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United Nations Program to Address Sustainability Issues in Cities

The growing population stress, climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution are some of the challenges faced in the rapidly growing cities across the globe.

United Nations Program to Address Sustainability Issues in Cities.
Jakarta, Indonesia. A UNEP-led project is aiming to support 23 cities to develop a range of strategies, such as green infrastructure, low-carbon transport systems and schemes to reduce or recycle waste. Image Credit: Sanofi Pasteur / File: Anabelle-panorama.

As cities emit 70% of the carbon dioxide, a new initiative promotes the combined approaches to urban development, to reduce their ecological footprint. Leaders of the project are expecting to implement the project in cities across the world.

UrbanShift, a program led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), will extend support to 234 cities to develop a series of strategies, such as green infrastructure, low-carbon transport systems and schemes to lower or recycle waste. The initiative is executed with a collaboration comprising Global Environment Facility (GEF), World Resources Institute (WRI), World Bank, Asian Development Bank, C40 Cities and others.

You don’t solve just a transport problem and then an urban planning problem and then an energy problem; you find solutions that actually help you do all these things together.

Aniruddha Dasgupta, President and CEO, World Resources Institute

The initiative is being executed in Brazil, China, Argentina, Costa Rica, Indonesia, India, Morocco, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, expecting to initiate a conversation about sustainable cities across the globe.

Speaking at the launch event of UrbanShoft in late September, Inger Andersen, executive director at UNEP said, “The noise around what these cities are accomplishing can very much lead to other cities adopting it on their own — and that’s obviously what we want, shifting that global discourse and actions towards a more sustainable future.”

We will advocate for sustainable investments to ensure that the cities we build in the future […] are aligned not only with key sustainable infrastructure, but also with critical investments in nature-based solutions and ecosystem restoration.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Program

Population Explosion

The ratio of people residing in urban areas across the globe is estimated to rise from 55% in 2018 to 68% by 2050, as reported in the UN. Among these, about 90% of the growth forecast is to happen in Asia and Africa.

Speaking at the launch event, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, chief executive and chair of the GEF, states that rapid rural to urban migration in recent years implies that environmental policies had not driven the objective towards sustainability in cities.

He continued, “In just a matter of a decade and a half, many of the countries in the global South have gone from these rural-based economies into an urban life.”

According to Aniruddha Dasgupta, president, and chief executive of WRI, being a city leader it is important to resolve several issues simultaneously, for example, generating jobs in the wake of pandemic meanwhile protecting nature and decarbonizing practices.

You don’t solve just a transport problem and then an urban planning problem and then an energy problem; you find solutions that actually help you do all these things together.

Aniruddha Dasgupta, President and Chief Executive, World Resources Institute

Among its objectives, UrbanShift will look to avoid more than 130 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and restore one million hectares of land. This will have an impact on the life of more than 58 million people residing in the target cities.

Building Momentum

Tobias Kühner, an international consultant and researcher in urban planning from the University of Brasilia, Brazil, stated that the UrbanShift acknowledged the challenges faced in cities. However, he interrogated whether the plan is different enough from previous initiatives to have a wider impact. He commented on these while speaking to SciDev.Net.

Most [urban initiatives] are developed in the global North, which I think is a big disadvantage,” said Tobias Kühner, an International Consultant and Researcher in Urban Planning at the University of Brasilia.

Kühner said that it would be interesting to experience initiatives led by South-South Collaborations and in smaller-sized cities that do not get much attention.

Sheela Patel, founder and director of the India-based Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers, expressed her concerns over the informal settlements reported in UrbanShift’s brochure as a particular focus in only one place - Rwanda - and often remain outside the investment line.

All these organisations champion adaptation and resilience-building, but a social justice lens is not obvious as a critical central element of this process,” commented Sheela Patel, Founder and Director, Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers.

The brochure has highlighted however that 25% of the city dwellers live in informal settlements, most of whom are women.

Luan Santos, a professor and researcher in sustainable finance and investment at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, hopes that the project could benefit by initiating dialog and resources for dealing with environmental impacts.

The environmental and climate agenda in Brazil has not been prioritised in the current government, which is why the issue of financing becomes even more critical,” Santos concluded.


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