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The blog of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities on urban mobility, development and efficiency
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Why Sustainable Urban Development Needs Better Finance

Tue, 2016-10-18 21:16

Representatives of Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative partners, from left: James Alexander, C40; Val Smith, Citi; Helio Lima Magalhães, Citi Brazil; Rodrigo Rosa, C40 and City of Rio de Janeiro; and Toni Lindau, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

This week in Quito, Ecuador, international leaders have gathered in support of the New Urban Agenda, which lays the groundwork for improving the lives of more than half of the world’s population. Habitat III follows the historic adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September 2015 and the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015, marking the logical next step to set the world on a pathway towards more inclusive, sustainable, and thriving cities.

Mayors are key actors in delivering the local action necessary to achieve the targets set in Paris and deliver the New Urban Agenda. Yet, as was highlighted by yesterday’s launch of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) Call for Action on Municipal Infrastructure Finance, mayors face many challenges in delivering sustainable urban development, particularly acute financing challenges. In an environment of constrained municipal budgets, we need to unlock additional funding and finance to deliver sustainable services to the growing urban population.

That’s why C40WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the Citi Foundation have joined other sustainable urban finance leaders at Habitat III in Quito to emphasize the critical role of finance in delivering a truly sustainable future. It is time to focus on how local and national governments, financial institutions, and the private sector can work together to mobilize the trillions of dollars of investment needed to turn ambition into action.

Representatives of Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative partners, from left: James Alexander, C40; Val Smith, Citi; Helio Lima Magalhães, Citi Brazil; Rodrigo Rosa, C40 and City of Rio de Janeiro; and Toni Lindau, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

The emerging discourse on sustainable urban finance hinges on four key questions: what to invest in, how to pay for it, how to mobilize investment capital, and how to structure contracts and institutional frameworks. To best answer these questions, we must continue building a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities for unlocking funding, financing, and the delivery mechanisms for sustainable investments in cities.

The Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative (FSCI) is helping to do just that.

A joint effort from C40, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, and the Citi Foundation, the FSCI is helping accelerate and scale up investment in sustainable urban solutions. By identifying the ingredients of successful sustainable urban projects around the world, this groundbreaking partnership is helping city governments and investors develop business models that enable all stakeholders to bridge quickly from innovation to implementation and help cities to reach their full potential. It’s not just about finding more money; investors and city decision-makers need new ways of seeing eye-to-eye on what makes urban investment a sustainable and a financially viable solution.

Our side event in Quito today recognizes this critical need and brings together private sector players with city decision-makers and researchers to discuss Innovative Business Models to Unlock Sustainable Investment in Cities, building on the FSCI work already underway with investors and cities to help pioneer a common language and create opportunities for collaboration.

Over the last 12 months, the FSCI has held a series of technical workshops and a Financing Sustainable Cities Forum, collectively convening more than 300 senior officials and technical staff from government, financial institutions, and the private sector to collaborate on business models for sustainable urban solutions.

Our most recent workshop in South Africa brought together city government urban planners, transport officials, economists, and Chief Financial Officers who each play an instrumental role in determining the development path of their cities. This was the first time these key players in South Africa’s four largest cities had come together to collaborate with each other and external finance experts on creating transit-oriented cities and reducing urban sprawl.

In India and Brazil, we are working with public and private actors to explore how to adapt global business models for transit-oriented development to their national context. The transformative potential of capacity development and informed dialogue is becoming particularly powerful in Cali, Colombia, where a coalition is emerging for Colombia’s first investment specifically focused on transit-oriented development.

Over the next 18 months, we will continue to work closely with cities across the globe and will be sharing the results through a series of events, publications and an online platform. This platform will make our findings on business models for sustainable solutions freely available to cities, investors, solution providers, and partner organizations. In doing so, we aim to support the growing ecosystem of people working to implement the New Urban Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Agreement to create more prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable cities.

This piece was originally posted on C40 Cities.

Live from Habitat III: Innovative Financing, New Mobility Initiatives, the Importance of Core Urban Service and More

Tue, 2016-10-18 09:18

Simón Gaviria, Chief Director, National Planning Department of Colombia, Ani Dasgupta, Enrique García, Executive President and CEO, CAF, Rémy Rioux, CEO, AFD, Koki Hirota, Chief Economist, JICA at today’s WRI and International Development Finance Club’s side event. Photo by Giulia Christianson/WRI.

Habitat III officially launched today, and TheCityFix was on the ground in Quito to report on the urgent messages and announcements to emerge from Day One. Follow here for coverage of WRI’s presence.

Making the New Urban Agenda Work for All

What do people do when they can’t access the services they need from formal providers? In many cases, they self-provide and end up paying exorbitant amounts for unsafe or substandard services. This often occurs in rapidly growing cities with little capacity to meet the needs of residents—many of whom have moved from rural to urban conditions of poverty.

As the Framing Paper of the World Resources Report (WRR) examines, providing core services—like safe and affordable access to housing, energy and transport—may be the essential starting point for creating cities that are prosperous and sustainable for all people. While there may not be universally best practices, transformative change is possible, as many cities have shown. The question is: how do we support the broader process to create transformative change?

At a side-event called “Transformative Actions for Post-Quito Implementation” co-hosted by WRI and ICLEI, participants commented on the current ability of the New Urban Agenda to adequately address the challenges outlined in the WRR. Some voiced concern that the Agenda brings together a variety of issues and ideas, but may not fully respond to the challenges outlined in the WRR. Going forward, the international community will need to further refine this vision and link it to other processes—like the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals—and tie it to national legislative frameworks in order to make it actionable. Additionally, local leaders will need to embrace the vision, build capacity and form partnerships with civil society and the private sector. Core urban services like housing, energy and transport may be the essential to making cities more prosperous and sustainable, but a broad coalition of stakeholders across sectors is key.

A New Initiative Launches to Support Mobility Projects Worldwide

Sustainable urban mobility is about much more than just new, innovative types of transport. Cities need transit systems that work for everyone and that provide safe, accessible connections to all parts of the city. But often these ideas aren’t implemented on the ground due to financing challenges, institutional and capacity constraints as well as technological barriers.

Today, the BMZ (Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development) launched TUMI (Transformative Urban Mobility Initiative) with partners—a three-pillared initiative that will aim to overcome these barriers. The first pillar of the initiative will focus on unlocking financing for infrastructure. Starting next year, Germany will dramatically shift its investment in partner countries, providing 1 Billion Euros in financing next year for sustainable mobility projects around the world. The second component of the initiative will focus on supporting technical experts worldwide with badly-needed capacity building. Third, the initiative will help implement pilot projects in 15 small and medium countries to demonstrate the potential of sustainable mobility with model solutions.

Unlocking Innovative Finance: What’s Needed?

