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Urban Development

The weight of cities

MD Staff

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How do we prepare for the doubling of the global urban population by 2050? By dramatically rethinking urbanism and its governance. That means designing cities for people, not cars; allowing everyone access to urban opportunities; investing in resource-efficient buildings, transport, energy, water and waste systems; and enabling cities to experiment and to learn from each other.

These are among the conclusions of an upcoming report from the International Resource Panel, the most authoritative scientific forum for scientists and experts working on natural resource management. UN Environment hosts the secretariat of the Panel, which was launched in 2007 to build and share the knowledge needed to improve the use of resources worldwide.

In The Weight of Cities, experts from the Panel assess the infrastructure, technology and spatial patterns as well as the governance arrangements needed to shift to socially inclusive, resource efficient and sustainable modes of urban development.

With the portion of the population living in cities set to rise from 54 per cent in 2015 to 66 per cent in 2050, there will likely be another 2.4 billion urban dwellers worldwide. The bulk of urban growth will happen across the global South, for instance in China, India and Nigeria.

As existing cities expand and new ones emerge, material consumption is predicted to grow even faster, presenting a huge challenge in the face of scarce resources and intensifying environmental problems including pollution and climate change.

The report uses the concept of “urban metabolism” to frame thinking about how cities can improve citizens’ access to essential services while managing their resources wisely and producing minimal waste.

Earlier modelling of resource consumption in 2050 has indicated a sustainable range of between 6 and 8 tons per person per year. Unless things change, the real-world figure will rise to 8-17 tons by 2050, the new report calculates. However, cities that become more resource efficient in three sectors – transport, commercial buildings, and building heating/cooling – could achieve reductions of 46-67 per cent, it estimates, suggesting that an overall 50 per cent improvement in efficiency is possible.

Restructuring the morphology of cities is key to pursuing that goal as well as achieving greater social inclusion. Denser, better connected cities designed to be more open to the elements could improve well-being along with social and economic exchanges while economizing on all the asphalt, concrete, electricity and water currently consumed in sprawling contemporary urban centres.

The report promotes an alternative urban model featuring networks of “high density nodes” with a mix of housing, jobs and amenities at the neighbourhood level; ‘soft’ mobility such as walking and cycling; passive heating and cooling of buildings; and more intensive use of public spaces.

The report builds on case studies from Minneapolis, in the United States; Beijing and the highly industrial northern city of Kaifeng, China; and the Indian cities of Ahmedabad and Delhi.

It finds that Minneapolis, for instance, could achieve a 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a 62 per cent saving in mineral construction materials by 2050 with interventions including a switch to nuclear and renewable energy, district energy systems and advanced timber construction. Fast-growing Beijing and Kaifeng could achieve significant resource efficiencies over just 5 years with interventions in areas including industrial efficiency, energy efficient buildings and using waste to generate energy. This suggests that rapid urbanization can also offer rapid gains in resource efficiency.

Accelerating urban productivity by restructuring neighbourhoods, investing in city-wide transit systems, building inclusive renewable energy grids and energy efficient buildings, reducing wastes to zero and resource sharing will depend on the emergence of appropriate modes of urban governance.

Cities should be encouraged to innovate and experiment, and also to learn from one another in order to hasten this transition, for instance through “twin town” initiatives or city networks. Moreover, the report says it will be necessary to replace a “competitive cities” governance approach to urban economies with a “well-grounded cities” approach that serves the interests of all citizens.

That will influence how the estimated $90 trillion that will be invested in urban infrastructure through 2050 is spent: either it reinforces the paradigm of the car-oriented city, or promotes solutions that given residents a good quality of life while keeping greenhouse gases and resource consumption sustainable.

The task ahead is to “rethink the city for the era without cheap fossil fuels,” the authors write. Moving away from fossil fuels and current consumption rates will create “a spike of sustainability-oriented innovations. If done well, sustainability will become an aspirational good in itself.”

The International Resource Panel will present the report at the World Urban Forum, which will gather from 7-13 February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It will be available on the Panel’s website.

This article was originally published in Our Planet

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Urban Development

Cities rally against hate, discrimination, racism and violent extremism

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Local governments are and should continue to be key global actors and “co-shapers of a global framework for action” to address current worldwide challenges related to social transformations, together with national governments, international and regional institutions, and civil society. In this context, the Global Steering Committee of the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR adopted the “Nancy Declaration” at its meeting in Nancy (France), on 10 December 2018, in parallel with the City’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Led by Mayor Laurent Hénart of Nancy, Mayor Erias Lukwago of Kampala (Uganda) and Benedetto Zacchiroli (President of the European Coalition of Cities against Racism –  ECCAR), mayors and other local officials representing regional and national coalitions charted and adopted this new roadmap for action for ICCAR member cities. The Nancy Declaration calls for renewed commitment to “develop effective responses to the rise of hate, bigotry and violent extremism, growing worldwide phenomena that accentuate racism, intolerance and discrimination, by implementing local and collective advocacy efforts to raise awareness, developing guidelines and tools in response to these threats, and conducting capacity-building and education-related initiatives”.

