Sustainability and innovation in urban development

Urban development is at a crossroads. Cities around the world are grappling with challenges ranging from climate resilience to digital transformation, social cohesion, and sustainable economic growth. During the ICLEI 2024 World Congress, several sessions addressed these pressing issues through interactive discussions and expert-led panels. This blog post highlights three key sessions that provide invaluable insights for government officials, policymakers, urban planners, and other stakeholders.

Sustainability at scale: Setting a global standard for sustainable cities

Standards play a crucial role in scaling sustainable urban development. This session delved into how global standards can foster climate-neutral and resilient cities. By incorporating innovative, green, and digital solutions, these standards help cities effectively meet global sustainability challenges. 

For example, standards provide a uniform framework for measuring and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy usage, and other environmental impacts. They facilitate consistency and comparability across cities and regions, enabling the identification and sharing of best practices and successful strategies. Giorgia Rambelli, Director of the EU Urban Transitions Mission, said: “We have a high hope for the power that standards could unlock in transforming cities.”

Standards also enhance credibility and accountability by ensuring climate neutrality claims are based on scientifically sound methodologies. Transparent monitoring and reporting frameworks hold cities accountable for their commitments and create trust with investors. They are critical in attracting funding and support from national governments, international organizations, and private sector entities.

Common standards allow for efficient resource sharing, reduce duplication of efforts, scale and replicate solutions, and accelerate progress toward climate goals. Standards underpin regulatory frameworks and policies, ensuring cities remain compliant with current and future regulations, thereby avoiding legal issues and potential penalties.

In terms of best practices for establishing standards, stakeholder engagement is essential. Involving diverse stakeholders, including local communities, businesses, experts, and policymakers, ensures that the standards are comprehensive, practical, and widely supported. The local level is the place where our climate intervention takes place. Ensuring the participation of local stakeholders who are the most knowledgeable about possible opportunities and challenges regarding the implementation and management of claim interventions is thus crucial. 

The strategic impact of buying: Procurement for non-procurers

Public procurement is evolving as a strategic tool that cities can leverage to meet their organizational objectives while fostering innovation. Seasoned mayors, practitioners, and suppliers discussed how to use procurement strategically within their municipalities, focusing on addressing issues such as climate resilience, digital transition, social cohesion, and support for subject matter experts through innovative procurement practices. Public procurement can play a key role in strategic governance, ensuring service delivery that achieves value for money and generates benefits not only for the organization, but also for the environment, society and the economy.

By using procurement strategically, organizations can ensure that their purchasing reflects broader goals, for example procurement can steer new developments such as AI and digitalisation, act as a lever for innovation, new technologies and provides access to markets for SMEs, start-ups and social enterprises. Local issues, such as employment generation, working conditions, and the marginalization of certain groups can be addressed through procurement. It can also be used to address global issues such as child labour and fair trade.

As an example, ICLEI Member Malmö (Sweden) recently developed procurement criteria for several tenders based on universal design principles to make physical infrastructure, goods and services accessible to people of all ages, sizes and abilities, even winning the Procura+ Innovation Procurement of the Year award for this innovation. By encouraging suppliers to systemically take into consideration accessibility issues, the City of Malmö is promoting an integral approach to accessibility and inclusion and ensuring that the approach is sustained in the longer term. 

Monika Heyder, Senior Expert of Green and Digital Transformation, ICLEI European Secretariat, speaking at the session.

A bigger toolbox: Leveraging a fuller set of city powers for sustainable development

Navigating the complex interactions between legal and regulatory structures is crucial for local governments aiming to implement sustainability policies. This session offered diverse global perspectives on overcoming legal and regulatory challenges to sustainable development. Insights were shared from cities, including Cities Forward participants, that successfully navigated legal obstacles, private-sector innovators who tackled design challenges, and citizen activists who drove legislative change.

Key takeaways included the importance of local-global synergies in programs like Cities Forward, strategic land use planning for resilience, legal frameworks supporting recycling and green space preservation, and community-centered urban development. Notable contributions came from Diana Walker on US-Latin American city partnerships, Amy Cotter on leveraging land value capture, Eunice Prudente on São Paulo’s green initiatives, María de la Luz Lobos Martínez on Renca’s nature-based solutions, and Ravinder Bhalla on holding big oil accountable for climate damages. 

ICLEI Member Hoboken (New Jersey) is holding big oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, accountable for climate change damage. Mayor Bhalla calls this strategy “advancing sustainability through accountability,” aiming to make fossil fuel companies compensate for climate-related losses, such as storm surges and flooding. Hoboken is also implementing innovative strategies like resiliency parks to boost storm resilience.

From left to right: David Driskell, Eunice Prudente, Mayor Ravinder Bhalla, María Luli Lobos Martínez, Amy Cotter, and Diana Walker

These sessions at the ICLEI 2024 World Congress provide a wealth of knowledge and innovative strategies for advancing sustainable urban development. Whether you are a government official, policymaker, urban planner, or simply passionate about sustainability, these discussions will offer valuable insights and practical approaches to tackling some of the most pressing challenges facing our communities today.

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