EMERGING AND SUSTAINABLE CITIES INITIATIVE | LATIN AMERICA & THE CARRIBEAN
Urbanization is occurring at a rapid pace in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Already the
second-most urbanized region on the planet, LAC has gone from a 62% urbanization rate in 1980 to
81% in 2011 and is expected to reach 89% by 2050. This process happened in a disorderly manner and
without adequate planning, creating daunting challenges, especially by causing carbon-intensive
urban sprawl and placing the urban poor in marginalized areas most vulnerable to disaster risk and
climate change. The Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative (ESCI) seeks to address these
challenges by developing planning tools like greenhouse gas inventories and risk maps as well as
action plans to put cities in Latin America and the Caribbean on a sustainable pathway that
includes low -carbon, climate-resilient development.
Twenty-six per cent of the urban population in LAC lives in poverty or extreme poverty and nearly
one in four people lives in slums. It is estimated that 66% of the poor in Latin America reside in
urban areas. By taking a multi-sectoral approach, ESCI not only seeks to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions and vulnerability, but also to create other social, environmental, and economic benefits,
thus improving the lives of citizens and especially the urban poor
Over 50 million people live in the 55 cities where the initiative is active. More than 10
million of these people are poor.
30 ESCI cities have developed action plans that include activities to reduce their carbon
footprint and vulnerability to climate change.
28 ESCI cities have developed climate vulnerability assessments, greenhouse gas mitigation
studies, and urban growth scenarios.
Many of the climate-relevant projects proposed in the action plans are already underway in ESCI
cities, including upgrading storm drainage networks, expanding bus rapid transit systems, creating
green corridors for storm water retention, and creating control systems that help reduce flood
Although the big metropolises in Latin America and the Caribbean house the largest concentrations of
national populations and wealth, these mega cities are no longer those with the highest growth rates. The
region’s urban population and economic growth is increasingly taking place in intermediate-sized
cities, whose urban footprints are expanding in size exponentially. This rapid and chaotic pattern of
urbanization is creating considerable challenges for the municipalities in the region.
Intermediate-sized cities in LAC are becoming important poles of investment and economic growth,
representing 25% of the region’s GDP and expected to reach 40% by 2030. However, they continue to
have high proportions of their population living in poverty, limited governance and an enduring scarcity of
financial resources, which hinders their capacity to deal with the complex urban challenges they confront.
The adverse effects of climate change are expected to further aggravate these challenges. To date, 55 of
the 242 emerging cities in the region have joined the ESCI network, and more are expected to follow.
As a response to the challenges of climate change and rapid urbanization, the Inter-American Development
Bank launched the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative to support sustainable development in
medium-sized cities facing high growth rates. Considering urban planning as a key tool to tackle climate
change, ESCI seeks to build greater capacity in Latin American and Caribbean cities to improve the quality
of life of their citizens, to reduce their carbon footprint, and to increase their resilience. This helps
partner cities to identify and prioritize the challenges they face and to determine adequate solutions. By
working currently with 55 cities across the region, the initiative reaches a total of over 50 million
people, more than 10 million of which are poor.
Through a rigorous assessment in dialogue with its local partners, ESCI identifies and prioritizes key
issues that the cities face on their path to sustainability and helps them develop action plans with a
project pipeline to promote social inclusion, resilience, efficient use of urban assets and environmental
resources, and a prosperous economy. Since many of the challenges these cities face are exacerbated by
urban inequality and social vulnerability, action plans take inequality and the needs of the poor into
By incorporating indicators and climate change studies in its methodology, ESCI helps mainstream climate
change into city planning in Latin America and the Caribbean. The initial indicator assessment covers
corresponding key metrics for mitigation and adaptation and also assesses related issues like energy
efficiency and disaster risk management into account. The challenges are analyzed in further detail through
a set of studies that includes an assessment of the city’s carbon footprint and the creation of
disaster risk maps that take into account climate change. The findings are linked to urban growth
scenarios, thus allowing local decision-makers to better understand the future impact of current policies
and regulations. Local stakeholders, including civil society, are consulted throughout the process.
The Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative supports local efforts to improve the quality of life of
citizens, focusing particularly on the urban poor.
For example, an upgrade of the public transport system in La Paz, Mexico, provides cleaner, more efficient
and comfortable buses for up to 50,000 people per day. Street improvements in Mar del Plata, Argentina,
have enhanced walkability for more than 13,000 pedestrians every day. Urban rehabilitation plans in
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and in Panama City, Panama, will make a real difference for the environment, citizen
health, and quality of life.
The action plan of Managua, Nicaragua, includes a program for upgrading poor neighbourhoods and new social
housing. Public transport and storm water drainage improvements planned for Managua will benefit urban poor
The methodology of the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative is designed to be scalable and replicable
throughout the region, and can thus be implemented by any municipality, group of municipalities, or
provincial government. National finance institutions, such as Caixa Economica Federal in Brazil, Financiera
de Desarrollo Territorial (FINDETER) in Colombia, and the National Bank of Public Infrastructure and
Services (BANOBRAS) in Mexico, are expanding ESCI’s scope nationally in these three countries with
their own resources. Civil society is strengthened by getting non-governmental organizations, universities,
and research institutes involved in monitoring the implementation of the action plans. The initiative is
open to requests for support from local and national governments alike.
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