Cities have become the engines of economic growth, producing 80 percent of the world’s GDP. Not surprising, they also consume two-thirds of the world’s energy, and account for over 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If planned and managed well, compact, resilient, inclusive and resource efficient cities can drive development, growth, and the creation of jobs while also contributing to a healthier, better quality of life for residents and the long-term protection of the global environment.

Conversely, poorly managed and rapidly sprawling urban areas will exacerbate problems by undermining access to basic needs such as water and clear air, while threatening food security and increasing the exposure and vulnerability of their populations to a growing number of extreme weather events.

"Poorly managed and rapidly sprawling urban areas will exacerbate problems by undermining access to basic needs such as water and clear air."

Climate change is adding to the urgency for city planners to promote sustainable and resilient urban planning and management. Almost half a billion urban residents live in coastal areas, increasing their exposure to the growing risk of life-threatening storm surges and sea level rise.

In response to this unprecedented challenge, The Global Environment Facility (GEF), has recently launched a new Sustainable Cities Program. The program, one of the GEF’s new “Integrated Approach Pilots” that are designed to promote transformational change, will provide USD 1.5 billion over five years to benefit 23 cities in 11 developing countries.

The initiative, to be implemented in partnership with The World Bank will demonstrate how innovative and focused investments in urban planning and management can start changing the trajectory of cities towards more sustainable pathways, while enhancing their resilience to a rapidly changing environment.

The program will take a holistic view of all aspects of urban sustainability, including access to services like public transport and clean water supply, green buildings and other interventions designed to mitigate greenhouse gases and air pollution emissions, promote resource efficiency, adequate waste management, ecosystem and biodiversity protection, and climate resilience. Many of these pioneer cities bring the prospect of promoting integrated sustainability planning to a much wider array of urban areas in their home countries and beyond.