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Press Release

UN and partners launch billion-dollar initiative to transform cities for people and planet

September 21, 2021

Traffic and pedestrians during the morning commute in the city centre of Kigali, Rwanda
Photo credit: Jennifer Sophie/Shutterstock

Today, at Climate Week NYC 2021, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Global Environment Facility (GEF), and partners launched UrbanShift – a new global initiative to improve lives and transform cities into green and liveable spaces that address climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Cities are home to 4.2 billion people, more than half of the world’s population. But they face growing challenges – from floods, storms, and heatwaves triggered by the climate crisis to dangerous air quality, lack of affordable housing, and deep social divides.

Cities already account for about 70 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, they must become carbon neutral to hold global temperature rise to under 1.5 °C – all while growing to hold nearly 70 percent of the world’s population.

UrbanShift will support 23 cities in Argentina, Brazil, China, Costa Rica, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone to adopt integrated approaches to urban development, helping shape cities that are efficient, resilient, and inclusive. It builds on the lessons and experiences of the Sustainable Cities Integrated Approach Pilot program which was launched by the GEF during its sixth replenishment cycle.

UrbanShift is working with cities to promote integrated development approaches such as nature-based solutions, low-carbon public transport systems, low-emission zones, and integrated waste management.

Its aims include avoiding more than 130 million tCO2e [tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent] of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of one year’s emissions from 32 coal-fired power stations. UrbanShift will also improve the management and restoration of approximately one million hectares of land. With $146 million in GEF funding and $1.7 billion in co-financing, UrbanShift will improve integrated planning in the target cities, impacting the lives of more than 58 million people.

“Cities are at the frontline of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.  “However, our cities also have the power to address these challenges while increasing the resilience of their citizens and their infrastructure.”

“As we focus on the pressing issues of climate change this week, we must turn the ingenuity and industriousness we showed in building our cities in the first place to rethinking how they work. UrbanShift will be a key tool to help urban leaders do just that.”

The program will engage mayors, the private sector, city networks, UN agencies, multilateral development banks, and many other partners to support national and city governments. It is also building a knowledge and learning platform to connect cities with global expertise and cutting-edge research, as well as offering a space to share experiences and forge partnerships.

“In an increasingly encroaching urban world, investing in our cities is one of the best ways we can achieve global environmental benefits across sectors – from conserving biodiversity, to reducing carbon emissions and increasing resilience to shocks like climate events and pandemics,” said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, CEO and Chairperson of the GEF.

UrbanShift is aligned to the Agenda 2030 vision to consider the social, environment and economic dimensions integrated and indivisible. UrbanShift will particularly contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 11 to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, but also several other SDGs such as SDG13, SDG3 and SDG15.


Notes to Editors

About UrbanShift

UrbanShift is supporting 23 cities in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to adopt integrated approaches to urban development, helping shape cities that are efficient, resilient, and inclusive. UrbanShift is funded by the Global Environment Facility and led by UNEP in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI), C40 Cities and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, and the Asia Development Bank (ADB). For more information, visit: www.shiftcities.org.

About the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

About the Global Environment Facility (GEF)

The GEF is the largest multilateral trust fund focused on enabling developing countries to invest in nature. It supports the implementation of international environmental conventions on biodiversity, climate change, chemicals, and desertification. Since its establishment 30 years ago, the GEF has provided $21.5 billion in grants and mobilized an additional $117 billion in co-financing for more than 5,000 projects and programs.


For more information, please contact:

  • Keisha Rukikaire; rukikaire [at] un.org; Head of News and Media, UN Environment Programme
  • Manal Khan; Manal.Khan (at) wri.org; Communications Lead, UrbanShift

This press release was originally published by the UN Environment Programme.