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Urban Development

New “Urban Sustainability Framework” Guides Cities Towards a Greener Future

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In an effort to support cities to achieve a greener future, a new Urban Sustainability Framework (USF), launched today by the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), serves as a guide for cities seeking to enhance their sustainability.

Launched at the ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF9)*, taking place February 7-13, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this guide supports cities along the sustainability pathway, from creating a vision to identifying financial resources to implement their plans.

The USF lays out six key dimensions of urban sustainability: governance and integrated planning, fiscal sustainability, economic competitiveness, environment and resource efficiency, low carbon and resilience, and social inclusiveness. The Framework is a collaboration among cities, organizations, and experts who have contributed to the development of the Framework.

“We are confident that through this collaboration, a shared vision and common approach to urban sustainable development can be forged. We invite cities to use the framework to meet the challenges they face today and in the coming decades, and we enthusiastically look forward to the collaborative efforts to adopt an integrated approach to urban sustainability,” said GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii.

The new USF guidance document includes a “Four-Stage Approach” for cities to improve their sustainability status through the following process: defining a vision with priorities, determining financing, and, finally, monitoring and evaluating their project implementation progress.

“The USF assists cities to identify their sustainability aspirations and establish how they will finance their implementation plans. These two very important stages of the process go hand in hand,” said Ming Zhang, World Bank Practice Manager for Urban Development. “A special aspect of the USF is that it provides a corresponding selection of forward-looking methods and tools which peer cities are using to successfully finance and implement their projects.”

Cities can understand the USF’s dimensions of urban sustainability by using its “Measuring Framework”, which includes a selection of indicators that help cities track their progress toward their sustainability goals, while comparing against their peers, to promote an integrated approach to sustainability.

The USF is part of a larger collaboration for knowledge exchange on sustainable urban planning. Financed by the GEF and led by the World Bank, the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC, www.thegpsc.org) was launched in March 2016. It was designed to meet the need for an enabling environment – a platform – that allows cities to exchange ideas, share experiences, use analytical tools, and, most importantly, steer investment toward long-term sustainability.

The GPSC assists cities in tapping into cutting-edge knowledge and expertise on topics ranging from urban planning to low-carbon strategy, transit-oriented development, and sustainable financing. Together with various partners in the urban realm, the GPSC is creating a suite of knowledge products and tools that will help cities drive their development agenda. The platform currently comprises of 28 cities from 11 countries.

An important collaborator joined the platform at WUF9 with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city of Aarhus, Denmark, and the World Bank. Through the MOU, Denmark’s second largest city becomes a knowledge partner of the GPSC.

“Aarhus is very excited to become a GPSC knowledge partner and the opportunity this presents to collaborate with cities on a world-wide scale. We definitely have worthwhile experiences to share with our peers, and likewise hope to learn from others. Through this knowledge exchange, Aarhus can reflect upon our own policies and practices and work toward improving the city’s urban sustainability,” said Jacob Bundsgaard, Mayor of Aarhus.

GPSC and Aarhus will be collaborating in the following areas:

  1. sustainable, integrated planning strategies;
  2. low carbon development towards the goal of carbon neutrality;
  3. adaptation and resilience; and
  4. water management

“The GPSC builds a strong partnership with cities around the world to share cutting-edge knowledge. We look forward to working with the city of Aarhus to bring its urban sustainability knowledge and insights to many other cities,” said Xueman Wang, Program Manager for the GPSC.

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Urban Development

Smart housing prototype shows promise in rapidly urbanizing Africa

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photo: UN Environment

Africa is urbanizing fast, as its population grows and many flocks to cities in search of jobs, education and healthcare.

Studies show that hundreds of millions more Africans will live in cities over the next three decades.

Many of these new urban Africans, however, are likely to end up in informal settlements. Already an estimated 200 million Africans live in informal settlements—often without access to energy and sanitation.

The growing class of urban poor need access to decent housing. But the challenge is that the global housing sector already emits almost a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and uses up to 40 per cent of the planet’s total resources. New approaches are clearly needed.

As the housing sector grows—and it must grow if we want an equitable world—we need to reduce its environmental impact, not raise it,” said UN Environment Acting Executive Director, Joyce Msuya. “Smart design is the only way to meet our housing needs and stay within planetary boundaries.”

UN Environment, UN Habitat, the Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture and associated partners are working on these designs, one of which is on display at the UN Environment headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

First unveiled at the fourth United Nations Environment Assembly, the 3D-printed modular structure, made from biodegradable bamboo, aims to spark ideas and debate on how future biomaterial processes can help meet the Sustainable Development Goals, Habitat III New Urban Agenda and Paris Agreement.

