Reflecting on an impactful 2023, UrbanShift will continue its focus in 2024 on supporting collaborative, cross-cutting leadership to fund and implement sustainable urban transformations.

In cities, the systems that underpin life on our planet—social, economic, and natural—converge. As the nexus of these systems, the way cities evolve will play a critical role in our efforts to combat climate change and create a more livable world. As we prepare for two-thirds of the global population to reside in cities by 2050, it’s more important than ever that urban systems transition to become more resilient, equitable, and sustainable. This is the UN’s 11th Sustainable Development Goal for cities, and that’s where initiatives like UrbanShift come in. Funded by the Global Environment Facility, UrbanShift takes a holistic and integrated approach to urban transformation, working directly with 23 cities to support sustainability efforts—from green superblocks to net-zero neighborhoods—and training city and regional leaders in best practices for urban design and planning. Our work over the past year spanned a range of supportive and capacity-building activities. Explore some highlights below and see what transformative efforts we have in store for 2024.    

1. We enhanced local capacity through 30 events that reached more than 2,300 people. 

To strengthen local implementation of integrated urban development projects, UrbanShift offers capacity building activities that connect cities with global expertise and cutting-edge research in the field. For just a sample of our events in 2023, check out the Peer Exchange in Accra and Kumasi, the Asia Forum in New Delhi, the Geospatial Planning Analysis Lab in Ushuaia, the Adaptation Finance Academy for Brazilian Cities, the National-Local Dialogue in Indonesia, and the City Academy in San Jose.  

2. We launched 8 free online courses on urban design and planning. 

The UrbanShift Online City Academy provides free and self-paced access to eight online courses for city officials and urban practitioners, on topics relevant to cities: Integrated Urban Planning, Green and Thriving Neighborhoods, Integrated Climate Action Planning, Accessing Urban Climate Finance, Accommodating Urban Growth, Circular Economy Strategies for Sustainable Development, Nature-based Solutions, and Urban Biodiversity. The courses are available in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and Mandarin. To date, more than 1,000 people have signed up for these courses. You can sign up here

3. We helped cities draft and launch their climate action plans.

Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr launching the city's climate action plan.
Freetown Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr launching the city's climate action plan. Image by Freetown City Council

After several years of preparations, and with the support of C40 and UrbanShift, Freetown, Sierra Leone launched its first ever Climate Action Strategy in January 2023. The strategy presents innovative and evidence-based solutions to help the city adapt to risks and climate hazards, such as flooding, coastal erosion, extreme heat and landslides, and to deliver on Sierra Leone’s commitments to the Paris Agreement. The Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr said this during the launch: “This Plan details how Freetown will contribute to this fight, and how everyone – from businesses to individuals – will work together to reach our goal of cutting down on carbon emissions and creating a sustainable way of life for all.” 

 Teresina, Brazil has recently launched its Climate Action Plan, and UrbanShift supported the city in communicating the plan to the public as well as training key officials through a masterclass on climate change adaptation and mitigation. 

4. We launched resources to support data-driven decision-making.  

Data is essential for cities to understand the impacts of climate change on their residents and their infrastructure, and to explore potential solutions. Recognizing this need, and in collaboration with Cities4Forests, we launched the Geospatial Data Dashboard, which provides data across multiple themes—from biodiversity to extreme heat —on current baselines, recent trends, or projected changes related to environmental assets, or climate risks and their impacts. See more details on the methodology and applicability of this data in this technical note

In November, the UrbanShift Data Dashboard was featured in this BBC Future Planet article, highlighting Freetown’s efforts to combat extreme urban heat by mapping and addressing areas of low surface reflectivity. This use case demonstrates how cities can translate data findings into priority actions. Explore this blog for more ideas on how to apply insights from the dashboard.  

5. We put urban nature-based solutions in the spotlight.  

Children playing Guapil park.
Children playing in La Guapil park in Costa Rica, which GEF funding and a community-led effort have helped revitalize. Image by Robert Carlos Sanchez

Nature-based solutions offer a lot of hope for cities: They can help mitigate climate risks and create more livable and healthy places for residents. But more work needs to be done to prove the investment value of urban nature-based solutions alongside traditional infrastructure. In 2023, UrbanShift helped further the case for nature-based solutions. We highlighted the transformative potential of urban NbS in our session at the Cities Summit of the Americas in April and showcased how the city of Kigali is harnessing the power of nature by rehabilitating degraded wetlands to protect property and save lives, through their Rwanda Urban Development Project II. In July, we convened nine cities from Latin America in Barranquilla for a peer-exchange that highlighted how the city’s flagship urban parks “Todos al parque” initiative is improving resilience and quality of life for residents. And we partnered with the World Bank, ICLEI, UNEP and others to launch the Urban Nature Program, a new initiative under the GEF-8 Sustainable Cities Program that will connect and support cities to deliver integrated urban solutions by investing in nature and biodiversity.  

6. We helped cities access finance for resilience and climate action.  

While developing urban climate resilience projects is more important than ever, cities still face enormous challenges in securing funds to get these efforts off the ground. Through a broad range of activities and resources, UrbanShift directly supports cities in overcoming these barriers. In 2023, we hosted Finance Academies in São Paulo (on adaptation), Beijing (on climate finance and clean energy), and San José (on clean transport). We also organized an Investors Roundtable on decarbonizing the transport sector and the “Accessing Urban Climate Finance” course in New Delhi during the UrbanShift Asia Forum, where we also launched the free, online version as part of the UrbanShift Online City Academy.   The “Accessing Urban Climate Finance" online course, launched in September 2023, complemented these in-person trainings. All these capacity-building initiatives have provided city officials with a comprehensive landscape of climate finance instruments and opportunities, as well as guidance on project preparation and pitching.  