A panel featuring International Development Finance Club (IDFC) members and government representatives discussed a core issue of the New Urban Agenda: finance and the role of Development Finance Institutions (DFIs). Panelist agreed that in order to build sustainable cities, there needs to be financial innovation and a long term agenda, one that works across multiple sectors.

The CEO of CAF-Development Bank of Latin America highlighted that these issues are more than purely economic; they are political as well. In order to produce strong, resilient cities, residents’ needs must be met. When planning future cities, Minister of National Planning for Colombia said, it is imperative to put citizens first. Economically competitive cities are derived from their human capital. When a local government has a strong relationship with its people, city planning integrates with citizen needs and expectations. Due to the dynamic nature of the political process, however, it is essential for cities to invest in finance innovation and work with actors from all parties, private and public, to ensure financial stability and high quality of life. Chief Economist of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) noted that many local governments lack the capacity to support city planning and programs, as they rely heavily on financial transfers from the national government. Here, JICA drew attention to the necessary role of the private sector in innovative finance.

Panelists concluded by looking down the road to COP22 in Marrakesh. CEO of Agence Française de Développement (AFD) believes that project preparation is a main challenge for cities and that there is a currently lack of bankable projects to strengthen local capacity. However, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) Partnership, which will provide resources at the local level and target capacity building, will launch at COP22. It is a multi-institutional, multi-country partnership with developed and developing countries, and World Resources Institute is leading the support unit.

A Global Resource Team to Facilitate City-to-city Learning

Led by the World Bank and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities (GPSC) serves as a knowledge-sharing forum for connecting cities around the world to develop a common, holistic approach for improving urban sustainability. Today, the GPSC announced the launch of a resource team—a global network that will consist of experts from WRI, C40, ICLEI and other partners. This resource team will work with the World Bank to build a platform that cities and partners can tap into to learn from each other’s experiences. The team will also be critical for identifying connections between linking international, national and local commitments and processes, so that cities can maximize their resources and impact.

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.

Live from Habitat III: The New Urban Agenda, Urbanization and the Role of Local Government Drive Opening Plenary Sessions

Tue, 2016-10-18 07:04

The Official Opening Plenary of Habitat III. Photo by Agencia de Noticias ANDES / Flickr 

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

Habitat III, the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, officially began on Monday, October 17th in Quito. Members of the United Nations and urban leaders from around the world gathered for two Opening Plenary sessions on Monday. Both sessions focused around three main elements, as speakers strove to unite the participants toward implementing a strong, robust and effective New Urban Agenda.

Monday morning kicked off with the Official Opening Plenary of Habitat III. President of Ecuador Rafael Correa began the session with optimistic messages for the future of the New Urban Agenda, as well as the need for strong implementation. Throughout the plenary, esteemed participants spoke to the meaning of the conference and what the resulting New Urban Agenda (NUA) means for the future of global urbanism. The meeting highlighted three major topics, which will be thoroughly discussed throughout the rest of the proceedings:

1.   The New Urban Agenda

Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, followed President Correa’s remarks by discussing the importance of the New Urban Agenda. According to the Secretary-General, the NUA is an action-oriented document, whose success will depend on collaboration of all countries and stakeholders. The document reflects the broad participation of governments and urban actors, and it will set standards for sustainable development, helping the world re-think how we build, manage and live in cities. The Secretary-General concluded his remarks: “Habitat III is laying the foundation. Let us build upon it.”

During the opening plenary, Joan Clos, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), said the “New Urban Agenda opens the doors to a new stage in prosperity and hope for the future.” Clos framed the document as a set of strategies to reduce and re-direct negative urban trends, calling for a new development model to promote equity, prosperity and sustainability. This sentiment resounded throughout the day’s proceedings, with Pascal Smet, Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region, responsible for Mobility and Public Works, noting in the second plenary session that; “all cities should be owners of their own futures.” The New Urban Agenda was lauded as a platform for cities to build capacity to take on global challenges accompanying urbanization, but also as a chance for participating countries to create a cohesive vision and platform for implementation. Delegates from Bulgaria called participants to action, to create and maintain a sense of: “collective vision and to streamline efforts.”

2.   Urbanization as a Strategy for Urban Development

Joan Clos called for urbanization to be seen as an investment in the future, a strategy for transformation, noting that; “the cost of urbanization is minimal in comparison with the value it can generate.” Cities must channel urbanization to represent new opportunity for all—generating more jobs and opportunities for urban residents. Clos also addressed the need to rethink our mobility system and change the physical shapes of cities, to prevent urban sprawl and socioeconomic inequality. The future of urbanization must lead to equal rights and fundamental freedoms rather than inequality.

While cities are expanding rapidly to accommodate a growing population, Peter Thompson, President of the UN General Assembly, said that “urban planning has not kept pace with urbanization.” He noted that one billion people live in urban slums where they lack access to water, sanitation and energy, and 75 percent of cities have higher levels of income inequality than they did 20 years ago, during Habitat II. In order to successfully combat this issue, the development community must utilize a “Master Plan,” composed of the Paris Agreement, SDGs and other important polices and action agendas, to transform our world. Post-Quito, the NUA will join this Master Plan, and its effective implementation will require the expertise of collaborative stakeholders.

Previous global agreements, like the Sustainable Development Goals, factored large in discussions today, as foundational to the vision of the New Urban Agenda. At the forefront is Sustainability Development Goal 11, which focuses on sustainable cities and settlements. Habitat iii is heavily focused on bringing this vision for cities to fruition. Many participants in the second plenary session later in the day emphasized that the success of the NUA also hinges on robust implementation and monitoring schemes. The Minister of Regional Development of the Czech Republic outlined the path ahead as one; “from paper to actions and concrete steps” to make the NUA stick.

3.   The Important Role of Local Government 

Drawing from his experiences in city office, Mayor of Quito Mauricio Rodas spoke to the essential role of local officials in promoting sustainable urban development. He believes that local governments play a key role in empowering equality in cities. With an eye to social inclusion, local governments are able to address unique challenges to creating sustainable, livable spaces for all.

City officials are able to understand the needs of the people and work as a liaison between the national government and residents. Many participants in the plenary sessions highlighted the imperative to empower local governments to live up to their obligations. Delegates representing France in the second plenary session noted the need to acknowledge the; “role of local governments as legitimate partners in defining and following up on the New Urban Agenda.” Shipra Narang Suri, Vice President of the International Society of City and Regional Planners, called fellow plenary participants to action: “Our task starts now… we must find a way to deliver the promises of the New Urban Agenda…implementation may not be a legal obligation, but it is certainly a moral imperative…the vision has been articulated, the place to start is here, the time to start is now.”

Follow our daily coverage of Habitat III on TheCityFix.

Live from Habitat III: A Focus on Housing, Energy and Transport for More Equal Cities

Mon, 2016-10-17 08:02

Ani Dasgupta (Global Director, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities), Michael Berkowtiz (President, 100 Resilient Cities), Rubbina Karruna (Research Adviser, Department for International Development), Marcio Lacerda (Mayor, Belo Horizante) and Xavier de Souza Briggs (Vice president for Economic Opportunity and Markets, Ford Foundation) at the opening panel of WRI’s Habitat III pre-conference event. Photo by Milton Bustamante/WRI.

WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is reporting on Habitat III from Quito, Ecuador. Follow our daily coverage on TheCityFix.

“The New Urban Agenda is about the challenge of making cities work—for the economy, for the environment, for people. It’s about how we make them work for all.”

With these words, Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, kicked off WRI’s pre-conference event dedicated to exploring the central question of the World Resources Report on cities: whether prioritizing access to core urban services will create cities that are prosperous and sustainable for all people. Bringing together WRI experts and a diverse range of distinguished panelists from around the world, the event focused on three core sectors that can help create transformative urban change: housing, energy and transportation.

Taking on the Global Housing Deficit

It’s a well-recognized problem that there is a lack of affordable, adequate, secure housing in well-located urban areas. However, over the next ten years, this gap is estimated to increase by about one-third, disproportionately affecting women, children and ethnic minorities. Given the scale of the challenge and the variability across geographies, it’s imperative that we move beyond traditional dichotomies—of public/private, permanent/temporary, formal/informal—and begin to think about unique contexts across a spectrum. Robin King, Director of Urban Development, outlined three potential approaches to tackling the housing challenge:

  • To address the growth of under-serviced, sub-standard housing, disconnected from livelihood possibilities, decision makers should recognize in-situ (in-place) participatory upgrading—like that of Thailand’s Baan Mankong program—as the optimal solution, except when there are location-based risks.
  • Policy at all levels often overemphasizes homeownership to the detriment of residents in the informal sector. Instead, cities should consider policies that recognize and encourage rental housing at all incomes.
  • There are many instances of inappropriate land policies and regulations that push the poor out of the city. Incentivizing the conversion of underutilized land and allowing for incremental development can help make use of existing urban land and give traditionally marginalized groups well-located homes.

Discussion highlighted the need to build on these proposals for bold and scalable solutions, the importance of ensuring that women are part of the process and the solution and finding ways to easily communicate about the issue to politicians, civil society and the private sector.

The Challenge of Access to Clean, Sustainable Energy for All

Energy access is typically seen as a predominantly rural issue. However, energy powers our cities—it’s a prerequisite for economic productivity and personal livelihoods. In urban areas around the world in 2012, 132 million people lack access to electricity and 482 million people cook over ‘dirty’ solid fuels like wood and charcoal. Michael Westphal, Senior Associate of Sustainable Finance, talked about the central question driving the urban energy focus of the WRR: How can cities in the developing world simultaneously provide higher quality energy services to the underserved, while ensuring enhancing environment and economy of the city? Properly evaluating a solution, he noted, requires that we ask if it meets the urgent needs of the underserved and if it addresses the risk of long-term lock-in of energy consumption and GHG emissions. Two possible approaches that meet these criteria are:

  1. Accelerating the shift to cleaner cooking. Household air pollution from solid fuels accounted for 3.5 million deaths globally in 2010. Modernizing cooking fuels—to LPG, ethanol, biogas, and electricity—and embracing low-emissions and efficient cook-stoves for solid fuels can play a critical role in preventing these deaths. Additionally,
  2. Scaling up distributed renewable energy within cities. For example, rooftop PV (solar energy) can meet 7 to 30 percent of annual electricity consumption in some cities. Furthermore, distributed renewable energy can help the underserved by potentially addressing costs as PV prices continue to decline and improving reliability. For the city, this can mean lower electricity demand, avoiding the costs of new infrastructure, greater job opportunities and reduced GHG emissions.

Discussion touched on the role of energy both in formal and informal settlements, and the impact of livelihoods. Furthermore, participants noted that there is no ‘one stove’ approach—improving cooking isn’t a technological issue, but a finance and behavioral issue. To that end, radically improving electricity access will require an alliance of mayors and electricity companies based on innovative financing mechanisms.

Sustainable Mobility: Business Unusual for a More Accessible City for All

Motorization is on the rise worldwide: in 2000, the global population drove 14 trillion kilometers; by 2050, this figure is expected to skyrocket to 48 trillion. Therefore, shifting to sustainable modes is at the heart of sustainability. After all, the world’s most sustainable cities—from Hong Kong to Santiago de Chile and London—have very high shares of walking, cycling and public transport. But creating long-lasting impact requires the support of complementary policies on road safety, affordability, access and more. In his presentation, Dario Hidalgo, Director of Integrated Transport, argued that a sustainable distribution of transport modes and implementing the accompany policies will require a three-pronged approach:

  1. Unlock Finance. The common view is that a shift to sustainable transport requires a tremendous amount of new financing. However, research from WRI shows that investing in sustainable transport could save US $300 billion a year, and that this amount already exists within current financial flows. National programs that support cities with funding and capacity building can help redirect money dedicated to highway expansion to sustainable mobility options.
  2. Advance Institutions. Decisions can’t be made in silos anymore. Transport and land use planning need to be integrated—and this requires modernizing our institutions—like creating metropolitan transit authorities.
  3. Harness Technology. Technology is transforming the state of mobility, but what is the impact? Often, decision makers simply don’t know. And when they do, they’re slow to utilize the potential of transformative technologies and implement smart regulations. Meeting the global motorization challenge will require that public, private and civil society work together to tap into the opportunity.

Follow our daily cover of Habitat III on TheCityFix.

Live from Habitat III: 5 Key Steps for Transformative Change in Cities

Mon, 2016-10-17 02:40

Holger Dalkmann at the Business Assembly’s session “A Holistic Approach to Urban Sustainability.” Photo credit: Alex Rogala

Habitat III is currently underway in Quito, Ecuador. At the Business Assembly’s session “A Holistic Approach to Urban Sustainability” Sunday morning, discussion focused on the need for holistic planning in order to create the kind of urban transformation that the world needs. The event was hosted in collaboration with Global Cities and Business Alliance, C40, ICLEI, World Urban Campaign and GAP.

From ratification of the Paris Agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and even the most recent agreement on hydrofluorocarbons, the international community is proving that it can make real progress and commitments. The time for negotiating a big framework is over—the crucial question now will be about action.

Turning the New Urban Agenda into tangible change will require a paradigm shift in how we approach achieving sustainable cities. Too often, cities—and their individual agencies and departments—operate in their own siloes apart from business, people and each other. Creating the kind of transformative change that we need will require more integrated coordination and collaboration than ever before, and it is clear that the private sector will need to play a critical role.

Research from the New Climate Economy shows that investing in public and low-emission transport, building efficiency and waste management in cities can generate savings of US$17 trillion by 2050. Furthermore, in emerging economies such as India, 70–80 percent of the built environment that will exist by 2030 has yet to be constructed. Acting on these opportunities will require the participation of the private sector, who will help not only finance, construct and operate this infrastructure, but also research and develop new technologies and unlock limitless opportunities for private-public collaboration.