The pavilion shows how post-agricultural waste—like bamboo, coconut, rice, soy and corn—can be turned into construction materials. It demonstrates solar energy and water systems that make homes self-sufficient and zero carbon. It highlights how micro-farming can be achieved with plant walls. All these features, and more, are integrated, monitored and managed by sensors and digital controls.

“As urbanization gallops forward, people around the world are tired of seeing precious natural habitats paved over with toxic, energy-intensive materials such as concrete and steel,” said Anna Dyson, Director of the Center for Ecosystems in Architecture at Yale University. “In the 21st century, global construction practices must innovate towards nature-based solutions for future cities. Our research consortium with East African collaborators is devoted to advancing state-of-the-art locally produced building systems.”

It is fitting that the pavilion is based in Kenya, as the government there has prioritized affordable housing as a key pillar of its Big Four Agenda, which aims to make the East African nation an upper middle-income country by 2030. Over the next five years, the government plans to build over 500,000 affordable houses across the country to meet the ever-growing housing demand.

To achieve the low-cost housing agenda, however, the industry needs to embrace technological changes that will result in the use of innovative sustainable construction, the aggregate effect of which would be to lower the embodied energy and average cost of manufacturing and housing. “Architecture must address the global housing challenge by integrating critically needed scientific and technical advances in energy, water, and material systems while remaining sensitive to the cultural and aesthetic aspirations of different regions,” said Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

The pavilion serves as a starting point for those in government and industry to think about what they can do better. It is part of a series of demonstration buildings, which started with a 22-square-meter “Ecological Living Module”, powered by renewable energy and designed to minimize the use of resources such as water. This module was displayed at the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2018.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

First ever Cities Summit calls for integrated approach to urban infrastructure

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While Member States were adopting a resolution on sustainable infrastructure at the UN Environment Assembly, the Cities Summit reinforced the importance of local action and the need for an integrated approach to urban infrastructure.

Already 60 per cent of waste and three quarters of resource use and greenhouse gas emissions come from cities, making them great places to tackle sustainable consumption and production. But preserving the well-being of an increasingly urban population, many of whom still lack access to affordable and adequate housing and basic services, is just as important as we seek to achieve the sustainable development goals.

An integrated approach to urban infrastructure can help do both.

In the São Paulo neighbourhood of Jardim Helian, around 14,000 people live in an informal settlement, where the unplanned nature of the area has led to obvious problems.

“One of the issues is when houses invade the river’s territory, leading to forced channelling [which causes floods during the rainy season],” said local resident Mohammed. “Another is that sewage is thrown directly into the creek.”

The Sustainable Cities Programme and UN Environment is helping create an integrated “neighbourhood approach”, which addresses multiple environmental issues by bringing locals together with government and including their concerns in city planning. Lifestyles are already becoming more sustainable there thanks to the intervention.

According to the International Resource Panel Report Weight of Cities, optimizing systems and creating cross-sector synergies between buildings, mobility, energy and urban design can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and resource use by up to 55 per cent.

“Close to 70 per cent of the urban infrastructure that we will see in 2050 is yet to be built,” said Joyce Msuya, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment, at the summit. It is a huge opportunity to solve different for our cities and future-proof investments.”

UN-Habitat head Maimunah Mohd Sharif, who opened the summit alongside Msuya, concurred, saying that cities are where “the most-severe challenges arising from human-made climate change will have to be confronted”.

Solutions are everywhere

Many solutions exist, such as smart supermarkets and district energy systems, which allow wider systems integration. The retail chain Aktiv & Irma in Germany, for example, has installed an integrated system that links refrigeration, lighting, heat, ventilation and air conditioning. This optimizes power use and cuts 20 per cent off energy costs.

“Remember whenever you hold your hand behind the fridge, it is warm. And today, most supermarkets don’t use this heat,” said Ziad Al Bawaliz, Danfoss Chief Executive Officer, Turkey, Middle East and Africa. “By using waste heat from all the supermarkets in just Europe, we could replace 10 coal power plants.”

With a district energy system—a network of underground pipes that heat or cool multiple buildings—waste heat can even be stored. This includes heat from data centres, industry and metro systems, as seen in countries like Japan, Korea or Chile.

But integration is also needed at different levels, from vertical governance to horizontal, cross-sectoral planning, policy, and finance.

“A sustainable city needs sustainable infrastructure and an integrated, holistic and circular approach to sustainability challenges,” said Tserenbat Namsrai, Mongolia’s Minister of Environment and Tourism, who backed the resolution on creating sustainable infrastructure.   

The Cities Summit showed that visionary local governments, companies and communities are developing solutions that link systems like transport, energy, housing, water and waste. Some cities have set high climate and/or circularity targets.

Osaka, Japan is including energy policy and climate change measures within urban development planning to enable integrated solutions. Dakar, Senegal emphasized the need for good data to undertake holistic planning, while and Buenos Aires and the Ministry of Environment in Argentina demonstrated how multiple levels of government can jointly address the sustainable management of land, transport, and energy.