Through these efforts, we hope to start shifting finance flows to where they are most needed and connect UrbanShift cities to representatives from financial institutions and project preparation facilities, like the GAP Fund. This has had a tangible impact: Mendoza has applied for assistance from the GAP Fund, and after a competitive call for proposals that followed the Adaptation City Academy in Latin America, Buenos Aires was selected to receive technical support to map sources of international financing for adaptation projects and a step-by-step guide on how the city can access them.  

Additionally, in 2023, we supported six climate infrastructure projects across five UrbanShift cities through the Transformative Actions Program (TAP) pipeline, advising them with project preparation and increasing their visibility to potential investors. The projects range from a school-based waste management program in Kigali to a public tree management effort in San Carlos in the Mendoza metropolitan area. 

7. We showcased how collaborations between cities and business can drive sustainable development in developing countries. 

Public-private collaboration can help accelerate sustainable urban solutions, but few resources exist that speak specifically to best practices for such partnerships in the global South. To fill this gap, UrbanShift & C40 published the Public-private collaboration to accelerate sustainable urban development: A guide for Global South cities report in September 2023, highlighting 30 case studies from cities in the global South to illustrate opportunities, best practices, and replicable models for successful partnerships. You can explore the case studies and models for collaboration in the guide here.  

8. We highlighted the role of cities to advocate for the end of plastic pollution. 

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo speaking about the importance of local action during the Paris International Forum to End Plastic Pollution.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo speaking about the importance of local action during the Paris International Forum to End Plastic Pollution. Image by Thierry Lewenberg-Sturm


Cities are currently responsible for up to 70% of global plastic waste generation. They’re also where innovative policies and programs to mitigate plastic waste are taking hold. Over the course of 2023, UrbanShift raised the profile of cities in the fight against plastic pollution. Through the Paris International Forum to End Plastic Pollution in Cities, we highlighted how local leaders are taking action against pollution and to build momentum for a global treaty to end plastic pollution, which we also explored through an in-depth webinar. To show what such mitigating initiatives might look like in action, we explored an innovative solution in Costa Rica: a barrier across a major river that traps plastic pollution before it reaches the ocean, diverting it instead into a circular system that can transform it into building materials.  

Read more about our work in 2023  

The UrbanShift 2022-2023 Annual Report offers a complete look at what UrbanShift has accomplished in the past year. We encourage you to read the report in full, but in the meantime, here are links to some of our best performing blogs shared on in 2023. 

Looking ahead to 2024 

Following an eventful 2023, we are more optimistic than ever about the potential of cities to become the sustainable, equitable and livable places we and the planet need to thrive. We look forward to more activity and progress in 2024! Here’s a taste of what to expect:  

A strong focus on multi-level governance 

During the first-ever Local Climate Action Summit at COP28 in December, 63 countries committed to a new Coalition for High Ambition Multi-level Partnerships, underscoring the importance of enhanced cooperation across levels of government for climate action. UrbanShift facilitates such cooperation through our national-local dialogues, which unite representatives from city and national governments to align on climate action and integrated planning commitments. Dialogues are planned this year for Morocco, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Costa Rica.     Our advocacy efforts this year will also emphasize the importance of multi-level governance. During the UNEA-6 Cities and Regions Summit, we will convene discussions focusing on two key themes for climate action: strengthening multi-level governance for achieving global goals, and finance strategies to accelerate progress. Which leads to the second UrbanShift priority for 2024: 

An emphasis on innovative climate finance 

Progress can’t happen without the funds to back it. To create the sustainable cities we need, we need to mobilize $93 trillion for sustainable urban infrastructure development around the world by the end of this decade. In 2024, UrbanShift will continue its strong focus on finance strategies and partnerships to support transformative local and regional projects. The UrbanShift Latin America Forum, planned for April in Belém, Brazil, will center on the theme of financing for green and resilient cities. And UrbanShift will continue to directly support cities within the network to access funding and finance support through light-touch technical assistance, connection to ICLEI’s Transformative Actions Program, and other opportunities like the City Climate Finance Gap Fund

Tackling extreme urban heat 

Water collection in extreme heat.
Extreme heat and poor air quality threaten wellbeing in cities worldwide. Image by Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Termed the silent killer, increasing extreme heat shattered records around the world last year. Cities, where the effects of extreme heat are amplified by the built environment and where most of the world’s population lives, are at particular risk. Developing cities – such as those in India, where more than half of the urban population lives in informal settlements that are up to six degrees Celsius hotter – are particularly vulnerable, as Jaya Dhindaw, Executive Program Director for WRI India Ross Center described in WRI’s 2024 Stories to Watch. Heat related deaths – half a million in an average year and growing – and the fact that heat disproportionately impacts the urban poor, have catapulted urban heat onto the radar of city leaders. At the Local Climate Action Summit at COP28, governments agreed to incorporate local actions, including efforts on extreme heat, into national climate action strategies. In 2024, UrbanShift will contribute to these efforts by raising awareness among city leaders around how data can help cities prepare for heatwaves and assist in resilience planning by highlighting potential solutions to reduce local temperatures. We aim to work proactively with cities to elevate the role of nature-based solutions and heat-deterring building materials in policy and urban planning, and to support local governments in raising the issue of urban heat on the national and global stages.