Cities are faced with rapid urbanization, shifting economic and demographic trends, the impacts of climate change, overuse of resources and a number of pressing development challenges.
Now, with the adoption of global sustainability frameworks, from the Sustainable Development Goals to the Paris Agreement and New Urban Agenda, they are a core part of a growing global movement towards sustainability.
This visual story shows the challenges cities face and the proactive steps ICLEI Members are taking. It is also a reminder that they can and should not act alone. Coordinated action among all levels of government and a diversity of sectors - including businesses, financiers and academia - is vital for a sustainable future.
It was compiled in 2016 with the valuable interview contributions from ICLEI Members.
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By 2050, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities. Over 3 million people are moving to cities each week.
In some cities, up to 80 percent of the population lives in slums. These numbers are set to grow.
Air pollution was responsible for one in eight global deaths in 2012. It claimed the lives of around 7 million people.
Natural disasters displace an average of 26.4 million people each year. This amounts to one person displaced every second.
By 2025, solid waste generated in urban areas will increase from 1.3 to 2.2 billion tons per year, enough to fill almost 4 million Olympics-sized swimming pools. Managing this waste will cost $375 billion every year.
These challenges are substantial, but not insurmountable. Visionary leaders and skilled staff in cities across the world are taking action.
“First of all we have to show a good example and reduce all the emissions of all municipal buildings by more than 50 percent, [and] buy green energy for all schools and kindergartens.”
“We have a regional growth strategy that I think sort of manifests that regional relationship of all of the municipalities coming together to say, we need a vision for where we want to be in the future.”
Elisa Campbell, Director of Regional Planning, Metro Vancouver, Canada
“Medellín, now it’s a city with a strong notion about its future and a city that comes from a difficult past. So I would like to bring faith to all the cities in the world that everything is possible.”
Jorge Perez Jaramillo, Architect and former Director of Planning, Medellín, Colombia
From Almada, Portugal to Sorocaba, Brazil, cities are implementing projects that bring about tangible change.
Through the Multi-AdaPT project, hundreds of families in Almada will produce over 300 tons of fresh vegetables each year. These community gardens are surrounded by recreational areas, restored steams and stormwater retention basins that enhance social interaction, biodiversity and flood management in the city.
Belo Horizonte produces 43,800 megawatt-hours of energy every year from its organic waste. By transforming a major landfill into a waste-to-energy facility, the city avoids 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. That amounts to nearly 17,000 cars taken off the road for one year.
Sharing City Seoul makes the most of existing resources through a sharing economy. Residents can rent tools and camping gear from community centers and host events in unused areas of city hall. The city provides public parking to car sharing businesses and connects secondhand shops with daycare centers so they can exchange clothes for children.
Informal waste collectors are at the heart of Medellín’s solid waste management strategy. Collectors helped set the prices for public cleaning services, which means 3,200 collectors now receive fairer payment for materials they recover. Their work supports the city in achieving its solid waste recovery target: 30 percent by 2019.
Cities are already taking steps towards a more sustainable urban world, but they can and should not act alone.
“The good news is that we know what we need to do. We need to take further, stronger action. One of the challenges for us is that we really need central governments and provincial governments to work with us in order to achieve these goals. But the leadership is there from our citizens and from local governments and we will continue to work towards it.”
“Pretty soon you realize that everyone’s experiences are a little different, but that national level governments need to listen to all of us at the local level. Because local places – cities, counties – are where it’s taking place.”
Nations have come together to chart the course for sustainable, low-carbon and climate-resilient development through key global sustainability frameworks, from the Sustainable Development Goals to the Paris Agreement and New Urban Agenda.
City-level action is essential in these efforts, and they must be empowered to carry out their vision.
It takes a million steps for cities to realize their vision of sustainability. Collaboration among all levels of government, strong national and subnational policies and partnerships with a diverse set of actors can play a pivotal role.
Many more cities must now become part of the movement towards sustainability.