The good news is that this isn’t an impossible task. Countless cities are proving to be leaders by working with business to create holistic change. For example, New York City’s PlaNYC integrated actions on affordable housing, green space access and road safety to improve the economy, sustainability and social inclusion all at once with the help of the private sector. In particular, many cities’ participation in the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities serves as a global model for creating cities safer by design. Similarly, as the World Resource Report shows, Medellín, Colombia, once known as the “murder capital of the world,” built a coalition with political leaders, the private sector and other key stakeholders to invest in education, reform housing policy and address causes of poverty citywide. With this model of partnership, Medellin demonstrated that urban transformation is possible—but only with an integrated approach.

So what should cities think about in order to create holistic change? Holger Dalkmann, Director of Strategy and Global Policy, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, present five ideas:

1)      Set an Ambitious Vision – a clear and ambitious vision is the foundation of change.

2)      Focus on Key Interventions – cities can’t do everything, even with the help of collaborative networks. Setting priorities is essential.

3)      Measure Systematically – consistently measure actions for results is important for demonstrating that change is possible, but cities shouldn’t wait.

4)      Build Alliances – with local and global businesses and civil society.

5)      Act Now the opportunity is now.

If cities act on these five steps—as many are doing—the world will be able to achieve our ambitious commitments and create transformative change.

Follow our daily coverage of TheCityFix here.

 

Habitat III Introduces the New Urban Agenda to the World. Then What?

Sat, 2016-10-15 00:39

Quito, Ecuador, site of Habitat III. Photo by Cristian Ibarra Santillan / Flickr

Next week’s Habitat III conference will see more than 45,000 leaders, decision makers and urban experts sign into force the New Urban Agenda(NUA) – the outcome declaration of the global UN summit – and set a course for 20 years of urban transformation. National negotiators, key stakeholders and experts have worked to create a clear vision for a sustainable urban future and a framework for action in the NUA’s final draft, approved in September.

However, the NUA and the Habitat process do not stand alone. Going forward, they will be part of intensified efforts to achieve sustainable, equal development for all and combat climate change.

If the New Urban Agenda Is Final, What Will Happen Next Week?

With the NUA now final, look for signs of next steps towards implementation. News of important initiative launches, commitments and new research on innovative solutions to the global urban challenge will be delivered at hundreds of events hosted by stakeholder organizations from around the world, highlighting the latest ideas for transformative action, innovative financing mechanisms and new governance structures. Stakeholders will also be watching for news on reporting and monitoring frameworks as well as improvements to the Quito Implementation Plan, the proposed platform for coordinating and publicizing efforts from non-state actors and stakeholders around the globe.

What Happened at the Last Two Habitat Conferences?

The first Habitat conference in 1976 in Vancouver, Canada (formally called the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements) raised awareness about the global housing challenge and set priorities for future development. But the limited inclusion of non-governmental perspectives hindered action.

At Habitat II in 1996 in Istanbul, international leaders discussed progress and set the direction for future urban development. Learning from the first conference, Habitat II incorporated greater stakeholder input, but shifted the burden of creating solutions to the private sector. This focus reflected the mood of the world economy at the time, which was largely driven by globalization and strong trust in the free market.

As the 2014 Habitat II Progress Report argues, this shift led to significant reductions in government-provided and subsidized housing, and increased reliance on private sector solutions for the global housing challenge, contributing to growing inequality on all fronts. Though there has been progress since the Istanbul meeting, access to healthcare, sanitation, housing, and safe food and water has become more unequal over the years.

What’s Different This Time?

Habitat I and II drew criticism for lacking well-structured implementation and follow-up plans, with ambitious, visionary declarations but little to no action. Habitat III could change that legacy. The excitement around the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be seen as an opportunity for cities. Habitat III can therefore be seen as a way to implement these commitments and tap into the political and financial momentum these processes already have. Besides the official events at Habitat III on integrating the New Urban Agenda with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, many side events will try to determine how achieving the goals of the New Urban Agenda can contribute to achieving goals on climate action and sustainable development. Additionally, decision-makers can look to the recent UN-DESA Financing for Development conference, which created a new global framework for financing sustainable development and a comprehensive set of national policy actions towards achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. This framework, which also aligns with the core tenets of the New Urban Agenda, can be leveraged to channel more international finance to the NUA commitments.

The Paris Agreement will go into effect on November 4, creating an immediate push for action. Habitat decision makers and implementers can ride this momentum by connecting new initiatives to the existing Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) – the UNFCCC’s stakeholder engagement mechanism to enhance the implementation of climate action – and related initiatives. The LPAA action brings non-state and city actors together through the Global Covenant of Mayors and the Paris Process on Mobility and Climate, two urban-focused initiatives whose activities contribute to both urban development and climate goals.

Similarly, the SDGs are highly relevant to urban decision-makers, and can’t be fully achieved without significant investment in cities. In addition to specifically acknowledging the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda makes commitments that would help achievement of at least 15 of the 17 goals. For this reason, it is imperative that actors dedicated to the SDGs make every effort to leverage the opportunity of Habitat III.

As all eyes turn to Quito next week, we look forward to seeing global and local leaders come together to strategize the best ways to make real our collective vision for the cities of the future.

New Urban Transport Models Can Help Create Sustainable Cities

Fri, 2016-10-14 02:17

Shanghai, China encourages bicycle use to combat traffic congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo by Marko Simo / Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on sustainable mobility enabling better, safer, cleaner and affordable access for all, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

Emmanuel, a 40-year-old tailor in Awoshie, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, is a good example of challenges that face commuters in cities around the world. He lives just 11 kilometers (about 7 miles) from his job in the central business district, but spends 15 percent of his household income getting there, mostly on trotro, a small van providing informal public transport service, similar to the magic in India, the daladala in Tanzania or the combi in Peru. Congestion in the city center makes bus drivers avoid it by taking circuitous, time-consuming routes that can more than an hour to commute, and more direct travel options are often prohibitively expensive.  The solution Emmanuel sees for his commuting difficulties would only make traffic congestion worse: he hopes to get his own car.

Making transport sustainable for all city residents is a prominent part of the New Urban Agenda, the outcome document of Habitat III. This demonstrates the international development community’s recognition of how important mobility is for prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. Making that vision a reality presents challenges to city leaders as they who struggle to address the immediate need to move people from homes to jobs with limited resources. In many cases, cities continue with old, unsustainable models that rely too heavily on cars and roads. And the problems of traditional transport – including traffic fatalities and the health effects of air pollution — will continue to be felt primarily by society’s most vulnerable.

