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Cities are main drivers of climate action. The relevance of urban areas for mitigation and adaptation cannot be underestimated and yet, the challenges they face are daunting. John de Boer, Managing Director of the The SecDev Group, shares positive examples of cities, such as New York and Medellin, which dealt with Hurricane Katrina and homicides in the best possible way. He argues that we need out-of-the-box thinking to respond to urgent climate risks.


"I work with cities. Why? The main reason is because cities really are the future and also the present. You see the majority of the world’s population living in cities today. You also see cities as having the concentration of power and wealth. And they are also on the frontlines of dealing with many of the world’s most pressing problems, including climate change, urban violence, extreme poverty, where it is concentrated in cities, migration. So cities are an entry point, not only to deal with some of these problems but also solutions.

We have lots of levers. We have excellent examples of cities dealing with these many problems. One is Medellin, which about 2 decades ago had some of the highest homicide rates in the world. What they did was to connect people, physically to these spaces, build soccer stadiums in the poorest neighbourhoods, to help them feel part of society. To help them get to work easier. It is this kind of outside-of-the-box thinking that we need to deal with some of these problems. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and also Sandy in New York, to see how New York faced and really looked at its own limitations to deal with that is another telling example.

To deal with the risks and the pressing problems in the world today, an integrated solution is absolutely essential. What does that mean? That means bringing together multiple actors from the private sector, public sector, but it also means bringing together different specialists, work with healthcare providers, security providers, urban planners, climate change experts. These solutions we all face together and we need to come up with modern ways to deal with these problems together.

I think the barriers are that none of these issues are straightforward. An environmental issue, whether it would be flood, extreme flooding, droughts, these oftentimes are due to climate-related issues, but they are exacerbated due to political considerations, right? So unless you look at these two factors jointly, it is very difficult to solve these problems. This is why we need a collective approach to dealing with these challenges."