The secret power of cities
G20 Summit

The secret power of cities

This year, urban priorities inform and enrich the G20 dialogue, but the G20 must help to unleash climate finance for cities if we are to witness real change

Mayors and city leader delegations from G20 members met in Ahmedabad in July 2023. They discussed critical urban challenges and solutions that will contribute to the negotiations of G20 leaders in September. Mayors have much to offer world leaders in addressing the compounding climate, economic and social crises.

The Urban 20, a forum of mayors and city leaders from G20 members convened by C40 Cities and United Cities and Local Governments, is formally recognised by the G20 for its valuable perspectives and recommendations that help the G20 deliver on climate change, rising inequalities, access to finance and sustainable development.

As U20 chair this year, I have been honoured and delighted to steer the valuable and essential work during India’s G20 presidency.

From water security to climate finance

Following a productive summit, I presented this year’s U20 Communiqué to Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 sherpa, who received it on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It lists six priority issues for urgent G20 consideration:

  • Encouraging environmentally responsible behaviour;
  • Ensuring water security;
  • Accelerating climate finance;
  • Championing local culture and economy;
  • Reinventing frameworks for urban governance and planning; and
  • Catalysing digital urban futures.

The communiqué calls for world and city leaders to work together to take concrete actions to accelerate sustainable development that leaves no one and no place behind, to address structural inequalities and save our planet.

At the heart of these priorities lies the climate crisis. Cities worldwide, specifically in the Global South, bear the brunt of extreme climate impacts and suffer growing economic and humanitarian costs. As India braces for another year of record temperatures, many urban populations are increasingly exposed to extreme heat, deadly flooding and dangerous air pollution.

Key to tackling the global climate crisis

U20 mayors continue to show how bold, creative political leadership can both protect and enhance people’s lives. Nowhere has this been more evident than the response to the climate crisis.

As well as being the engines of our economies, cities generate around 75% of global emissions. Mayors are already leading in helping their countries deliver their Paris climate commitments.

However, climate finance remains a major barrier to urban climate action, especially in the Global South, where it is most urgently needed. As mayors develop science-driven, equitable city climate targets and plans, access to finance becomes a crucial determinant of implementation. Thus this year’s U20 summit, moving from intention to action, focused on solutions to unleash climate finance for city climate action. Meeting our shared climate goals requires urgently accelerating finance for climate implementation and expanding climate finance mechanisms available to cities. As part of their global commitments, governments and financial institutions – public and private – must support these actions to ensure cities adapt to rising temperatures, create new job opportunities and deliver Paris Agreement targets.

Cities and countries must work together

Our U20 Communiqué calls for an urgent overhaul of conventional financial structures, including multilateral development banks, which have been in place since World War Two, to ensure city governments can access urgent climate finance directly.

Increasing MDBs’ risk appetite and improving loan offerings for countries and cities in the Global South – which are highly vulnerable to climate impacts – can build resilience, accelerate a just transition, boost green jobs creation, create enabling conditions to attract private sector investors and spur the sustainable development of cities, which already account for 80% of global gross domestic product.

Currently, accessing MDB funds remains a challenge for cities, making it difficult to raise the capital needed to implement their climate strategies. This is hampering the global climate response and our collective ability to curb emissions. The U20 is calling on G20 leaders to reform the MDBs to meet shared global responsibilities, discourage investment in fossil fuels, and massively step up support for climate adaptation and mitigation through dedicated urban climate finance initiatives. We also want to ensure that the G20 drives the creation of a loss and damage fund directly accessible to cities. It is only by partnering and funding urgent practical action in the ‘crucial constituency’ of the world that cities will be able to meet their Paris climate goals and unlock new economic opportunities.

Furthermore, to avoid exacerbating the climate crisis, our U20 Communiqué – endorsed by over 100 cities – is clear in its call that MDB reform must not support coal or gas and must ‘actively dis-incentivise’ all fossil fuel use and spark a clean energy transition.

I have been proud to champion greater collaborative dialogue between countries and cities through the 2023 U20 forum. However, cities are still waiting for world leaders to deliver on their 2019 climate finance commitments and the G20 must address this by expanding the range of international finance mechanisms needed to unleash trillions of dollars of public and private finance for urban climate resilience, low carbon development and jobs.