Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable:
There is a strong link between the quality of life in cities and how cities draw on and manage the natural resources available to them. To date, the trend towards urbanization has been accompanied by increased pressure on the environment and accelerated demand for basic services, infrastructure, jobs, land, and affordable housing, particularly for the nearly 1 billion urban poor who live in informal settlements.
Due to their high concentration of people, infrastructures, housing and economic activities, cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters impacts. Building urban resilience is crucial to avoid human, social and economic losses while improving the sustainability of urbanization processes is needed to protect the environment and mitigate disaster risk and climate change.
Resource-efficient cities combine greater productivity and innovation with lower costs and reduced environmental impacts while providing increased opportunities for consumer choices and sustainable lifestyles.
The SDG 11 targets identify key factors that must be addressed to make cities more sustainable, inclusive, resilient and safe:
11.1 safe and affordable housing and basic services
11.2 safe, sustainable transport systems
11.3 inclusive urbanisation and participatory, integrated planning
11.4 cultural and natural heritage
11.5 resilience to disasters
11.6 reduced environmental impact of cities
11.7 green and public spaces
11. a rural-urban linkages
11. b integrated policies and plans
11. c financial and technical support for sustainable and resilient buildings.
Cities account for 65 per cent of SDG targets and 86 per cent of SDG indicators. That means that making cities more sustainable, safe, resilient and inclusive will help us to achieve many of the SDGs.
As economic powerhouses with over 80 per cent of global GDP, cities have important environmental impacts:
71-76 per cent of energy-related global greenhouse gas emissions
Over 70 per cent of resource use
Cities present huge sustainable investment opportunities:
As of 2015, 75 per cent of the global urban infrastructure that will exist in 2050 has yet to be built
Sustainable development in cities can save $3 trillion in infrastructure spending by 2030
Social equity in cities:
The global urban population is expected to grow from over 50 to 70 per cent by 2050, with a majority of that growth occurring in Africa and Asia
Urban poverty rates are falling more slowly than global poverty
Approximately 25 per cent of the global urban population (1 billion out of 3.9 billion) live in slums
The fastest-growing urban populations also have the least access to services per capita:
279 million lack electricity
780 million lack safe drinking water
2.5 billion lack basic sanitation
The environmental dimension of SDG 11
The environment is intrinsic to SDG 11, recognizing the need for critical urban infrastructure to be low-emission, resource-efficient and resilient. For example, target 11.2 calls for universal access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems, which has direct environmental impacts on land use, resource use, air quality and climate. Target 11.6 explicitly calls on countries to reduce the per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and waste management. Target 11.7 calls for universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible green and public spaces, which, among other things, help to purify the air and absorb rainwater.
Targets 11.5 and 11. B call for increased investment in disaster risk resilience strategies, policies and interventions. Indicators 11.5.1 and 11.5.2 specifically focus on the reduction of economic loss and loss of life resulting from disasters, whereas 11.B.1 and 11.B.2 measure the development of disaster risk reduction strategies by both local and national governments in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030. Lastly, 11.4 calls for stronger efforts to protect and safeguard natural heritage, which is aligned with many environmental conservation efforts around the world.
Over 90 per cent of COVID- 19 cases are occurring in urban areas, with the 1 billion residents of the world’s densely populated slums being hit the hardest. Even before the coronavirus, rapid urbanization meant that 4 billion people – over half of the global population in the world’s cities faced worsening air pollution, inadequate infrastructure and services, and unplanned urban sprawl. Successful examples containing COVID-19 demonstrate the remarkable resilience and adaptability of urban communities in adjusting to new norms.
What are some of the most pressing challenges that cities face today?
Inequality and the levels of urban energy consumption and pollution are some of the challenges. Cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions. Many cities are also more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people and location. so building urban resilience is crucial to avoiding human, social and economic losses.
Why should I care?
All these issues will eventually affect every citizen. Inequality can lead to unrest and insecurity, pollution deteriorates every- one’s health and affects workers’ productivity and therefore the economy, and natural disasters have the potential to disrupt everyone’s lifestyles.
What happens if cities are just left to grow organically?
The cost of poorly planned urbanization can be seen in some of the huge slums, tangled traffic, greenhouse gas emissions and sprawling suburbs all over the world. By choosing to act sustainably we choose to build cities where all citizens live a decent quality of life, and form a part of the city’s productive dynamic, creating shared prosperity and social stability without harming the environment. As of May 2020, the majority of national and city governments are revisiting urban planning to help prevent the next pandemic.
Is it expensive to put sustainable practices in place?
The cost is minimal in comparison with the benefits. For example, there is a cost to creating a functional public transport network, but the benefits are huge in terms of economic activity, quality of life, the environment, and the overall success of a networked city.
SDG 11 and the transition to sustainable and resilient societies
Cities are the heartbeat of most societies. They are complex systems that bring together diverse communities to work, live and play. Just as the battle against climate change will be won or lost in cities, so too will the battle for sustainable, resilient, equitable and just societies. By 2050, it is expected that 75 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities, up from more than 50 per cent presently. As cities grow, especially in the global South, it will be vital to create infrastructure and policies that ensure universal access to all urban services. As we see increasing impacts from climate change, the most sustainable, resilient societies will be those that have resource-efficient systems in place to provide essential services to their residents and that are prepared to withstand and adapt to climate-induced disasters. Achieving these two mandates will help to provide and maintain quality of life for the world’s growing urban population in the face of extreme weather activity, resource shortages and population migration.
Some key factors for countries to consider in tackling these challenges include
By strategically densifying, investing in renewable energy and sustainable building techniques, valuing existing ecosystem services and increasing usage of sustainable transportation, cities can both significantly contribute to the mitigation of harmful climate impacts and improve their resilience to the inevitable resource shortages to come.
Inclusive urban spaces:
Economic inequality has been increasing in recent decades. Nowhere is this more evident than in cities, where resource shortages and access to services disproportionately impact the most marginalized groups and communities, often also exposing them to greater environmental risk. Policies and programmes that better support underserved populations, improve systems for participatory and democratic planning and decision- making and provide affordable access to resources and urban services for all will be critical. By investing in equity now, countries can start to close the inequality gap.
Cleaner, greener cities:
75 per cent of the infrastructure that will exist in 2050 does not exist today. This provides a unique opportunity to ensure that the infrastructure we build today for tomorrow, is low-emission, resource-efficient and resilient. “Future-proofing” our infrastructure has many benefits:
· Creating incentives for investment in public transport and non-motorized transport infrastructure will improve air quality in cities and help to mitigate climate change.
· Creating frameworks toward a zero-emission, efficient and resilient buildings and construction sector will help to reduce energy demand.
· Investing in parks and green spaces in urban areas will help to ameliorate the urban heat island effect and improve air quality in urban spaces.
· Investing in natural or efficient water treatment and management systems to improve water quality and sanitation in cities will reduce water-borne diseases and improve sanitation for poorer populations.
What can I do to help achieve this goal?
Take an active interest in the governance and management of your city. Advocate for the kind of city you believe you need. Develop a vision for your building, street, and neighbourhood, and act on that vision. Are there enough jobs? Can your children walk to school safely? Can you walk with your family at night? How far is the nearest public transport? What’s the air quality like? What are your shared public spaces like? The better the conditions you create in your community, the greater the effect on the quality of life.