Our Perspectives

Sustainable cities – if not now, when?


 During the Habitat III conference, UN Member States will adopt a New Urban Agenda (NUA) that will guide the sustainable development efforts of cities and territories for the next 20 years.

For the first time in history, over half of the world’s population is living in urban areas. Latin America and the Caribbean, where 80 percent of people live in cities, is often cited as the world’s most urbanized region. This urbanization is both a great opportunity and a great challenge for sustainable human development.

These opportunities and challenges will be discussed during the Habitat III World Conference in Quito, Ecuador. Habitat III comes one year after adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which, for the first time, includes a pledge dedicated to cities: Sustainable Development Goal 11 aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Cities have a crucial role to play in the achievement of the new 2030 Agenda. For example, without leadership by cities and territories it is impossible to decrease poverty, reduce inequality or achieve effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. Simply put, if we don’t take into account the local dimension, it will be more difficult to the dichotomy of the city – formal and informal, safe and unsafe, accessible for some and inaccessible for others.

During Habitat III, UN Member States will adopt the New Urban Agenda (NUA), which has been under development for several months. This Agenda will be a roadmap that will guide the sustainable development efforts of cities and territories for the next 20 years.

Like the Sustainable Development Goals, it will bring together a diverse array of actors: states, urban and territorial leaders, civil society, private sector, academia and multilateral agencies, including the United Nations System.

Both the 2030 Agenda and the New Urban Agenda will provide a guide and an opportunity for countries to overcome the challenges posed in the new Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean 2016. Effective policies and instruments are needed to deal with historical exclusion, insecurity, discrimination and inequality and to go beyond the pursuit of economic growth and do more to reduce poverty and inequality.

It is an opportunity to rethink future governance with greater leadership by cities, recognizing that metropolises require specific treatment that concerns us all. Implementation of global agendas at the local level, known as localization of Sustainable Development Goals, involves making political and technical decisions together with efforts by residents to redesign the ways we relate to each other, how we consume and how we work. It involves reinventing, in many cases, cities themselves.

While cities symbolize economic power and the growing middle class, they are also home to considerable concentrations of the poor and marginalized. We must promote an entrepreneurial spirit and the creation of job opportunities and capacity building to ensure inclusive growth for everyone. In countries such as Bolivia, El Salvador and Uruguay, we are promoting local economic development to foster public-private partnerships and build capacity in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and producer associations in urban centres. In Ecuador we support producers who have been affected by the earthquake, to help them earn an income and boost production.

Disaster risk management is also a priority in the Latin American region, which has become increasingly vulnerable due to the expansion of its cities without proper planning or control over construction, especially in informal growth sectors. Natural disasters and the effects of climate change intensify this risk.

As we have seen recently, coastal cities and towns are exposed to hurricanes, storms, flooding and landslides. The region has also suffered the impact of drought and earthquakes. To prevent loss of human life, property damage and significant setbacks in progress, we must include risk management in urban planning.

For effective urban development, we need a multidimensional approach to development that addresses different aspects, to ensure sustainable and resilient growth of cities, taking into account the needs of the growing numbers of urban poor. Sustainability, inclusion and urban resilience are the guiding principles of our strategy that will be launched this month in Quito.

Many voices are saying that the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost in cities. If cities are considered to be both the solution to and the cause of human development problems, we need the commitment of local and national governments and of all citizens to continue supporting efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals and implement the New Urban Agenda.

Blog post Sustainable development Urbanization Crisis response Jessica Faieta

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