Rising global temperatures, more frequent extreme events, and erratic climate patterns are reshaping cities and livelihoods around the world and increasingly exposing large shares of the global population to unprecedented risks. The Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global warming is expected to reach or exceed 1.5°C on average over the next 20 years, and possibly by the early 2030s, ten years ahead of previous projections. Many ecosystems will shortly reach tipping points resulting in irreversible damage and increasing socio-economic costs.

In that upsetting context, human settlements around the world are rapidly transforming. In the next three decades, the urban population in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia will double. Between 2018 and 2050, countries like China, India and Nigeria are expected to grow respectively by 255 million, 416 million and 189 million urban dwellers; together, they will account for almost 35% of global urban population growth over that period.

Most of the big cities where people live, are already built, too often in ways that aggravate climate change and its impacts. Even in Latin America, where the pace of urbanisation has been slowing compared to other developing regions, most cities are struggling to cope with increasing levels of congestion and inequality.

Where can we still find scope to shape the urbanisation process in developing countries, in ways that are less damaging for climate and more protective of people? This report argues that intermediary cities, defined as urban centres with fewer than 1 million inhabitants, can provide an opportunity towards more climate-friendly urbanisation patterns.

In 2020, intermediary cities accounted for 58% of the urban population in less developed regions. By 2035, they will still account for close to 53%. As actors of both adaptation and mitigation, intermediary cities naturally have a number of specific assets. First, their size offers opportunities for more effective governance and management, greater social cohesion through a greater sense of identity and belonging, and a more balanced relationship with the surrounding natural environment. Second, many of these cities are not yet caught in an unsustainable development path that defines some of their larger peers. There is thus significant scope for shaping them for greater resilience, leveraging off their strengths, and avoiding carbon lock-in.

Unleashing the potential of intermediary cities in the fight against climate change, requires innovative development strategies involving local governments, national authorities and international partners, as well as the private and non-government sectors. Based on comprehensive diagnosis, this report supports such strategies by pointing to actions leading to better data and knowledge creation, multi-level actions and policy complementarities that simultaneously address both development and climate objectives, as well as financial mechanisms for climate actions that are tailored to intermediary cities.

Now is the time to scale up efforts in support of intermediary cities to proactively address climate change and promote sustainable urbanisation processes. The OECD Development Centre and UN-Habitat stand ready to support intermediary cities and their national governments through this process. This report is only the first step.



Ms. Maimunah Mohd Sharif

Executive Director, UN-HABITAT



Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir

Director of the OECD Development Centre

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD/UN-Habitat 2022

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at https://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.