More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 02 - February 2020

The future of our planet depends on getting our cities right

By Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat 

Every week, three million people move to our cities and towns across the planet. Over half the global population currently live in cities and towns – and this will rise to two thirds by 2050.

There is no escaping the fact that the future of our planet now lies in our cities and towns. We have just ten years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And without our cities and towns on board we will not achieve them. Our ever-growing urban areas are responsible for a large proportion of the world’s problems – not least climate change – but they are also powerhouses of change and innovation and can also provide the solutions.

The world leaders who agreed on the SDGs in 2015 clearly recognized this, and for the first time we had an ‘urban’ goal, the Sustainable Development Goal 11, which has been termed the docking station for all the other SDGs.  It calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

This basically comes down to creating a better quality of life for everyone. It includes having affordable housing, parks and public spaces, efficient public transport, clean air and water, renewable energy.

Cities are also on the frontline when it comes to impacts of climate change and must be at the heart of action to combat it. Cities generate 70 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy. And these figures will grow.

We are entering the Decade of Action – 10 years left to implement all the SDGs. And cities play a role across the board to make sure we turn our goals into reality, to overcome major global challenges such as poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, climate change, fragility and conflict.

This month, the world will come together for the world’s premier conference on urbanization, the World Urban Forum (WUF). This tenth edition of the WUF is also the first major UN meeting in this Decade of Action, bringing together global policy makers, influencers, thought leaders, investors, community leaders, urban planners, academics and artists to exchange ideas and mobilize for action.

The achievement of the urban dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, depends on how we are able to manage rapid urbanization and its challenges through policy, planning and programming, responding to the needs of national, local and regional governments, while connecting the private sector and other key stakeholders in the process of providing innovative solutions.

UN-Habitat, the United Nations focal point for sustainable urbanization, aims to promote transformative change in cities and communities and human settlements development. Through the New Urban Agenda, we are confident that sustainable urbanization and the SDGs can be achieved.

Going forward, UN-Habitat will continue to play its role, facilitating knowledge and data exchange and sharing global best practices. UN-Habitat has the mandate and capacity to provide innovative normative and operational solutions to urban challenges around the world. We aspire to be a centre of excellence and the go-to agency for sustainable urban development to ensure that no one and no place is left behind in our rapidly urbanizing world.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

More countries could leave the ‘least developed’ category, but better support needed

Five Asian countries – Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Timor-Leste – could be leaving the least developed countries (LDC) category as soon as 2024, joining Angola, Bhutan, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands and Sao Tome and Principe, which are already set to graduate in the coming years.

At its annual plenary meeting, from 24 to 27 February 2020, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) will lay the groundwork for next year’s Triennial Review, when it will make recommendations on these five countries and identify additional states that meet the criteria for starting the multi-year graduation process.

Graduation from the LDC category is a milestone in the development process, but the progressing countries still require dedicated support to confront their sustainable development challenges. What support is needed and how it can be delivered will be a central focus of the Committee’s deliberations this year.

Established by the United Nations in 1971 and currently comprising 47 countries, the LDC category aims to assist low-income countries that are  highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets.

In addition to the LDC issues, the Committee will also make recommendations for the decade of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and discuss its analysis of countries’ Voluntary National Reviews of SDG progress.

The UN Committee for Development Policy comprises 24 internationally renowned experts in development policy from all over the world. While the Committee’s Plenary meetings are closed, it will hold one open session on Tuesday, 25 February at 3 pm, to discuss “Development Policy and New Inequalities.” Additionally, on 27 February the Committee will brief Member States on its deliberations on LDC issues.

For more information:

Committee for Development Policy


SDG 11 in numbers

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities, and that share is projected to rise to 60 per cent by 2030. Cities and metropolitan areas are powerhouses of economic growth—contributing about 60 per cent of global GDP. However, they also account for about 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and over 60 per cent of resource use. Rapid urbanization is resulting in a growing number of slum dwellers, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure and services (such as waste collection and water and sanitation systems, roads and transport), worsening air pollution and unplanned urban sprawl. To respond to those challenges, 150 countries have developed national urban plans, with almost half of them in the implementation phase. Ensuring that those plans are well executed will help cities grow in a more sustainable and inclusive manner.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 11 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.


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