Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cities are a major nexus in the promotion of a green economy – UN HABITAT

Adapted form the UN-HABITAT Input to the Rio+20 Compilation document

The UN HABITAT notes that with regard to gaps in implementation of sustainable development, the following assessment can be made:

- Agenda 21, chapter 7, adequate capacities by 2000: not achieved. In many places, capacities remain inadequate to address the issues.

- Agenda 21, chapter 7, universal provision of environmental infrastructure by 2025: to be reached, this goal would need efforts beyond the end date of related MDGs. For example, universal sanitation coverage will not be achieved in 2015.

- Agenda 21, chapter 6: a subset of the indicators recommended in Agenda 21 have been included in the MDGs (child and maternal death, tuberculosis), but they are not systematically monitored for urban areas specifically. Others are not monitored or centralized systematically (e.g. violence and crime).

- Agenda 21, solid waste: targets for capacity: unknown, but probably unmet. None of the targets for waste treatment are well on track. The monitoring systems for waste are weak (data on solid waste is fragmentary or does not exist in many countries).

- Agenda 21, chapter 28. According to surveys carried out by ICLEI, several thousands of Local Authorities have adopted and implemented local sustainability action plans.

- MDG7C: access to drinking water is well on track. Access to sanitation is not on track.

- MDG7D: likely achieved, but the goal was very vague and clearly not consistent with the needs (many more than 100 million people have joined slums since 2000), nor adequately formulated (static formulation versus dynamic growth of cities). There are more slum dwellers today than in 2000.

Addressing new and emerging challenges.

The demographic and economic shifts of the last two decades have transformed cities and urban centres into the dominant habitats of humankind. As a result, the mode of urban development has a critical bearing on the processes leading to the attainment of sustainable development. It is therefore more critical than ever that Member States and UN Agencies come together to promote sustainable urbanization. The cities of the world’s emerging economies are becoming the drivers of the global economy at the same time as the planet’s resources are fast depleting. We must urgently find a way to achieve further economically and socially equitable growth without further cost to the environment. Cities, their spatial frameworks and infrastructural and governance systems constitute a key lever for delivering this transition.

When managed poorly, urbanization can be detrimental to sustainable development. However, when managed properly, it can contribute positively to sustainable development, for example through the reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions compared to rural areas. Urbanization is also one of the few solutions for effectively dealing with the huge increase in world population.

In this regard, UN-HABITAT advances seven points regarding good management of urbanization and its relationship to sustainable development:

1) countries should elaborate a national urban (not just housing) strategy, as many cities do not have enough capacity to do it themselves;

2) cities should develop city-region plans, because the urbanization patterns in regions surrounding many cities are often chaotic - when there is no clear separation between cities and the surrounding regions, an uncontrolled “no-man’s land” develops;

3) planned city enlargement, or expansion, is necessary as a long-term strategy for preventing the growth of slums , which are home to 30-40 per cent of the world population;

4) urban job creation is critical to economic and social development;

5) effective urban legal frameworks are critical to guaranteeing institutional capacity for the delivery of housing and basic services;

6) urban energy and urban mobility plans are important for sustainable development and for meeting the requirements for urban growth;

7) it is important to improve the economic governance of local authorities in order to increase the financial capacity of cities to provide basic services and sustain infrastructure.

In this way, sustainable urbanization can provide one of the key unifying forces to integrate the three pillars – i.e. economic, environmental and social -- of sustainable development. Efforts to create jobs, reduce ecological footprint and improve quality of life are most effective when pursued in tandem. Prioritizing sustainable urbanization can also help to ensure coherence between sectoral policies such as energy, water, sustainable consumption and production, biodiversity, natural disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation. It is important that this emerging opportunity be recognized and endorsed at Rio+20.

Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication

It is acknowledged that cities are centres of national economic and social development. They attract investments, generate jobs and create wealth. They harness human and technological resources, promote innovations and offer specialised services, which have resulted in otherwise unprecedented gains in productivity and competitiveness. Cities are therefore a major nexus in the promotion of a green economy whose central tenet is that environmental sustainability and economic growth can develop harmoniously.

The two are not inherently mutually-exclusive. This can be accomplished by decoupling the rate of economic growth from the rate of energy and material use and environmental degradation. Because the world can no longer depend on cheap fuel for growth, and economic growth will almost certainly be driven by cities, sustainable urban development must incorporate these emerging dynamics.

Cities are crucial to the transition to a green economy for four complementary reasons.

(1) Virtually all major innovation originates in cities whose density of institutions, people and infrastructure promotes idea sharing and experimentation.

(2) When sensitively planned and serviced, urban density reduces the spatial footprint of development and permits shared infrastructure (which reduces emissions and resource use).

(3) The agglomeration economies of cities means new technologies can be tested and implemented more competitively.

(4) cities have the potential to strengthen resilience by reducing dependence on carbon intensive growth by reintegrating systems at lower costs, and stimulating efficiency in resource use and expanding skills. Whereas cities in the developed world may need to retrofit old systems, those in the developing world may leapfrog this and more cheaply increase both resource efficiency and labour intensity.

Improved technology and competitiveness are prerequisites for innovation for “greener” cities. Education is an important lever to foster understanding of “greener” urbanization. The active involvement of youth as agents of change is paramount.


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