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Low carbon cities: Engines for driving carbon neutrality in Asia and the Pacific

Photo credit: ESCAP/East and North-East Asia Office

Cities are key players in combatting climate change and its effects. They are responsible for 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume 80 per cent of global energy. Thus, without significant changes in the way cities produce and consume, we cannot achieve the climate targets of the Paris Agreement. This is why cities should drive the global paradigm shift towards carbon neutrality.

Yesterday’s pledge by Incheon Metropolitan City at the Second International Forum on Low Carbon Cities to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 sends a strong positive signal that urban areas recognize their role as key actors in advancing climate action. Incheon aims to achieve carbon neutrality five years ahead of the national target of the Republic of Korea, leveraging its advanced technological and innovative edge by substantially increasing the share of renewable energy, promoting green and smart infrastructure and expanding carbon sinks. I firmly believe that these ambitious plan and strategies will motivate more cities to join similar efforts and foster a paradigm shift of climate action in North-East Asia and beyond.

Our ambitions should be raised and lead to concrete actions

Recent analysis all indicate that we still have a long way to go to achieve global carbon neutrality but more actors are stepping up to do their part. As of September, 11,309 non-State actors -- including 52 states and regions, 1,136 cities, 8,307 companies, 595 financial institutions, 1,125 educational institutions and 65 healthcare institutions -- have joined the UN-backed Race to Zero global campaign to advance the implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).[1] However, the full implementation of NDCs currently in place points to a 2.4° to 2.6°C temperature rise by the end of the century.[2]

In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, global emissions must decline by at least 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says, “The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition.”. And all stakeholders must convert these ambitions and pledges into immediate and concrete actions to drastically reduce emissions now.

Unparalleled and multidimensional global challenges provide unprecedented opportunities for cities to formulate concrete roadmaps towards carbon neutrality

Transitioning to a carbon-neutral world brings one of the greatest challenges to cities, particularly amid the unparalleled and multidimensional global crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical conflicts food crises and economic recession. However, at the same time, as suggested by the ESCAP report “The Future of Asian and Pacific Cities,” cities now have an unprecedented opportunity to become hubs of innovation in low-carbon development, urban resilience, new technologies, nature-based solutions, green financing, inclusion and health. “The 2022 Review of Climate Ambition in Asia and the Pacific,” jointly developed by ESCAP, UNEP and UNICEF, reiterated the recommendation to develop and implement deep decarbonization sectoral pathways for urban development.

National and local governments should create an enabling and enforceable environment, with clear standards for cities to implement their commitments. Aligned with IPCC scientific requirements, national strategies, regulations and carbon-neutral pledges, cities must have transparent and comprehensive action plans and roadmaps detailing their governance, fiscal support and periodic stepping stones for the achievement of carbon neutrality.

Cities’ progress should be reviewed with continuing adjustments to the plans and roadmaps. This requires robust systems and processes for cities to actively monitor, evaluate and report on greenhouse gas emissions reduction. The twenty-first century’s digital and technological revolution has undeniable implications for building climate-smart cities and developing such systems. Utilizing big data sources and high-tech, connections and partnerships among communities, cities and local and national governments could also be forged and strengthened.

ESCAP has supported building the capacities to develop local climate actions and sustainable urban solutions in their communities through the Asia Pacific Mayors Academy for Sustainable Urban Development and also facilitated sharing of knowledge and experiences of city-level climate actions through the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Collaboration (NEASPEC). We will continue to work with Incheon and the Republic of Korea and all stakeholders in the Asia-Pacific region to promote such city-level climate actions. We must act now to secure a sustainable, low-carbon and resilient future.


[1] UNFCCC (2022), Race to Zero Campaign at

[2] UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022.


Published in Kyeongin Ilbo (Korean)

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Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
Subregional Office for East and North-East Asia +82-32-458-6600 [email protected]