Between 2000 and 2015 the use of motor vehicles worldwide jumped 67 percent to 24 trillion vehicle kilometers (15 trillion miles) from 14 trillion (8.7 trillion miles). During that period, the total number of vehicles on the road surged 49 percent to 992 million from 664 million, reflecting the growing urban middle class in developing countries. Electric vehicle stock grew dramatically, but still accounted for just 1 million in 2015, up from fewer than 20,000 vehicles in 2010. While new technologies such as e-hailing apps provide flexibility and convenience, these ad hoc private services further increase the focus on cars for mobility, rather than inclusion in a comprehensive transit plan that fosters the use of clean modes like walking and cycling.

Putting Cities in the Driver’s Seat

Addressing these challenges will be essential if cities are to achieve the New Urban Agenda’s sustainable transport goals. WRI’s World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City will examine this issue in a working paper that looks at the possible policies city governments can use to propel their communities towards sustainable urban mobility.

There are plenty of good examples on how to do this. There are currently more than 12,600 km (nearly 8000 miles) of metro or urban rail and 5,400 km (3,300 miles) of bus rapid transit (BRT), collectively providing 154 million trips a day in 250 cities. Walking and biking also are gaining momentum. In U.S. cities, for example, commuting by bicycle increased 62 percent between 2000 and 2013.  And some cities, like London, Shanghai and Bogotá, discourage excessive car use with congestion pricing, vehicle quotas or license plate restrictions as they work to tackle congestion, air pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

WRR examines policies that have the potential to capitalize on that momentum. Noting that the most sustainable cities have high proportions of residents who walk, bicycle and use public transport, we look at policies that increase this behavior. These can include changes in land use, with a mix of residential and commercial use; dedicated pedestrian zones and bicycle lanes; and better planning and coordination of transit policies across metropolitan areas to ensure service covers all areas of the city.

Another challenge is the traditional focus of public finance on building highways rather than on more sustainable transportation options, as well as the lack of comprehensive mobility plans, especially in metropolitan areas where different municipal governments are not adequately coordinated.

New mobility solutions like e-hailing and car sharing can be a welcome part of the transport mix, but as a complement to a coordinated system. Cities need to be more in the driver’s seat instead of the passenger’s seat.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Three Challenges to Safe and Affordable Urban Housing

Thu, 2016-10-13 19:07

Informal urban housing, like this in Mumbai, is all that many new city-dwellers can afford. Photo by Robin King/WRI

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on safe, secure and well-located affordable housing, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

A good home gives families a base to build the foundations of society. A good home can give people physical and financial security, let them care for one another in healthy living conditions and encourage and empower them to seek better jobs, including paying work done at home. The right to adequate, affordable housing is promised in the consitutions and laws of more than 100 countries, but efforts to ensure these rights are often inadequately implemented. Still, there is currently a worldwide shortage of affordable housing.

Jussara in Porto Alegre, Brazil, moved to the city in search of economic opportunity, but had to change homes multiple time in search of affordable housing, and faced decades of evictions and unsafe housing. “The government just ‘throws’ people anywhere, but doesn’t protect us,” she said. Jussara finally found housing in the city center, closer to services and job opportunities, but she and her extend family are illegal occupants of a downtown building due to lack of affordable options.

Jussara near her home in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Photo by Fernanda Boscaini and Caroline Donatti/WRI Brasil

Here are three critical challenges to ensuring safe, affordable urban housing:

1.      Importance of core services in informal settlements and slums

In many rapidly urbanizing areas, large segments of the population live in substandard housing, with uncertain property rights, and where access to basic services – such as clean water, toilets, electricity and garbage collection – is limited. More than 828 million people were living in informal settlements in the global South in 2010 — one-third of its urban population – and the challenge is expected to get worse as urbanization intensifies in Asia and Africa. UN Habitat estimates that there will be 889 million living in slums by 2020. The global affordable housing gap  will grow from 330 million urban households now to 440 million by 2025, which means over 1.6 billion people living without affordable legal housing worldwide.

2.      Need to support housing rental markets

Policies that set eligibility requirements for formal renting or homeownership often lock out the poor, as they require extensive documentation – such as proof of employment and wage earnings – that is unavailable to those who work in the informal economy.  A healthy housing market includes a range of options and arrangements. Emphasis on one type of housing arrangement leads to shortages for important segments of the city’s population, especially for the poor and lower middle class, who often then end up in informal and less secure living arrangements.

3.      Making better use of underutilized land in city centers

Creating secure, affordable housing in and around cities — rather than in distant areas — is essential to ensure economic productivity, environmental sustainability and equity for the whole metropolis. If there isn’t enough affordable housing in the city, more poor and lower middle class residents will be pushed to the outskirts, far from infrastructure, social networks and existing jobs, creating long travel times and additional expenses. Location and access to services matter.

Many cities have attempted to solve the problem of informal settlements by either enticing or forcibly relocating residents to the urban periphery where land is cheaper. This only enlarges the urban footprint, increasing traffic congestion, the cost of services and other social costs. A national housing initiative in Mexico, for example, resulted in construction of housing communities outside cities, significantly increasing commute times that have been reported to last as long as two hours one way. The plan was so unpopular that residents eventually abandoned far-flung housing for accommodations closer to the city center. Similar situations have occurred in Brazil and India, where slum eradication and resettlement don’t solve urban problems; they just move them elsewhere.

Housing will be one of many issues discussed at Habitat III and addressed in the New Urban Agenda.  Valid goals and approaches to affordable and sustainable housing are found throughout as a key element of sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity for all. The next step will be to move beyond paper to implementation.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Three Challenges to Safe and Affordable Urban Housing

Thu, 2016-10-13 02:02

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive. One section of the WRR is on safe, secure and well-located affordable housing, and will be presented at the WRR launch event in Quito October 16.

 

A good home gives families a base to build the foundations of society. A good home can give people physical and financial security, let them care for one another in healthy living conditions and encourage and empower them to seek better jobs, including paying work done at home. The right to adequate, affordable housing is promised in the consitutions and laws of more than 100 countries, but efforts to ensure these rights are often inadequately implemented. Still, there is currently a worldwide shortage of affordable housing.

Jussara in Porto Alegre, Brazil, moved to the city in search of economic opportunity, but had to change homes multiple time in search of affordable housing, and faced decades of evictions and unsafe housing. “The government just ‘throws’ people anywhere, but doesn’t protect us,” she said. Jussara finally found housing in the city center, closer to services and job opportunities, but she and her extend family are illegal occupants of a downtown building due to lack of affordable options.

Here are three critical challenges to ensuring safe, affordable urban housing:

           1.      Importance of core services in informal settlements and slums

In many rapidly urbanizing areas, large segments of the population live in substandard housing, with uncertain property rights, and where access to basic services – such as clean water, toilets, electricity and garbage collection – is limited. More than 828 million people were living in informal settlements in the global South in 2010 — one-third of its urban population – and the challenge is expected to get worse as urbanization intensifies in Asia and Africa. UN Habitat estimates that there will be 889 million living in slums by 2020. The global affordable housing gap  will grow from 330 million urban households now to 440 million by 2025, which means over 1.6 billion people living without affordable legal housing worldwide.

