Sustainable development has been at the heart of European policy for a long time, firmly anchored in the European Treaties. But sustainable development cannot be achieved if we do not create more sustainable cities and human settlements.
If it is true that the Agenda 2030 devotes one specific goal to sustainable cities and communities (SDG11), it is also true that most of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have implications at urban scale. This is echoed in the increasing importance given in global debates and fora to the role of cities and local communities in giving concrete impulse to the achievement of the SDGs.
According to JRC experts:
- In 2015, urban areas hosted over 6.1 billion people, nearly double that in 1975, and their surface area (built-up footprint) exceeded half a million km2 (20% increase since 2000).
- There are more than 10,000 cities in the world with more than 50,000 inhabitants. This figure is expected to grow in the future.
- In world cities, citizens experience uneven access to opportunities, income gap, and social exclusion and the daily life in cities can be extremely unequal living in different neighbourhoods.
- In Europe, trends like densification of population and activities are pronounced mostly around the main metropolitan areas, with a patchy distribution across the EU territory. This well-acknowledged “agglomeration effect” of large metropolitan areas as booster of economic development for the overall region, should be sustained with specific measures aiming to increase their resilience to potential shocks.
Roadmap to Sustainable Urban Development
The UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA), the highest-level governance and decision-making body of the United Nations program focused on sustainable urbanization, is meeting at the first UN-Habitat Assembly (UNHA) to discuss “Innovation for Better Quality of life in cities and communities” and the “Accelerated implementation of the New Urban Agenda towards achievement of the SDGs.
In 2016, the international community agreed on the New Urban Agenda, a roadmap for sustainable urban development, adopted at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador. At the Habitat III Conference, the European Commission took three commitments to achieve the New Urban Agenda. This first UN-Habitat Assembly is one of the key milestones to measure the results achieved so far.
The Assembly is an opportunity to bring to different stakeholders the collective reflections on the role of cities as innovation hubs, local and urban innovation ecosystems, and also different programmes and initiatives developed by the EU (such us Horizon 2020, Smart Cities, Urban Innovative Actions…), which contribute to innovation and have an influence at the local level.
The Smart Specialisation approach in the EU cohesion policy is also emphasised as well as institutional and policy innovations, notably by the Urban Agenda for the EU. Thanks to Smart Specialisation, regions take a place-based approach to identify their strategic areas for intervention, based both on the analysis of the strengths and potential of the economy and on an Entrepreneurial Discovery Process (EDP) with wide stakeholder involvement.
JRC helping to make cities more sustainable: Better data for better policies
For this first Assembly, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission is bringing and presenting how to enrich the knowledge and data on cities both within and outside Europe. Indeed, the way in which urban performances are measured has a significant impact on the implementation and monitoring of all the global development agendas and, in particular, on the New Urban Agenda and the SDG 11.
New forms of data, combined with advanced analytical tools – such as territorial modelling - provide new insights for the formulation of adequate urban policies. Data and tools indeed become crucial to timely respond to the increasing demands that cities face and the opportunities they offer.
A new open and free tool for assessing the human presence on the planet
In this context, the Joint Research Centre has developed an integrated framework for the monitoring and assessment of human settlements and territorial developments: free web tools and data provide access to exchange information on the status and trends (past and future) of cities and regions in Europe and other world regions.
The Global Human Settlement Layer, presented at the Assembly, produces consistent and harmonised spatial information on settlements and population from 1975 to 2015.
Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies: the case of Africa
Based on this information and on modelling tools such as the LUISA Territorial Modelling Platform developed by the Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies, the FOCUS-Africa project provides a better understanding of current and future urbanisation trends in Africa.
The new data generated aims at improving policy makers’ and researchers’ capacity to better target resources and develop policies that support a managed urban transition.
At the Assembly, the JRC presents the data derived by these platforms and the preliminary results of the FOCUS-Africa project.
Agenda 2030: Methods and data for monitoring
JRC also shows the work done for the European Handbook for the preparation of SDG Voluntary Local Reviews (VLR), developed in partnership with DG REGIO and other stakeholders (project URBAN2030). The VLRs are instruments that take inspiration from the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) that member states use to report their actions and results in the implementation of the Agenda 2030. VNRs are usually launched every year at the High-Level Political Forum of the United Nations in New York.
The Handbook presented by JRC at the Assembly includes the methods and data available for the local monitoring as well as the actions and tools that cities have been developing for the localization and the awareness-rising of the SDGs.
Finally, JRC also coordinates the event on “Open Data and Tools for the New Urban Agenda”, in collaboration with the UN-Habitat Global Urban Observatory.
- 29 Maj 2019