UNCTAD World Investment Forum, UN, Geneva, 14th October 2014
It is estimated that 80% of CO2 emissions are now produced in cities. Currently, 50% of the global population lives in cities and this figure is forecast to grow to 70% by 2050. Cities play a crucial role in our world and with the rise of urbanization their importance is growing. The roundtable discussion on sustainable cities, which was part of the UNCTAD World Investment Forum, tried to answer the question of how to achieve sustainable investments, not only at international and national levels, but also at the city level. The discussion looked at how to improve environmental practices, living conditions, and economic growth in cities around the world. Lots of these activities require investment. Unsurprisingly, during the debate at the conference, when asked how many financial investors were in the room, only two hands rose. It really was more of a debate amongst mayors, businesses, environmentalists, development agencies and city leaders. However, as the discussion went on it was clear that whilst the investment is crucial, it is not only about the money. Local participation as well as private-public collaboration is essential in building sustainable cities. Furthermore, managing the use of existing resources such as land, water, and energy is crucial for the prosperity, positive development, and the future of cities.
Mr. Martin Powell, Head of Urban Development within Siemens’ Global Centre of Competitive Cities and Ms. Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Vice President of Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility for the Ericsson Group, represented the private sector perspectives. Mr. Powell spoke of the value of public-private partnerships and how megacities need both technologies and private businesses in order to achieve climate change goals and to increase the quality of life in cities. The issue is that often private businesses don’t want to be seen to influence city mayors, but businesses can provide an insight in how to bring energy consumption down.
Ms. Weidman agreed that information and communication technologies can address the global sustainability challenges by looking at the climate change through the lens of greater resource efficiency. She spoke about leveraging existing infrastructures and optimizing the value chain in order to make a positive impact in communities around the world and to drive development of sustainable solutions. One example of a strong initiative, led by a private company, is the Stockholm Royal Seaport project. Ericsson envisions a climate-positive city district by 2030, utilizing climate-smart and efficient infrastructure.
Durban Investment Promotion Agency acting head Russell Curtis joined the debate, stating that in order to attract investment, events and entertainment to Durban, South Africa’s second most important manufacturing hub, the city has to be smarter, cleaner, greener and safer. He believes that the most successful interventions to do so will be at the city level instead of the national level.
Mr. Jordi Joly i Lena, the CEO of Economy and Finance of the Barcelona City Council, advocated public-private partnerships and competitive public administration. Through Barcelona Activa, where he acts as Executive Vice President, he promotes the economic growth of Barcelona, fostering entrepreneurship and focusing attention on business. Mr. Joly i Lena spoke about aspiring to make Barcelona sustainable through activities such as: electric mobility, innovative infrastructure, and smart lighting and technologies.
Unlike Barcelona, where the focus is on refining the city into a sustainable and eco-friendly one, the Mayor of the Tamale Metropolis in Ghana has more pressing issues to deal with. Mr Hannan Gundadow Abdul-Rahaman spoke about the Tamale Metropolis as one of the fastest growing cities in West Africa (annual population growth rate of 3.5%) and all the concerns this rapid urbanization brings. The improvement of sanitation and reducing the risks of contracting diseases are the most pressing issues. “Nearly 70% of the poor folks in my country lack access to toilets and good housing,” says Mr. Abdul-Rahman. In a recent study it was estimated than only 7.5 tons of the 150 tons of total solid waste generated daily is effectively managed in the Tamale region. In order to attract major investors and businesses into Tamale, the Mayor intends to introduce business friendly reforms. But it is not only about investment, institutional capacity, or enforcement of regulations; Tamale also needs education about environmental sanitation and conscious behavior changes from its residents, again bringing the focus to the local level.
The general vision of the panel was that local people should be involved at all levels and that the focus of interventions to improve sustainability should be at the city-level instead of at the national level. Joan Clos, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-Habitat expressed this sentiment in the UN Habitat “Time to Think Urban” report: “Governments want us to promote an integrated approach to planning and building sustainable cities and urban settlements. We are tasked with supporting local authorities, increasing public awareness and enhancing the involvement of local people, including the poor, in decision-making.”
Getting urbanization right is a challenge. As in many UN debates, it is hard to draw a clear conclusion and consensus on the issue. However, this roundtable clearly demonstrated the engagement of the participants and other actors in the sustainable cities debate in pushing for collaboration and action on achieving more sustainable, greener, and smarter cities.
Environmental Sanitation Dilemma in the Tamale Metropolis, Ghana. Paul N. Napari, Patrick B. Cobbinah
Time to Think Urban, UN Habitat for a Better Future, April 2013
UNCTAD World Investment Forum
UNCTAD World Investment Report 2014