2.      Need to support housing rental markets

Policies that set eligibility requirements for formal renting or homeownership often lock out the poor, as they require extensive documentation – such as proof of employment and wage earnings – that is unavailable to those who work in the informal economy.  A healthy housing market includes a range of options and arrangements. Emphasis on one type of housing arrangement leads to shortages for important segments of the city’s population, especially for the poor and lower middle class, who often then end up in informal and less secure living arrangements.

3.      Making better use of underutilized land in city centers

Creating secure, affordable housing in and around cities — rather than in distant areas — is essential to ensure economic productivity, environmental sustainability and equity for the whole metropolis. If there isn’t enough affordable housing in the city, more poor and lower middle class residents will be pushed to the outskirts, far from infrastructure, social networks and existing jobs, creating long travel times and additional expenses. Location and access to services matter.

Many cities have attempted to solve the problem of informal settlements by either enticing or forcibly relocating residents to the urban periphery where land is cheaper. This only enlarges the urban footprint, increasing traffic congestion, the cost of services and other social costs. A national housing initiative in Mexico, for example, resulted in construction of housing communities outside cities, significantly increasing commute times that have been reported to last as long as two hours one way. The plan was so unpopular that residents eventually abandoned far-flung housing for accommodations closer to the city center. Similar situations have occurred in Brazil and India, where slum eradication and resettlement don’t solve urban problems; they just move them elsewhere.

Housing will be one of many issues discussed at Habitat III and addressed in the New Urban Agenda.  Valid goals and approaches to affordable and sustainable housing are found throughout as a key element of sustainable and inclusive urban prosperity for all. The next step will be to move beyond paper to implementation.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Why Now Is the Time to Make Energy Access in Cities a Top Priority

Tue, 2016-10-11 18:30

Two men in Bosnia and Herzegovina install solar panels on their roof. Photo by UNDP in Europe and Central Asia / Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, on October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI offers real-world research that aims to convert plans into implementation to create cities that live, move and thrive.  

Adelaida, a banker and mother born and raised in Accra, is a typical middle-income resident of Ghana’s capital city. She earns about $250 a month, but because she spends about a quarter of her income on electricity, Adelaida is considered energy-poor. While most homes in Accra are connected to the national energy grid, they are often unable access electricity due to the high cost. Not only is this very expensive, but service is frequently interrupted by unannounced power cuts, hampering Adelaida’s ability to do her household chores and store food.

When delegates gather in Quito for Habitat III to adopt the New Urban Agenda—a vision for inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities—they should remember the Adelaidas of the world. As a forthcoming paper of the World Resources Report shows, ensuring access to affordable energy and the economic opportunity it brings will be essential for a sustainable, prosperous urban future.

The Urban Side of Energy Access

Energy access has often been viewed through a rural lens, but it remains a vexing and overlooked urban problem as well. In urban areas around the world, 132 million people lack access to electricity and 482 million people cook over ‘dirty’ solid fuels, such as wood or charcoal. Cities that are already struggling to provide clean, affordable, reliable energy for their residents will likely find it challenging to keep pace between now and 2050, when the urban population is expected to be 2.5 billion more than it is today, with most of the increase in Africa and Asia.

Energy is a prerequisite for economic growth and productivity, as it provides the services necessary for people’s homes and livelihoods. Furthermore, how a city consumes energy has major impacts on human health.  For example, household air pollution from solid fuels accounted for 3.5 million deaths globally in 2010. Moving forward, cities in the rapidly urbanizing parts of world face three fundamental challenges:

1.      How to provide quality energy access, while addressing the vexing issues of reliability              and cost?

The urban poor in developing countries spend a significant portion of their income on energy, often as much as 14-22 percent. In Kibera, Nairobi, energy expenditures can reach up to 20–40 percent of monthly incomes. Even where populations have access to electricity, unreliability and inefficiency can be acute problems, particularly in South Asia. For example, the average number of power outages per month experienced by firms in South Asia exceeded 25 in 2o13. Because of this unreliability, people and firms with grid connections are often forced to use dirty diesel generators to supplement their power—at costs many times that of conventional grid electricity.

2.     How to increase energy services while improving efficiency?

In a number of megacities in the developing world, the growth rates in electricity consumption far exceed population growth. While increasing electricity consumption is a development imperative, it will be difficult for many cities to sustain this rate of consumption, particularly given inefficiencies and line losses. In Lagos, for example, line losses are estimated to be 40 percent of total electricity consumption, compared to less than 10 percent in London or Los Angeles.

3.     Given the climate imperative, how to shift to cleaner, less carbon-intensive energy?

Cities in the developing world will not be able to follow the unsustainable development models of wealthier, more developed cities. Dramatic greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions are necessary—at least 40 to 70 percent below 2010 levels globally—if there is to be a likely chance for global warming to stay below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) by century’s end. And because cities are responsible for about 70 percent of global GHGs, they play a substantial role in this mitigation effort.

Exploring Potential Urban Solutions

The forthcoming WRR paper on energy will ask the key question: how can cities in the developing world simultaneously provide cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable energy services to the underserved, while ensuring that the city becomes more economically prosperous and enhancing overall environmental quality?

The report will present solutions that, first, meet the urgent need to enhance services for the underserved in terms of access, cost, reliability, health and livelihoods, and that, second, avoid long-term lock-in of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from energy infrastructure. The focus will be on urban energy solutions that can largely be implemented within the city itself. The aim is to inform urban change agents—a broad suite of actors from national and regional government, international finance institutions, civil society, and the private sector—on critical urban energy action areas.

As the international community focuses on implementing the New Urban Agenda after Quito, urban energy must be a priority. Providing clean, affordable, reliable energy in urban areas, particularly in regions that are rapidly urbanizing, is also indispensable to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of ensuring modern energy access to all and creating cities that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This is a seminal opportunity to create a new city, where everyone has access to energy to power their lives and thrive.

World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City – Framing the Opportunities and Challenges

Thu, 2016-10-06 21:29

Surat, India, where a plague outbreak triggered urban transformation. Photo by qusai_haider/Flickr

Urban leaders from around the world are meeting in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20, 2016, to set the global agenda for the future of cities at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, known as Habitat III. Through the World Resources Report (WRR) on sustainable cities, WRI provides research to help create cities that live, move and thrive.

Once every 20 years, the world’s urban leaders gather to determine the best course of action for the world’s cities. This year, at Habitat III, the 21st century challenges for cities are clear: the planet’s urban population is expected to increase by 60 percent by 2050, with much of that growth occurring in lower income countries and in cities with lower budgets per capita to address the challenges created by urbanization.

WRI’s World Resources Report: Towards a More Equal City examines whether providing equitable access to core services leads to a more economically productive and environmentally sustainable city.

