Urban Transformation

European cities embrace nature-based solutions and other urban transformation stories you need to read

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The Brandenburg Gate is reflected in a puddle following rainfall in Berlin, Germany January 26, 2024.  REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Nature-based solutions appear in 91% of the local climate action plans in Europe. Image: REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Lisa Chamberlain
Communication Lead, Urban Transformation, World Economic Forum
This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation
  • This monthly round-up brings you some of the latest news on cities and urbanization.
  • Top city and urbanization stories: European cities embrace nature-based solutions; nature-positive transition guidelines have been published; German property deals are declining.
  • For more on the World Economic Forum’s city-focused work, visit the Centre for Urban Transformation.

1. Most European cities turning to nature-based solutions

Nearly all European cities are utilizing nature-based solutions (NBS) to mitigate the impacts of climate change, according to a report by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

NBS, which includes 'maintaining, restoring and creating new parks and urban forests, planting individual urban trees, improving urban water management and greening buildings', appears in 91% of the local climate action plans the EEA surveyed.

"The multitude of co-benefits NBS can bring, such as biodiversity gains, recreation potential and mental well-being, means that they are also increasingly recognized as 'no regret' measures," says the EEA.

The report spotlights Germany, which has become a global leader in greening practices. German cities use green roofs and facades to enhance rainwater absorption, cool buildings, improve air quality and promote public wellbeing, it says.

In 2023, temperatures in Europe were above average for 11 months, including the hottest September on record.

Overview of the synergies and trade-offs between climate mitigation and adaptation actions.
Synergies and trade-offs between climate mitigation and adaptation actions. Image: European Environment Agency

2. Nature-positive transition guidelines published

Urban centres contribute 80% of the world’s GDP, but an estimated 44% of global GDP ($31 trillion) generated in cities is vulnerable to disruption due to nature loss.

Despite this, only 37% of the world’s 500 most populous cities have developed a dedicated strategy focused on nature or biodiversity preservation.

To accelerate the transition to nature-positive cities, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Oliver Wyman, has published guidelines for creating a sustainable, resilient urban environment.

Coordinated city action is vital to achieving the goals set by the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), but also strategically necessary given the climate-, health- and infrastructure-related challenges arising from existing unbalanced relationships with nature and the biosphere.

The report is the first in a series of Nature Positive Transitions reports series, which outlines the pathways cities can take to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

3. News in brief: Other top city and urbanization stories this month

US and European cities have topped a new ranking of the world's 1,000 largest urban economies. Oxford Economics' inaugural Global Cities Index used 27 indicators. It ranked cities in five categories, with New York topping the economic category, London coming top for human capital, and Grenoble, France, being the highest for quality of life.

German property deals are experiencing a significant decline due to international investors pulling back. In the first quarter, foreign buyers only accounted for 35% of commercial real estate purchases, the lowest since 2013. Sales volumes have also dropped by 70% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

China has taken a significant step to stabilize its property sector. The central bank will provide 1 trillion yuan ($138 billion) in additional funding and has relaxed mortgage rules.

It comes after two Chinese megacities, Hangzhou and Xian, removed all home purchase restrictions in an effort to boost their real estate markets. The provincial capitals' housing authorities will no longer vet potential buyers' eligibility.

On 10 May, record-high temperatures were recorded across 10 cities in Mexico including the capital Mexico City, according to authorities. The heat wave has led to blackouts nationwide and put strain on the power grid.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to encourage healthy living in cities?

Small shopping malls in India are becoming 'ghost malls' - those with a vacancy rate of more than 40% - as consumers shift towards online shopping and larger shopping centers for a better experience, according to real estate consultancy Knight Frank India.

France's car industry plans to increase electric car sales fourfold by 2027, per a strategy agreement to be signed with the government. French President Emmanuel Macron has set a target for carmakers to produce two million electric or hybrid vehicles by the end of the decade.

Experts are warning that Brazil's southernmost state capital, Rio Grande do Sul could experience severe flooding for weeks.

UK communication services company BT Group has started a trial converting its 'green boxes', which store broadband and phone cabling, into EV charging points to increase capacity. The first one has been installed in East Lothian, Scotland.

4. More on urban transformation on Agenda

San Francisco's downtown struggles with low occupancy rates despite being an innovation hub. But changes are afoot, writes Alison Hagan, Deloitte's San Francisco Managing Principal. Yes SF, launched in 2023, invited entrepreneurs to tackle sustainability challenges and revitalize the city. From green energy to waste management, exceptional ideas from 14 innovators offer solutions for a more sustainable San Francisco.

While smart cities already harness artificial intelligence (AI), some urban centres now incorporate generative AI into their operations. The World Economic Forum’s G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance has developed guiding principles for the responsible use of smart city technologies. From self-driving trucks to versatile chatbots, here’s how four global cities are embracing gen AI.

1. Most European cities turning to nature-based solutions2. Nature-positive transition guidelines published 3. News in brief: Other top city and urbanization stories this month 4. More on urban transformation on Agenda

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