Ângela Melo, Director of Policies and Programmes of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Programme, affirmed in her opening remarks that there is an urgent need to rethink the role of cities, to provide them with the means to promote inclusion and respect for diversity, and to ensure that they become green, inclusive and smart. A human rights-based approach should be the foundation of preventing and fighting discrimination through promoting inclusion and diversity framed on the 2030 international agenda of the sustainable development goals.  

Held at the same time as the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration (Morocco, 10-11 December 2018), the ICCAR meeting, organized by UNESCO and the City of Nancy, with the support of ECCAR, served as the “common voice” of its member cities. It concurred to “take action in line with the UN Global Compacts on migration and refugees to eliminate prejudice by highlighting the positive and multiple contributions of these groups to all spheres of life in receiving, transition and origin countries.”

The International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities – ICCAR was launched by UNESCO in 2004. Represented by seven regional and national coalitions, ICCAR is a 500-plus member network of cities across continents. They advocate for global solidarity and collaboration to promote inclusive urban development free from all forms of discrimination. Over the years, the recognition of ICCAR has increased as a global reference for city-to-city cooperation in the pursuit of inclusion and diversity in the urban space.

UNESCO

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Urban Development

How South-South and Triangular cooperation can promote green growth and sustainable cities

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As part of the Global South-South Development Expo 2018, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) convened a thematic solution forum on sustainable urban-industrial development along the Belt and Road.

The forum, building on the outcomes of UNIDO’s flagship BRIDGE for Cities event, focused on how green growth and sustainable cities can be promoted through South-South and Triangular cooperation. It was attended by a high-level audience consisting of representatives from Member States, UN agencies, development finance institutions and the private sector, as well as from civil society and academia.

The moderator of the forum, GONG Weixi, who is Senior Coordinator for South-South and Triangular Industrial Cooperation at UNIDO, introduced the theme by referring to the fact that more than 50 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in cities. He suggested that dealing with urban issues will have a direct impact on poverty reduction and on ensuring quality of life around the world.

The panellists, who included Carlo Fortuna from the Central European Initiative; Sabine Ohler, Director of International Business at the Vienna Business Agency;  Rohey Malick Lowe, Major of Banjul, Gambia; and Mohammad Mustafizur Rahman from Bangladesh’s  Ministry of Information Communications Technologies Division; remarked that while the GSSD Expo makes an extremely valuable contribution to linkage and learning, it is up to developing countries themselves to leverage the success stories and lessons learnt, and that they should take ownership of their development strategies.

There was also agreement that while foreign investments and technology transfer are essential in the development process, South-South cooperation is a process that cannot be forced. It should deliver mutual benefits for all parties, while respecting their national sovereignty.

Gong said, “As the key take-away for this session, the ‘catch-up’ strategy for developing countries to develop through their own efforts is ‘3L’ – linkage, learning, and leverage. The forum today provides us with a platform to link with and learn from all development stakeholders. Ultimately, it is the engagement and ownership of developing countries themselves that can ensure development results.”

The Global South-South Development Expo is the only Expo offered by the United Nations system solely for the Global South. It provides a platform for all development actors and stakeholders to showcase Southern development solutions, celebrate South-South and triangular cooperation successes, share knowledge and lessons learned, explore new avenues for collaboration, and initiate new partnership efforts.

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Urban Development

ADB Report Shares Best Practices in Chinese Cities to Combat Climate Change

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Cities in developing Asia and the Pacific are growing fast, but this surge in urbanization has led to increasing pollution and environmental concerns, threatening to impact the quality of people’s lives. Innovative climate solutions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, are demonstrating that it is possible for cities to pursue growth in a low-carbon and climate-resilient manner, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The report, 50 Climate Solutions from Cities in the People’s Republic of China: Best Practices from Cities Taking Action on Climate Change, highlights case studies where cities in the PRC have embraced means of ensuring more sustainable and climate-resilient growth. Some of these solutions include reducing energy consumption, improving waste management, promoting green spaces, as well as introducing clean-fuel vehicles and public transport.

“Climate change could severely impact developing Asia and the Pacific’s economic growth in the decades to come if no action is taken,” said ADB Deputy Director General for East Asia Ms. M. Teresa Kho at the launch of the report in Beijing. “Actions taken in many cities in the PRC show that it is certainly possible to start to turn the wheel around on climate change and its impacts. Other countries could well find useful lessons from the PRC’s experience.”

The city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, for example, is taking advantage of the area’s abundant wind resources to use renewable energy sources for district heating. The project, supported by a $150 million ADB loan and a technical assistance grant, has helped the residents enjoy cleaner air, while reduce health hazards due to toxic air pollutants due to the city’s previous reliance on coal.

About 50 hectares of old landfills in the city of Wuhan in central PRC, meanwhile, have been transformed into gardens for residents to enjoy, lessening health risks and environmental hazards from the untreated sites.

Other climate action efforts mentioned in the report include a market-based emissions trading scheme in Shanghai, which has seen 100% compliance since its launch in 2013, and the rollout of electric taxis in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, which will help reduce 222,000 tons of carbon emissions per year once the full fleet of traditional taxis is replaced.

The report, which includes details of projects supported by ADB and others, is part of ADB’s aim to support the PRC government’s efforts to address climate change and showcase its innovations in low-carbon city development. ADB is committing $80 billion from 2019 to 2030 to combat climate change in the Asia and Pacific region, while ensuring that at least 75% of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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