Picturing sustainable and just urban futures: Co-creating the cities we deserve

The three winning pictures of the photo competition
The three winning pictures of the photo competition

Many of us 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 us 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” we asked people to showcase activities that are contributing to zero carbon and more inclusive and sustainable cities. 

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.

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.

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.”

The dedicated jury was formed of renowned photographers and filmmakers, communication professionals, urban, capacity-building and research experts: 

  • Molly Ferrill, photographer, filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer dedicated to documenting the changing relationship between people and nature;

  • Mathilde Bonnefoy, a French film editor and director who in 2015 she won the shared Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for the documentary “Citizenfour”;

  • Dickon Bonvik-Stone, who contributes his communication skills to the circular economy, mentors startups in the ocean and climate space and hosts a podcast called Communicating Climate Change;

  • Diana Garlytska, an environmental economics expert and member and advisor in various committees, commissions and boards (IUCN and CoalitionWILD) passionate about youth engagement in nature conservation, storytelling and academic work;

  • Rosibel Martínez Arriaga, international development expert from Honduras and the Co-chair of the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC);

  • Pourya Salehi, the Head of Urban Research, Innovation, and Development Department at the World Secretariat of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and a member of UNFCCC Global Innovation Hub;

  • Alejandro Kilpatrick, Team Leader of the Capacity-building sub-division at UNFCCC;

  • Aileen Orate, Visual Communications Associate at United Nations University – Institute for Environment and Human Security; 

  • and Daniel Powell, a passionate photographer working at the intersection of sustainable development, communications and research for the United Nations University in Tokyo, Japan.

This article was originally published on the website of the International Climate Initiative (IKI).