Picturing sustainable and just urban futures

Collage of different pictures which are shown in the following article

Many people live in cities. They serve as our homes and offer opportunities for collective work and learning while being breeding grounds for creativity, inspiration and hope. Nevertheless, cities also account for a staggering 75% of global CO2 emissions. To create sustainable cities with clean air and green places for all, a socially just transformation towards zero carbon emissions is necessary.

It is key that the livelihoods of citizens and communities are secured throughout this process. Building compelling and inspiring narratives helps to make meaning of what is happening around and can contribute to ambitious climate action. Co-creation of knowledge and the facilitation of shared learning around urban climate action support the just transformation of urban futures.

For the Transformative Urban Coalitions (TUC) photo contest “Co-creating the cities we deserve” the project team asked people to showcase activities that are contributing to zero carbon and more inclusive and sustainable cities. Financed by the International Climate Initiative (IKI), TUC supports cities to find joint solutions to become more green, inclusive and sustainable. Its five Urban Labs in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina bring together communities to address local needs and help shift cities towards zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Nikki Sandino Victoriano from the Philippines.

An impressive number of photographs reflecting the theme were submitted. From planting mangroves that protect coastal cities in Indonesia and cleaning the river Yamuna that flows behind the Taj Mahal in India to communities that got together to plant vegetables or build open spaces in their neighbourhoods all over the world, the photos shared a diverse but inspiring view of what a sustainable city looks like and how we can work together to learn, inspire and co-create a more sustainable and inclusive urban future for all.

A woman collects things she can still use on a large rubbish dump. Fields can be seen in the background.
Rayhan Ahmed from Bangladesh.

In total, 534 stunning photos and related stories were submitted by talented individuals aged between 16 to 72 years old, capturing the essence of cities from 48 different countries. The jury judged them on their originality, creativity, photographic quality and relevance to the theme, with the following result:

  1. Nikki Sandino Victoriano from the Philippines, who shares an impactful photo of a father imparting the invaluable lesson of environmental stewardship to his young daughter, teaching her to sow the seeds of a greener tomorrow.
  2. Rayhan Ahmed from Bangladesh, who takes us on a journey into the lives of the waste pickers dwelling in the heart of informal settlements in his country, portraying the contrast between a pile of garbage and a green open space.
  3. Stephen Ofori Amo from Ghana, who portrays how combined efforts of improved public transportation, collaborative action and initiatives like Green Ghana Day contribute to securing a more sustainable and greener urban landscape.
A yellow bus with four people holding two plants together in their hands, which they hold out of the windows.
Stephen Ofori Amo from Ghana.

These and other photos will be exhibited at the 5th Capacity-building Hub at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, UAE.

“The 500+ photos prove there is a lot of creativity, passion and commitment to make cities around the globe better places”, said Simone Sandholz, Head of the Urban Futures and Sustainability Transformation at UNU-EHS. “The TUC project will not only use them for an exhibition, we will also do a scientific analysis of the photos and the related narratives to inform urban planning and identify capacities needed.”

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