With the proportion of the global population living in the urban areas sets to rise to 70 percent by 2050, cities worldwide are catching up to build infrastructures – 60 percent of which are yet to be built – to meet today’s challenges and future demands amid climate change and its impacts.
Investing in sustainable infrastructure and resource efficient technologies are the keys to reducing poverty and driving economic growth with less impact on the environment, says a new UNEP report launched in Nairobi on 17 April with the presence of Gino Van Begin, ICLEI Secretary General, Joan Clos, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat, and Alice Kaudia, Environment Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry of Environment. Well-summed up in its title, the report calls for cities’ inclusive sustainable development – one that decouples city-based economic growth rates from the unsustainable consumption of the world’s exhaustible natural resources.
“To date, the trend towards urbanization has been accompanied by increased pressure on the environment and growing numbers of urban poor,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at the report launch, where the week-long UN Habitat Governing Council 24th Session is also taking place. “But unique opportunities exist for cities to lead the greening of the global economy by increasing resource productivity and innovation, while achieving major financial savings and addressing environmental challenges.”
Encompassing the issues of investment, development strategies, data collection on resource use, target-setting on resource efficiency and promoting procurement other green technology, the report highly emphasizes the role of cities and local governments, as well as their connections to national governments and the private sector in sustainable development – a conclusion that echoes the vision of the Global Town Hall @ Metropolitan Solutions held at the Hannover Messe during 8-12 April.
“ICLEI has dedicated agendas on Green Urban Economy and Resource Efficient City. They are also the themes of the Global Town Hall recently held at Hannover Messe, where we facilitated Supercities looking for low-carbon, low-risk, eco-friendly industrial solutions to come into dialogues with businesses that provide innovative and sustainable technologies and services,” said Gino Van Begin. “We are also currently collaborating with UNEP on a global survey on Resource Efficiency in Cities,” he added.
According to Joan Clos, transiting to cheaper renewable energy is a worthwhile investment in an age of rising energy prices.
“Older cities may have to retrofit and replace inefficient infrastructure into which they have been locked for decades to achieve decoupling, but newer and expanding cities have the advantage of flexibility. They can ‘get it right’ the first time,” he said.
Referring to an analysis by cCCR – the world’s largest global database of local climate action where cities self-report greenhouse gas emission reduction, climate adaptation targets, accomplishments and actions, Steiner noted at the Governing Council meeting on 15 April that cities can help reduce a significant portion of GHG if they can reduce food waste dumped into landfills.
Earlier at the first Universal Governing Council of UNEPP/DRC in February 2013, where ICLEI represented local authorities, he also stressed the importance for UNEP to move towards engaging local governments and subnational authorities in climate actions – a clause that ICLEI has been advocating on behalf of its more than 1,000 Members since the1990s.
Featuring cities such as Melbourne (Australia), who has successfully cut emissions by 40% by introducing energy efficiency measures in public buildings, and Cape Town (South Africa), who saves over 6,500 tons of carbon every year by refitting low income housing with solar water heaters and efficient lighting, the report also includes 30 case studies on city-level urban resource flows and the infrastructure governance.