Cities on the frontline

Planning for a low-carbon future.


More than half of the world’s population live in cities. This is set to rise to around two-thirds by 2050. As people move from rural areas to towns and cities seeking a better standard of living, urbanisation has become a feature of economic development. This means as many as 1.3 billion children will be living in cities by the middle of this century, according to some estimates.

As cities become increasingly important to our lives, they have become a big source of greenhouse gas emissions. Because their locations are fixed and they are home to so many people, urban areas are also among the most vulnerable places in the world to the impacts of global warming – such as rising seas levels.

A view of London at 2 degrees and 4 degrees of warming





As the world comes together with pledges aimed at keeping the planet from warming by more than 2C, cities have joined the frontline of climate action. Since the last big climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, cities have helped lead the way to support the transition to a low carbon economy. In some cases, this has meant that cities acted first and national governments followed. Being responsible for the daily lives of city residents has helped many officials and mayors to understand that providing a climate-safe future promises multiple benefits — such as cleaner air, sustainable jobs and energy security.

Our climate grant portfolio supports cities with data, evidence and technical expertise to show that ambitious climate action is affordable and politically feasible. By designing and financing low-carbon infrastructure, we can protect and secure a healthy and sustainable future for children.

The world's mayors

C40 is a network of more than 80 cities committed to addressing climate change, including many of the world’s megacities Together the C40 network accounts for over half a billion city residents. By connecting cities to share best practice and providing technical assistance, C40 is working to change the way cities grow and develop. The network helps cities make climate-smart decisions.

In total, C40 aims to mitigate 1.3 billon tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

IFF has also funded a programme to support the Compact of Mayors, the world’s largest effort for cities to fight climate change. The programme will support the adoption of a new system for transparently measuring and reporting city emissions. This will help mayors to access finance for the most cost-effective opportunities for climate action.

China Town

China’s cities are growing fast – approximately 13 million new residents arrive in China’s urban areas every year. One billion people will be living in Chinese cities by 2030, making urban China one of the big opportunities to tackle climate change.

We are working with Chinese cities and provinces alongside the Energy Foundation China and the World Resources Institute China to support Chinese cities implement climate-smart urban and transport plans. This will contribute to reducing 318 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year in 2030. Working with partners, we are also supporting the implementation of a nationwide carbon pricing system in China by 2017, following the launch of successful regional carbon trading pilots in Shenzhen and Hubei.

We are also helping to demonstrate the importance of measures to tackle air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions – an approach that has now been included in China’s new Air Law – with projects underway in Beijing to help assess the feasibility of a low-emission zone.


Buses in Brazil

Brazil is at a climate tipping point. Its urban-led energy use and emissions are forecast to overtake land use as the country’s main source of greenhouse gases from 2020. This is in large part due to rising traffic – particularly car use – and limited use of public transport in cities.

To change this, we have partnered with the Institute for Transport & Development Policy and the World Resources Institute, to provide the Brazilian government and cities expert advice to implement low-carbon urban transport.

They have published guidance and standards on the drafting of city mobility plans, which will encourage Brazilians to change their travel habits by switching from cars to public transport such as regular rapid bus services. This will benefit over 40 million residents in cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte.

Through their ambition and action, cities are on the frontline of the fight against climate change. They are setting an example for national governments to ensure that every child has the opportunity to survive and thrive, today and in the future.

Working together, cities can - and are - tackling climate change