The Focus Paper "Cities and Climate Change" has been developed from the Climate Service Center Germany (GERICS) in cooperation with the KfW Development Bank. It highlights the relation between cities and climate change, with respect to mitigation and adaptation. Currently,  cities account for about 80% of global energy consumption and over 70% of CO2 emissions. Buildings including the related use and transport systems take up a particularly high share. Therefore cities play an important role for mitigation. On the other hand cities are highly vulnerable to climate impacts due to their exposition, high concentration of people and assets, as well as infrastructures. Cities must therefore take measures to lower CO2 emissions and to adapt to projected climate change. Additionally the trend of population growth in cities will increase to reach 66% by 2030 (UN DESA 2014).

Cities are already confronted by climate impacts, whereas a further increase of vulnerabilities in the future is expected. Moreover, the paper underlines the challenges in finding synergies between adaptation and mitigation measures, suggests possible adaptation responses to inevitable climate change, and points out the financial barriers. Besides the availability of sufficient financial and human resources another important factor that has to be considered is time. Because the implications of climate change for cities are often aggravated by systemic interactions within the city and by events in neighbouring rural areas beyond their own borders. Since future challenges for cites does not consist exclusively of climate impacts and many different sectors are affected, integrative solutions and strategies are needed.  

The main focus of the Focus Paper  lies on rapidly growing cities in developing countries and emerging economies. Given the complexity and unique characteristics of individual cities, it is not possible to provide an indepth analysis of existing and projected climate risks, and possible mitigation and adaptation policies, for one particular city. Rather, this Focus Paper provides a brief overview of various aspects, topics, and sectors of relevance to cities in general.

Key messages

  • The majority of the world’s population already lives in urban areas, and this trend will increase, with global urban population projected to have increased to 66% by 2050.
  • Cities consume up to 80% of total global energy production, and account for 71 to 76% of global CO2 emissions. Accordingly, cities have a major role to play in achieving the global climate policy goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2°C.
  • Cities are highly vulnerable to climate change, and as such, require coherent, carefully considered mitigation and adaptation strategies, where potential co-benefits between the two, are included.
  • Existing infrastructure in developing cities is often of sub-standard quality, and thus fails to provide adequate protection from extreme weather events and changing climatic conditions. The urban poor are particularly vulnerable towards extreme weather events.
  • Many of the world´s cities are situated along the coast, and as such are exposed to flooding from storm surges and sea level rise. The risk of coastal flooding is further increased in cities affected by subsidence.
  • Financing for mitigation and adaptation actions exist, but are difficult to access for cities. Innovative solutions are needed now to close the finance gap.


 The Climate Focus Paperis available for free.