Getting urbanization right: achieving the SDGs

“If we are to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, end extreme poverty, protect the planet, and ensure peace and prosperity for everyone, we must strengthen collective effort to get urbanization right.”

– Maimunah Sharif, Executive Director of UN Habitat


Sharif made this statement to the assembled leaders of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on July 11 and acknowledged the critical role that cities and the surrounding regions will play in achieving the sustainable development agenda. Her statement points to the potential of local and regional leaders to achieve the SDGs, and their responsibility to work alongside national and international actors to do so.

The ICLEI network has long acknowledged this responsibility, and is driving change by creating sustainable communities the world over. In the process, local leaders are creating a web of co-benefits that strengthen their communities and contribute to the achievement of many of the SDGs.

SDG 11 is the central lever to attain the SDGs

The newly released ICLEI Montréal Commitment and Strategic Vision 2018-2024 defines five interconnected development pathways – low emission, nature-based, circular, resilient and equitable – that support cities and regions towards sustainable urban development. The work the ICLEI network is undertaking through this new vision is codified in the Montréal Action Plan – a collection of more than 130 projects, partnerships and initiatives that contribute to global efforts to “get urbanization right.”

These projects, although they often have an urban focus, contribute to much more than SDG 11. As hubs of production and consumption, cities and local regions give us the opportunity to create projects that cut across silos and advance multiple SDGs. Consider, for example, the field of transportation.

Accessible, clean public transport is critical to achieving SDG 11, but it can be a powerful entry-point for tackling SDG 13: climate action. Vehicles account for nearly 15 percent of all man-made emissions globally, and in some places that number can be much higher. In the United States, transport accounts for almost 30 percent of emissions nationwide. In the cities of Argentina, 40 percent of emissions come from freight vehicles alone.

When dealing with transit, ICLEI projects find opportunities to break down silos and achieve multiple goals at once. A transportation project can improve quality of life, but also dramatically reduce emissions.

To advance sustainable transport in this cross-cutting way, we support 14 different projects, including TUMI, which focuses on transport in developing countries, and the EcoMobility Alliance, a network of 23 cities committed to implementing sustainable transport that prioritizes walking, cycling and shared transport.

Similar cross-cutting opportunities exist in the world of urban planning. Effective urban planning gives cities the capacity they need to pursue the SDGs as individual entities, and we have seen many cities in our network do exactly that.

For example, cities and regions are leading the way on affordable and clean energy (SDG 7). Cities such as Växjö, Sweden, Vancouver, Canada and Tshwane, South Africa have joined the ICLEI 100% Renewable Energy Cities and Regions Network and are setting ambitious renewable energy targets. To support them, ICLEI works closely with the 100% Renewable Energy Platform and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to promote renewable energy solutions across the network.

Cities are also critically promoting patterns of responsible consumption and production (SDG 12) as well as protecting, restoring and promoting life on land (SDG 15). For example, The Global Lead City Network on Sustainable Procurement, is a group of 14 cities committed to driving sustainable consumption and production through sustainable and innovative procurement. ICLEI also works closely with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and supports the network in implementing the global biodiversity targets at the city and regional level. This work is driven through key projects run by the ICLEI Cities Biodiversity Center.

To empower more cities to take these leading roles, ICLEI contributes to sustainable urban planning (SDG 11.3) through projects like Urban-LEDs. The Urban-LEDS program uses multilevel action to accelerate low emission development and climate resilience across more than 60 cities worldwide, strengthening cooperation and data sharing across national and local governments and working at the city level on capacity development, pilot projects and finance models that advance implementation and deliver on global climate and sustainability goals.

Placing SDG 11 at the center of the sustainable development agenda

In a rapidly urbanizing world, the need to achieve SDG 11 – to “get urbanization right” is at the center of the sustainable development agenda. At the Local and Regional Governments’ Forum held at the High-Level Political Forum 2018 on 16 July, Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of Bonn, Germany and President of ICLEI called for the establishment of a UN Decade for Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements – to formally put SDG 11 at the center of the 2030 agenda.

“At the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, ICLEI made an early call for a global decade of sustainable cities. Now is high time to create this kind of a global momentum. In this first SDG11 review, ICLEI calls upon the Global Task Force, the UN community and all stakeholders to aim for a UN Decade for Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements to be adopted in 2019 through the UN Climate Summit and the second High-Level Political Forum.”

Read more on ICLEI’s engagement at the High-Level Political Forum here.

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