Inclusive and resilient cities for a better future in Latin America

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Vista de Buenos Aires, Argentina Vista de Buenos Aires, Argentina

With only a few days left until the COP27 World Climate Conference, today we celebrate World Cities Day, a date established to promote sustainable urban development and foster cooperation among diverse actors to address the challenges of urbanization globally.  

This year’s theme, Act Local to Go Global, captures the critical importance that cities play in our efforts to reduce emissions and build more resilient communities: How we live, move and work locally in our cities impacts our ability – globally – to tackle climate change and put in motion more sustainable, climate-smart and resilient growth pathways. 

Cities concentrate the causes and impacts of climate change and are central to any broad effort to reduce it. In this blog, we want to share some challenges we face in cities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) on growing climate risks , the potential to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and how the World Bank supports local and national governments to build cities that can contribute to that goal, while promoting growth and inclusive development.   

Cities at the center of the climate change discussion 

As much as 80% of losses caused by disasters in Latin America occur in urban areas, with cities in Caribbean nations at particularly high risk . Hydrometeorological hazards, including droughts, heatwaves, cold waves, tropical cyclones and floods, have severe impacts on poverty, food and water security, health, among others, and can reverse decades worth of development progress in a split second.  

Most cities are growing with little urban planning, expanding into hazard-prone areas and natural ecosystems and exposing urban residents, particularly vulnerable families, to the impacts of climate change.   

Between 2000 to 2030, the region’s urban land exposed to flooding is expected to increase by 2.7 times its current size, further exacerbating vulnerabilities. Additionally, 60 of the 77 most densely populated cities are coastal, notably along the Atlantic coast south of the equator, subtropical North Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. These cities are experiencing rising sea levels and will face increased coastal flooding, storm surge, and salinization of water supplies in no time.  

At the same time, cities account for 80% of the region’s energy consumption and 66% of GHG emissions. The transport sector is the largest emitter of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion, with regional transport emissions being the highest globally and expected to grow by 80% by 2050. Car ownership growth rates in LAC are twice the global average, and mass transit systems are in dire need of upgrades and extensions. 

Additionally, the building sector accounts for 24% of final energy use and 21% of process-related CO2 emissions.  

Impactful climate action in cities can go a long way in reducing the region’s carbon footprint. 

Supporting climate action and sustainable development in LAC 

The World Bank supports national and local governments in LAC to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change while promoting jobs and growth and a more inclusive development . In the urban and disaster risk sector alone, we have US$1.1 billion in active lending focusing on city mitigation and adaptation across 12 projects in the region, and 60% of our active portfolio is contributing to climate change co-benefits.   

In terms of adaptation, we focus on understanding and planning for climate risk, strengthening preparedness and response, reducing existing and future risks to infrastructure, and promoting resilient reconstruction and transformation. We pursue an integrated and holistic approach to urban resilience and support cities in the ongoing preparation, response, and revision cycle.  

  • In Brazil, the Green, Resilient and Inclusive Regeneration of Porto Alegre Central Area Project supports investments to mitigate flood risks in the urban core, upgrade the sewage network and improve the overall waterfront environment to set in motion a process of urban regeneration. 

  • In Paraguay, the Asuncion Riverfront Urban Resilience Project will support the design and development of a mixed-use and inclusive riverfront area as well as the revitalization of green spaces. 

For mitigation, we support low-carbon urban development by promoting urban densities, low-carbon infrastructure and services, as well as energy efficiency in buildings, among other things. At 81% urbanized, LAC’s priority must be preventing further sprawl and thinking more strategically about infill development and opportunities to regenerate city centers. Further, with roughly one-fourth of the region’s urban population living in informal settlements, there is a huge imperative for cities to build new and retrofit existing homes – and a significant opportunity for green housing construction. 

  • In Bolivia, the Urban Resilience Project is working towards revitalizing the Santa Cruz city center by developing public spaces and non-motorized transport infrastructure.  

  • In Mexico, the Improving Access to Affordable Housing Project promoted energy- and resource efficient design standards for low-income housing, leading to important reductions in energy use, emissions, and household spending on electricity. 

Act Local to Go Global reminds us that our future is merely the outcome of the thousands of millions of decisions taken by every one of us. Many visionary minds are working in LAC cities toward a more sustainable future. During the next months, we will be featuring how the World Bank is supporting these initiatives through our projects and innovations. Stay tuned!  


David Sislen

Practice Manager, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, and Land, Latin America and the Caribbean

Giuliana De Mendiola

Urban Development Specialist

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