A new initiative on infrastructure

Integration of partners is just as important, which is why leading companies—including ENGIE, Siemens, JCI and Danfoss—said at the Summit that they would join forces with the UN Environment on a new public-private partnership to promote and implement urban system integration

“The technology is there, finance is there, but we need capacity, said Michael Schack, Director of Networks and Cogeneration ay ENGIE. “Only the UN can address this gap. And we, as the private sector, stand ready to launch a new partnership with UN Environment.”

The new UN Environment Urban Systems Integration programme will help local and national governments accelerate their transitions to circular and low-carbon economies, enhance efficiency, and reduce cities’ resource demands while improving health and well-being. Country participants, including Korea, Poland and Germany, also expressed support for such a partnership.

“Our specialty is to integrate things in Korea and we stand ready to assist any city and country to fast track to integration,” said Benjamin Yoon of the Korean District Heating Corp and a member of Korea’s delegation to the UN Environment Assembly.

The initiative aims to support cities in developing integrated approaches to cross-sectoral infrastructure planning and policies and in implementing key technologies that can facilitate connections and interactions across buildings, energy, transportation, wastewater treatment and waste management.

As United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit Luis Alfonso de Abla, said in the closing panel, “we need concrete, bold and ambitious climate actions”.

The commitment by UN Environment and partners to accelerate integrated urban infrastructure is undoubtedly one such action.

UN Environment

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Urban Development

Smart cities hold the key to sustainable development

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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Asia and the Pacific’s phenomenal development has been a story of rapid urbanization. As centres of innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity, cities have drawn talent from across our region and driven economic growth which has transformed our societies. In southeast Asia alone, cities generate 65 percent of the region’s GDP. Yet the ongoing scale of urbanization is a considerable challenge, one which puts huge pressure on essential public services, housing availability and the environment.

How we respond to this pressure, how we manage our urban centres and plan for their future expansion in Asia and the Pacific, is likely to decide whether recent development gains can be made sustainable. It is of primordial importance to Malaysia as its economy powers towards high income status. In ASEAN countries, 90 million more persons are expected to move to cities by 2030. Accommodating this influx sustainably will determine whether the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can be achieved, and the climate targets of the Paris Climate Agreement can be met.

An effective response calls for integrated planning across all levels of government. Greater consideration needs to be given to demographic and land use trends to anticipate their impacts and minimize environmental damage. These trends should inform our investments in infrastructure but also in water, energy and transport services. Closing the infrastructure gap in the region will alone require an additional $200 billion of investment a year until 2030. We know local government revenues are mostly insufficient and fiscal decentralization inadequate to respond to this need. Intelligent fiscal reforms to improve local revenues are likely to be necessary and we will need to consider how we can capture land value and use Public-Private Partnerships.

In the most disaster-prone region in the world, it is incumbent on us to reduce the risk of natural disasters to which millions of urban dwellers are exposed. By 2030, vulnerable populations living in extreme risk areas – along river banks, canals and slopes – are expected to have grown by fifty percent since 2015 in many of region’s major cities. Some cities, including Melaka, are participating in initiatives such as the 100 Resilient Cities, focused on community-based disaster risk reduction. Yet this effort needs to be given even greater scale if we are to achieve risk resilient cities in our region. Accelerating our multilateral cooperation and best practice sharing could make a valuable contribution to doing so.

New technologies hold great promise for more effective urban solutions. From smart grids and district energy solutions, or real-time traffic management, to waste management and water systems, smart technologies will enable our future cities to operate more effectively. They could also make them more inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities. We have an opportunity to incorporate universal design standards and systems such as automated access to audio-based communications to improve accessibility to cities for persons with disabilities. We must encourage smart city developers to use standards which would give persons with diverse disabilities full access to the physical infrastructure and information others enjoy.

As we look to overcome all these challenges, the ASEAN Smart Cities Network designed to mobilize smart solutions throughout southeast Asia, is a welcome development on which we must build. The implementation of this network is something the organization I represent, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, has worked to support. Combined with the ASEAN’s broader Sustainable Urbanization Strategy, it is helping provide much needed resource in the region to manage urbanization better. Twenty-six cities, including Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru are developing visions for their cities to apply technologies for smart and sustainable urban development.

The expertise being acquired is invaluable to the broader region’s effort. Malaysia has a leading role to play. At the 9th World Urban Forum Malaysia hosed last year, experts came from the world over to focus on cities for all and the New Urban Agenda. In October 2019, the 7th Asia Pacific Urban Forum will be held in Penang. My hope is that this can focus minds and galvanize support for best practice to be shared and sustainable urban development to be prioritized in Asia and the Pacific.

UNESCAP

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