SURGe: a new initiative fostering climate action at local and urban levels

[March 2023] The SURGe initiative, launched by the COP27 Presidency in partnership with UN-Habitat and ICLEI, aims to give impetus to existing projects on the ground by adopting a multidimensional approach to ensure the resilience of urban systems at all levels of urbanisation.

  • Authors: Elizaveta Pashkovskaia, Maria Lucini, Research Assistants of the Global Observatory of Climate Action
  • Date: March 2023
  • Contents
    • Accelerating local and urban climate action
    • Challenges of climate action at local level
    • Tracks and principles
    • The Global Alliance SURGe
    • Next steps

SURGe (Sustainable Urban Resilience for the Next Generation) Initiative was launched by the COP27 Presidency, in collaboration with UN-Habitat and with the facilitation of ICLEI on the 17th November 2022.

What is the SURGe initiative about?

Accelerating local and urban climate action

Cities play a critical role in both exacerbating and mitigating climate change, as they contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions while also serving as important centers for climate action. They are increasingly recognized as the crucial battleground for addressing climate change.

The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report, the Paris Agreement, and COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact acknowledge their importance. According to the analysis of the urban content of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by UN-Habitat in 2022, by 2021, 84% of updated NDCs’ text had a significant focus on urban issues, and over 60 nations have increased their climate ambitions by involving local and regional governments. More than 1,000 cities and regions have committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 as required in the Paris agreement.

Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN Habitat, stated the need for the cities “ to be healthy, sustainable, just, inclusive, low-emission and resilient urban systems for a better urban future for all ”.

Challenges of climate action at local level

Key barriers to reducing urban emissions include the need for urgent multilevel and cooperative action. According to Analysis of Urban Climate Adaptation Finance 2021 by  World Bank, insufficient climate finance for cities (less than 10% of the estimated need) and understaffed local governments with limited capacity for development planning and implementation (especially in the Global South) are also significant obstacles. Limited access to technology and innovation, as well as the unevenly distributed impacts of climate change on Socially Vulnerable Populations further complicate efforts to reduce urban emissions. The report on Climate Emergency, Urban Opportunity by the Coalition for Urban Transitions revealed that technically feasible and available measures could reduce urban emissions by almost 90% by 2050, potentially supporting 87 million jobs in 2030 and generating a global economic dividend of USD 24 trillion. At the same time, during the Innovate4Cities conference in 2021 significant research and action gaps were declared.

Tracks and principles

The SURGe Initiative’s mission is to provide a holistic framework and add impetus to existing projects in the field. To ensure the resilience of urban systems, the initiative adopts a multi-track approach that takes into account buildings and housing, urban water, urban mobility, urban waste/consumption and urban energy. It addresses all levels of urbanization including climate change as one of the top priorities.

The SURGe Initiative follows ten guiding principles for building sustainable, inclusive, and resilient urban systems: reducing emissions, building resilience, using Nature-Based Solutions, prioritizing the most vulnerable, collaborating between governments, leveraging co-benefits, customizing approaches, promoting circular systems, enabling financing, and promoting health and wellbeing.

The Global Alliance SURGe

Today, the Global Alliance SURGe brings together over 100 members, including national governments, UN organizations, civil society, academia and private sector and NGOs.

The progress of the Initiative is reported annually at UNFCCC COPs.

Next steps

The SURGe Initiative is collaboratively developing a roadmap and key success criteria for each working group and the initiative as a whole. Interested stakeholders can join the initiative by filling out a registration form here. The SURGE initiative aims to foster long-term, inclusive collaboration among Ministers and other stakeholders, with the intention of establishing a lasting legacy for future COPs.

Climate Chance is a member of this initiative and will closely follow its developments in the coming months.