to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They will be at the forefront to help restore our relationship with the natural world in order to realize the Sustainable Development Goals for a net-zero, #NaturePositive world.

The experiences and lessons learnt by the GrowGreen cities in implementing nature-based solutions in cities are outlined in a virtual story produced by IUCN (see link).