Why intermediary cities are vital to breaking dependency on high carbon development


By Dr Michael Lindfield, Senior Consultant and Dražen Kučan, Urban and Energy Efficiency Sector Lead (Green Climate Fund)


More than two thirds of the global population are expected to reside in cities by 2050. Urbanisation offers unprecedented risks and opportunities with respect to the global response to climate change. Cities and urban infrastructure are one of four global systems (others are energy, land and ecosystems and infrastructure) that are key to reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limiting long-term global warming levels to less than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cities represent at least 58% of direct global emissions – 18% of all global emissions came from just 100 cities in 2017 – and constitute at least 21% of the potential for direct global emission reduction.  

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Intermediate cities and climate action: driving change through urban land use and governance

By Oliver Harman, Cities Economist for Cities that Work, International Growth Centre


In the first blog of this two-part series, it was argued that intermediate cities, through strong rural-urban linkages, especially in low-income settings, can provide an important social safety net in addition to their potential to alleviate poverty in the long-term. Moreover, and although largely undervalued by the international community and countries, intermediate cities can foster both short term climate adaptation and longer term climate mitigation. Namely, two areas currently under climatic strain stand to generate substantial gains through proactive policy: urban land use and municipal finances and urban governance. Through citizen driven mandates and by designing interventions that localise climate issues, stakeholders in climate action can help drive change in this area.

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Intermediate cities: a missing piece in the climate change puzzle

By Oliver Harman, Cities Economist for Cities that Work, International Growth Centre


Research and debate on climate change currently underestimate the importance of a key group of players: intermediate cities. Currently conversation and studies on climate change often centre on large and relatively wealthy capital cities. Their size in population, data availability and comparatively higher energy use per person are factors that draw attention. In comparison, low income intermediate cities (or small and medium sized cities) – those cities that play a linking role between rural and urban, and between cities of different sizes – are often left undervalued in the debate. This is despite these cities (particularly those equatorial or coastal in nature) facing disproportionate risks to climate shocks and stressors. They are vulnerable, and this vulnerability is increasing with rapid urbanisation, while they continue to face limited human and financial capacities.

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Intermediate cities: a green and transformative post-COVID-19 recovery?

By Dražen Kučan, Sector Lead / Senior Urban and Energy Efficiency Specialist, Green Climate Fund

Guilty as charged: cities and urban populations are among the core drivers of anthropogenic climate change. Cities produce between 71% and 75% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions1. There needs to be a ‘paradigm shift towards low emission and climate-resilient development pathways’. A shift that can happen in developing countries by supporting and investing in high impact climate mitigation as well as resilience and adaptation initiatives.

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Why local? Why now? Strengthening intermediary cities to achieve the SDGs

By Shipra Narang Suri, Ph.D. Chief, Urban Practices Branch, Global Solutions Division, UN-Habitat and Federico Bonaglia, Deputy Director, OECD Development Centre

Cities and local authorities around the world have played a key role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, applying prevention and containment measures, providing swift humanitarian response, as well as taking the first steps towards post-pandemic recovery. They implemented nation-wide measures, but also experimented with bottom-up recovery strategies. Local authorities are an indispensable “ring” in the governance chain necessary to prevent and respond to pandemics and advance a One Health Approach.

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Why investing in intermediary cities should be a priority for a green recovery

By Michael Lindfield, Senior Consultant, former Senior Specialist at the ADB

Although the COVID-19 pandemic will change the context for investment decisions – including for climate investment in intermediary cities in emerging markets and developing countries – little has been done to detail these consequences. In general, consequences for financing institutions and cities may include lower inflows to institutions like pension funds and insurance companies, and increased pressure to buy government bonds and lower revenue base, thus reducing cities’ and other urban institutions’ ability to service debt and/or provide availability payments to concessions. Additional consequences include potentially lower emerging market and developing economy sovereign and sub-sovereign credit ratings (increasing the cost of debt), and curbed economic growth, thus curtailing the potential for cost recovery in relation to green projects.    

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Raising capital for intermediary cities

By Jeremy Gorelick, Senior Infrastructure Finance Advisor, USAID’s* WASH-FIN (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Finance) Programme, and Joel Moktar, Project Leader, Open Capital Advisors


This blog is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection between intermediary cities in developing countries and sustainable development


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Intermediary cities are the fastest growing cities in the developing world. Often referred to as secondary or second-tier cities, intermediary cities typically have a population of between 50,000 and one million people. They play a fundamental role in connecting both rural and urban areas to basic facilities and services.[1] Driven by population growth and rural-urban migration, intermediary cities worldwide are projected to grow at almost twice the rate of megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants) between now and 2030.[2] Of these, the fastest growing cities are in Africa and Asia.[3]

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