The Challenge for Cities

The next generation of cities will be very different from those of the past, which requires a re-examination of conventional responses to the challenges of urbanization. Imagine the combined populations of China and India—more than 2.5 billion people—moving into the world’s cities by 2050, mostly to cities in Asia and Africa. By mid-century, 52 percent of the world’s total urban population will be in Asia and 21 percent in Africa.

While the global poverty rate is falling, the proportion of the poor living in cities is greater than ever before. This makes it harder for cities to provide basic services for all residents. Our research finds that as much as 70 percent of urban residents in emerging and struggling Asian, African and Latin American cities lack reliable access to core services such as housing, water, energy and transportation. City leaders face a tension between meeting the immediate and growing demand for services, and making longer term decisions that affect the built environment.

What does this mean for Job Mauti in Nairobi, who walks two hours to work each day to support his large extended family, and uses kerosene and an illegal electricity connection to provide energy for cooking and lights for studying in his home? What does it mean for Anita in Delhi, who has a university degree and a good job, but must spend a long time taking a combination of buses, metro and rickshaws to get to work, and still feels unsafe? Or Didi in Porto Alegre, Brazil, whose family has a house with access to services, but in an area where crime is a constant threat?

For these three city-dwellers and millions more like them, the lack of access to core services can mean they are forced to fend for themselves in inefficient and costly ways that hamper their quality of life and risk damaging the environment.

Approaches to Meeting Core Service Needs

The World Resources Report takes equitable access to core services as its entry point and explores whether meeting the needs of the urban under-served leads to a more productive and environmentally sustainable city. The WRR will examine how cities can provide their growing populations with secure, affordable shelter located near economic opportunities and essential services. It looks at how effective policy approaches are over the long term. The WRR specifically explores upgrading of informal settlements, support for rental markets, and creative uses of underutilized land. The report examines how cities can provide clean, affordable, reliable energy through innovations like modern fuel, clean and efficient cook stoves, and distributed renewable energy. It also analyzes how cities can put people instead of cars at the heart of decision-making, to support walking, biking and accessible public transportation.

How Can We Transform Cities?

Sector-specific approaches are a start, but they are not enough. To build thriving cities, we need approaches that transcend isolated sectoral solutions and piecemeal approaches. Through a preliminary analysis of two case studies, Medellín and Surat, we observed that urban transformation encompasses some common features—a strong coalition of urban change agents with a shared vision, successfully addressing a seminal problem that unleashes a cycle of positive change, the availability of financial resources to implement ambitious reforms, and a long-term political commitment. Despite these common features there is no single path for every city. Through a series of more in-depth, city-level case studies we will ask the question: Is it possible to learn from cases of successful transformations in a way that can help other cities usher in their own transformation?

Medellin, Colombia, transformed itself from the murder capital of the world into a thriving metropolis, in part by improving access to core services in imaginative ways. For example, the city constructed a cable car system to connect isolated hillside communities to the city center. This and other urban development projects helped the municipal government build a coalition with political leaders and the private sector, which in turn built momentum for more changes, such as new schools, new parks, a museum and a revised housing policy that legalized informal homes. No single factor explains the transformation in Medellin; a mutually reinforcing set of factors made the change happen.

In Surat, India, an outbreak of plague prompted a change in the healthcare system and triggered urban transformation. The city government initiated vigorous cleanup efforts, changes to waste management and water systems, and new public health monitoring. These reforms were accompanied by changes to the governance and budget processes, and further buoyed by strong municipal leadership and coalition-building with the private sector and civil society groups. The result was transformation in still other areas, such as flood risk management and building climate resilience.

These are only two examples where targeting a core urban service that improves the quality of life for the majority of people in a city can lead to lasting positive change and transform the city. The WRR will continue to dig deep into more such examples in the coming year. Stay tuned for more.

WRI’s World Resources Report will focus on challenges and solutions over the next year aimed at creating more equal cities. Future research papers will look at practical solutions to core services like housing, energy, and transportation as well as provide insights into the broader process of urban transformation. The WRI will launch the report Oct. 16 in Quito.

Q&A with Ani Dasgupta: What’s at Stake for Cities at Habitat III?

Thu, 2016-10-06 00:28

A successful Habitat III and implementation of the New Urban Agenda means a successful future for cities, like Bangalore, India. Photo by EMBARQ / Flickr

WRI is engaging in Habitat III – the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 17-20 – to help create the sustainable, equitable, prosperous cities of the future. Ani Dasgupta, Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, answers key questions to explain what’s at stake:

Why is Habitat III so important?

Cities are crucial to the future of the planet — 2.5 billion more people will live in cities by 2050. How we build and manage cities is crucial for quality of life, productivity and our ability to meet our goals on climate change on a global scale.

Habitat III is a once-in-20-year event – this is only the third one – that brings international leaders together under the UN banner to create the momentum for positive change in cities. More than half the world’s people live in cities and 6 billion will live in cities by 2045. So it is vital for Habitat III to inspire leaders to take action so that all people can live, move and thrive.

Habitat III has a lot in common with international negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals and the global meetings on climate action that led to the Paris Agreement, except that Habitat III has not traditionally been a binding agreement. Because most of us live in cities, and so many more will join in the future, success at Habitat III is essential for the future of the planet.

What is the New Urban Agenda?

Over the last couple of years, under the UN’s stewardship and organization, world experts have been meeting to discuss what we need to do to help cities move forward by making them more productive, environmentally sustainable and livable. The vision built on these discussions forms the New Urban Agenda, the declaration that will come out of Habitat III. This will provide an action plan for building cities that work for the planet, for the economy and for people.

What challenges do city planners face?

Urban leaders face difficult choices as cities grow at unprecedented rates, most quickly in Africa and South Asia, often in smaller, poorer cities with less capacity to deal with the change. Immediate needs get priority in these strapped cities, but that can risk locking in policies and infrastructure that can’t be sustained over the long run.

Planners need to help cities make better choices to solve their current problems and help them to prepare for the future. Planners need to set examples of solutions that work and find ways to adapt them to local needs — I think that the role of city planner is becoming more important than ever.

What are the most promising ways to address these challenges?

Every city is different, so every city will develop a custom set of solutions. Cities that are growing fast, which often have lower capacity for making transformative change, need to focus on a few core services that are at the foundation for a city to grow sustainably.

Where people live matters, so the first thing cities need to focus on is land-use planning, affordable housing and more compact growth.

Second, it is very important to address how people move around. If people live closer to work, they won’t have to move very far or very fast. We have to ensure that walking, cycling and public transport are key parts of urban mobility, rather than allowing dominance of cars in cities to continue.

Finally, services like water, sanitation and energy need to be provided in innovative ways, so that making them accessible to all people in a city is a priority.

Getting basic services right is crucial for future cities to grow in a way that keeps us on track for climate and development goals. That way, we will have economically thriving cities that are environmentally sustainable so they can provide a high quality life for everyone.

Can cities be part of the solution to climate change?

