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Mayors, governments and private sector leaders gathering this week for a Cities and Regions Summit have highlighted the key role of nature in their efforts to achieve reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stave off extreme heat and protect wildlife as part of efforts to slow the triple planetary crisis of climate change and biodiversity loss

Cities summit 25 febUrban agriculture is a nature-based solution that can provide fresh and healthy foods and contribute to climate change mitigation. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

At the summit, which took place ahead of the resumed fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Nairobi, Kenya, local and national leaders also showcased solutions ready to be scaled-up, such as tree planting, water body restoration, use of recycled and bio-based materials, as well as innovative financial models.

“The grey in our cities is impacting human and environmental health; bringing the green back is a critical challenge,” said UNEP executive director Inger Andersen.

The summit also saw the launch of the Coalition on Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Food and the release of a new report looking at the potential of urban agriculture to feed growing urban populations while bringing environmental benefits.

The second UNEA Cities and Regions Summit released an outcome document that lays out recommendations to change the paradigm of cities and nature, make urban infrastructure greener and more resilient to environmental threats, and part of the solution to the triple planetary crisis.

Released by the International Resource Panel and UNEP, a new think piece documents the many benefits of urban agriculture and provides guidance on how to do it well. To give one example, a study in São Paulo, Brazil, showed that enhanced urban agriculture could supply all 21 million residents of the city with vegetables.

“Responding to food systems challenges require changing how urban people eat and what they eat,” said Izabella Teixeira, co-chair of the IRP. “Urban agriculture is a nature-based solution that can provide fresh and healthy foods to urban dwellers and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The understanding of local context in which it’s being implemented is crucial to deal with uncertainties and maximise its benefits.”

However, more research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of urban agriculture and the policy actions needed to tap its potential. Local contexts and uncertainties need to be clarified, while diverse forms of urban agriculture must be integrated into a portfolio of approaches that cover land-based and vertical farming, poultry and fish-farming, and high-tech indoor techniques. 

Coalition on sustainable urban food systems 

The summit also saw the launch of a new Coalition launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNEP, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), C40, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) and other partners which will leverage knowledge, resources and multi-level partnerships in support to urban food systems that are sustainable and take nature into account. The coalition is an outcome of the UN Food Systems Summit.

“When we invest in nature and we integrate that into climate strategy, into infrastructure standards, into building codes, and into planning guidelines, then we make the difference,” UNEP’s Inger Andersen added. “And when we invest in that mangrove forests that protect the city or that urban wetland that can collect t water and heavy rainfall then we are investing in nature’s infrastructure.”

The outcome document also calls for subnational action under the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to accelerate efforts to restore millions of hectares of degraded land and bring back biodiversity.