Health and Healthcare Systems

COVID-19: The cities leading a greener and fairer recovery

Today’s investments will shape tomorrow’s cities. Here's how we ensure the future is resilient, low-carbon and equal. Image: Unsplash

Giuseppe Sala
Mayor, City of Milan
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

• Cities have the power to cut 90% of emissions and create 87 million jobs by 2030.

• The C40 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force brings together mayors from around the world to forge a strong, swift, green recovery.

• Priorities are green jobs; safe, affordable housing; resilient infrastructure; renewable energy and zero-carbon mass transit.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense suffering, throwing the global economy into upheaval and bringing hardship to many, including the elderly, working families and those most vulnerable in our communities. In the wake of this catastrophe however, we have a chance to transform the world's great cities and forge a new normal that benefits all people and addresses the even greater threat of climate breakdown. We must not only treat the symptoms of global destabilization, but also prepare for future shocks and address deep, systemic ills that existed long before COVID-19.

Many have called for a green recovery, and some have called for one that reduces inequality. As the Mayor of Milan, I have been clear that any recovery in my city, in Italy and for Europe, must be rooted in these principles of equity and climate action. I am proud to know that many of my fellow mayors around the world share this vision, and we are delivering.

Mayors can mobilize resources and policies to make cities economic engines for the recovery. With the right investments in climate action, cities can not only cut 90% of our emissions but also create 87 million jobs by 2030, and yield an economic return of $24 trillion by 2050 in cost savings alone.

We have often said that cities are where the future happens first. Right now, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves: what kind of future do we want?

To answer this question, Los Angeles Mayor and C40 Chair Eric Garcetti and I established the C40 Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, bringing together mayors from around the world to create a plan for the green and just recovery. We envision a swift and strong recovery based on the principles of a Global Green New Deal – and we are committed to taking the concrete action necessary to achieve this vision.

Commuters during lockdown on a train platform in Milan. Safe mass transit is essential for all.
Commuters during lockdown on a train platform in Milan. Safe mass transit is essential for all. Image: Reuters/Flavio Lo Scalzo

First, we will lead in building a just transition to an inclusive economy, founded on the swift creation of new, good green jobs; training and upskilling of workers; and support for all essential workers. Already, the city of Medellín in Colombia has reactivated 980,000 jobs using digital technology to support a safe reopening, and Los Angeles has established a programme to provide vocational training for over 1,400 janitors in both COVID prevention and sustainability practices.

Meanwhile, we will continue to drive greater resilience and equity throughout our cities and society. By providing fundamental public services for all, like delivering safe mass transit and access to clean water, food, sanitation and affordable, healthy housing, we will ensure the foundation for a fair society and strong economy that can safely weather future shocks. Mayors are uniquely equipped to meet this challenge: during lockdown in Milan, for instance, our centralized food aid system provided help to over 20,000 citizens in need, while Lisbon is offering landlords stable, long-term incomes to turn vacant short-term lets into “safe rent” homes for key workers.

Finally, we will lead in making cities safer and healthier places. We will create "15-minute cities", where residents can meet their needs via a short walk or bicycle ride. We will permanently reallocate road space to pedestrians and cyclists. We will invest in nature-based solutions such as parks, green roofs, and permeable pavements, to reduce the risks of extreme heat, drought and flooding. By giving public space back to people and nature, reclaiming our streets and guaranteeing clean air, our cities become better, healthier and more sustainable places to live. In Milan, we are already safely reopening street markets, creating 35 kilometres of new bike lanes and pedestrianizing several school streets. Meanwhile, the city of Freetown in Sierra Leone will plant one million trees over the next year alone.

How a green COVID recovery could impact global warming.
How a green COVID recovery could impact global warming. Image: Forster et al (2020)

As mayors, we are powerful. But we cannot achieve a green and just recovery by ourselves. We call on national governments and international and regional institutions to collaborate with us to build a more inclusive future for all.

First, we need to ensure all stimulus packages, corporate aid and recovery funds prioritize climate-resilient industries and infrastructure. Further, these investments should directly address the root causes of longstanding inequalities and ongoing racial discrimination.

National governments should also directly support cities by investing in, subsidizing and supporting affordable zero-emission mass transit and renewable energy, helping cities protect the heightened air quality seen during the pandemic and create jobs.

Finally, as a cornerstone of the COVID-19 recovery, C40 mayors demand that national governments must end all public fossil fuel investments and subsidies, and move decisively away from polluting carbon industries and toward a low-carbon future.

As leaders of the world’s largest and most influential cities we are committed to doing everything in our power to deliver the future we want. Today’s investments will shape tomorrow’s cities – let us make sure they are healthy, prosperous, and safe places for everybody.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Health and Healthcare SystemsUrban Transformation
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Feeding the future: why Renovation and Reinvention are key to saving our food system

Juliana Weltman Glezer

June 13, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum