Cities have a major impact on the climate crisis, accounting for an estimated 75% of global carbon emissions. At the same time, cities are deeply affected by climate impacts like extreme heat events, water stress, deteriorating natural assets and air pollution. These impacts are lowering quality of life and putting severe stress on infrastructure.

Solutions like alternative construction techniques and better public transport are steps in the right direction. However, these solutions will not create lasting, far-reaching change if they rely on siloed technocratic processes.

To build more sustainable futures, cities need to reconfigure the social, technological and political systems that reinforce high-carbon, resource-intensive urbanization. Such a process requires envisioning an urban future for all actors, from urban inhabitants to city governments to investors.

Urban transformation must center decarbonization, social justice and quality of life. This is the guiding principle of the Transformative Urban Coalitions project.

The Transformative Urban Coalitions project, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety under its International Climate Initiative (IKI), seeks to change structures and values within cities. The project achieves this by shifting the mindsets of urban citizens and decision-makers, and by building new urban coalitions to implement strategies that lead to socially inclusive, zero-carbon cities.

WRI, the United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and German Institute for Development and Sustainability (IDOS) are working closely with local partners to establish new models of coalition-building and governance through five “Urban Labs” in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

Transformative research, tailored communication strategies and capacity-building activities  enhance this process. The project also utilizes film and art to inspire new narratives of attractive urban futures and shift mindsets toward sustainability.

Finally, models of coalition-building and governance are being scaled up to other cities and countries. In time, this will influence global agendas for sustainable transformations in cities.

Photo credit: Paulo Sérgio/WRI Brasil