The COP27, now known for its agreement on ‘Loss and Damage’, was a success for some and a grave disappointment for others. It was an amalgamation of various views and approaches to climate change, including perspectives from different governance tiers. From the international organizations to the national ones and down to the State and local governments, the connection is apparently people and communities, but it is also the environment. The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the increased focus on carbon intensive industries makes one wonder if climate negotiations are slowly venturing into a sector-wise approach. If this approach is indeed proving successful at some level, the question then arises, which sector to focus on first. There were a lot of panels and discussions during COP27 on green hydrogen, steel & cement industry but there were also a few on Cities and urban settlements.

Cities, which appear to be leading the effort to adapt best to climate change related disasters and impacts, are still potentially an untapped sector in terms of climate action. Not only do cities and their governments have the pulse of the local communities but also act as the first responders in a climate crisis. Empowering cities and knowledge sharing across cities, accordingly, was an important theme at this COP but was somehow obscured by the bigger agenda of climate negotiations. This obscurity, however, may be helpful in working towards decarbonizing a sector which is densely populated and highly vulnerable to climate change. The missing factor may be the absence of political will and empowerment of city governments within different countries. This gap can be overcome with the help of private organizations and international organizations successfully, if backed by a concerted effort. The C40 cities initiative previously, and the SURGe (Sustainable Urban Resilience for the next Generation) initiative during this COP, have provided some momentum to this effort.

Introduction of multiple cross cutting themes can provide the impetus for advocating urban decarbonization. The inclusion of marginalized communities, women and especially youth is also necessary to understand and frame policies within this sector to counter disproportionate impacts of climate disasters. The youth pavilion in COP27 was the most happening and visible pavilion. The younger generation are environmentally more conscious and responsible, with greater potential to advocate for climate issues in the global arena. The inclusion of youth and marginalized sections within cities and communities is one approach in mobilizing support for sustainable cities. Capturing this momentum might help the global community in achieving climate goals that might not be loud and obvious but may have wider impacts.

The Paris agreement provided a workable and globally acceptable framework for countries to negotiate and work towards their individual climate goals. It also has the elasticity to incorporate new approaches and greater collaboration to achieve common goals. The ‘phase out of fossil fuels’ might not have made its way into the COP27 agreement, but until it does, demand-side options for climate action may provide greater relief than anticipated.