Cities are very much part of the climate challenge today – about 70 percent of greenhouse gases are emitted in cities – but I think they will also be a part of the solution.

To give an example, there are a billion cars in the world today, most of them in cities. If we don’t do anything about it, by 2050 there will be 3 billion cars. If those cars use the fuels they do now, we will have a 6-degree world, with global temperatures more than 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F) warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. We cannot get to a 2-degree world if there is not a dramatic reduction in cars.

This transformation is possible. Habitat III can energize solutions and mobilize resources that we need.

How can the Quito meeting help create new kinds of cities?

Habitat III is an exciting opportunity for all of us to come together and agree on a vision and path forward for cities around the world. I believe that if we build cities that provide equal access to services for all citizens and work toward sustainable mobility and land use, we will build cities that have a high quality of life for everyone, are economically productive and work toward a sustainable future.

What would success at Habitat III look like?

We’ve been closely following the texts along the development of the New Urban Agenda. We are looking forward to world leaders taking this chance, not only to agree to the New Urban Agenda, but also to create momentum for change in cities worldwide. In my mind, a successful Habitat III must include:

  • a very clear implementation agenda and a monitoring process;
  • national commitments to developing policies that empower cities;
  • financing plans that back up the solutions that emerge in Quito.

If these things happen, we will all be proud of the Habitat III process and the outcomes of Quito.

To learn more about the challenges cities face, look for the WRI’s forthcoming World Resources Report.

Chengdu Shows How Cities Can Turn Climate Commitments into Action

Wed, 2016-10-05 20:32

Chengdu, China is a leader in low-carbon planning. Photo by Axel Drainville / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Cities are starting to get serious about curbing climate change. In the past two years, more than 500 cities worldwide have joined the Compact of Mayors, a coalition committed to ambitious climate action. This year, the Compact of Mayors merged with Covenant of Mayors to form the new Global Covenant of Mayors, with more than 6,000 cities and municipalities. This global group joins the many regional and national initiatives dedicated to city-level climate action, such as China’s Alliance of Pioneer Peaking Cities(APPC), a group of more than 20 Chinese cities that have committed to peak their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions ahead of the national target year of 2030.

But with all these great commitments comes the next logical question: How to put them into action?

Chengdu, China, Puts Evidence-based Low-carbon Planning to Practice

In addition to commitment, cities need systematic planning to reach their climate targets. According to the Compact of Mayors, this planning should include four key steps:

1)      develop a greenhouse gas inventory;

2)      set an emissions-reduction target;

3)      develop an action plan; and

4)      track performance on a regular basis.

Practical guides and tools such as the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) can help cities implement each of these steps. More than 500 cities – with a total combined population of 400 million and nearly 3 billion tons of annual GHG emissions –have committed to measure their emissions using the GPC to develop action plans to reduce emissions and publicly report on their progress.

Chengdu, China, is leading by example with these four steps to low-carbon planning. With a population of over 14 million, Chengdu is one of China’s largest cities in China, and rapid industrialization and urbanization brought a decades-long increase in GHG emissions. That started to change in 2011 when Chengdu partnered with WRI’s Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative.

Chengdu Development and Reform Commission developed its first greenhouse gas inventory in 2015 (based on 2010 data). This inventory revealed valuable insights about the sources of the city’s emissions. For example, it was found that Chengdu’s electricity is quite low-carbon because more than 70 percent of it is hydroelectric. So shifting industries toward electrification could be a way to further reduce Chengdu’s carbon emissions.

Using the inventory results, Chengdu then created a detailed analysis to forecast its potential future emissions trajectories under different economic, energy and mitigation scenarios. It found that controlling emissions from construction materials manufacturing and chemical industries are among the key measures needed to peak the city’s emissions. In terms of energy mix, limiting oil consumption and increasing electrification will lower the emissions peaking level. Based on the analysis, Chengdu committed to an ambitious target to peak its emissions by 2025, which officials announced at the China-U.S. Climate-Smart / Low Carbon Cities Summit in June. Then, Chengdu developed a detailed roadmap and action plan for achieving the target that includes measures such as setting an energy cap, establishing a smart grid, instituting low-carbon transport and constructing green buildings. This year, Chengdu will update its greenhouse gas inventory with 2015 data and institutionalize a mechanism for tracking performance.

National Policies: The Other Piece of the Puzzle

To help tackle climate change, more cities need to take action as Chengdu has. International platforms like the Compact of Mayors and the new Global Covenant of Mayors can help, but there’s also a role for national governments.

National governments need to link cities’ actions to national policy to get buy-in from political stakeholders at all levels of government. That will help cities leverage in-country policies and financing mechanisms. Linking city actions to national policies can also expedite change. For example, China has made low-carbon cities a top priority for its national climate agenda. In 2011 and 2012, the National Development and Reform Commission selected 42 cities and provinces to join the National Pilot Low Carbon Cities Program. This program’s success prompted the Commission to add about 50 new cities this year. All these cities and provinces will set emission peak targets ahead of the national 2030 target, demonstrating how national governments can help deliver results at scale.

Curbing climate change is a herculean feat. While countries have reached consensus on the Paris Agreement, tackling global warming will ultimately require on-the-ground action in countries and cities. More cities should join Global Covenant of Mayors and APPC cities to ratchet up their actions in line with the Paris Agreement.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Bangalore’s Airport to Become a Leader in Solar Energy Production

Tue, 2016-09-27 21:30

Airports around the world, including Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, are installing solar panels. Photo by Takashi M / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport plans to become the largest solar-producing airport in India, aiming to generate 14.6 megawatts (MW) of solar power. The airport announced in December that it will source 40 percent of its electricity from solar energy, offsetting approximately 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of more than 3,200 passenger vehicles each year. The airport is now deciding upon a developer to execute the project.

The commitment is the next step in India’s push to transform its airports and achieve national and state-wide renewable energy commitments to diversify the electricity supply and mitigate emissions. Just last year, the city of Kochi’s Cochin International Airport became the first airport in the world to run completely on solar power. More cities will need to take note of the potential of airport solar if the country is to achieve its ambitious commitment to 100 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

Why Solar Energy for Airports?

Air transport is often associated with high energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from aircrafts, but airports themselves also create a significant impact. Heating, ventilating, air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, chillers and lighting systems all contribute to an airport’s electricity consumption, which can amount to 100-300 GWh per year, the same as 30,000 to 100,000 households, or a small city.

Solar can be a good renewable energy solution for airports, as airports typically have a lot of buildings and open land available for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. As the case of Bangalore’s airport shows, in addition to the on-site options, off-site generation of solar energy with the electricity being wheeled across a transmission and distribution network is also possible. This makes solar technology an effective tool for cutting airport operating costs, supporting small business development, reducing greenhouse gases and achieving renewable energy goals. Furthermore, airports are well-defined communities that can be easily studied and benchmarked.

Creating Policies to Better Incentivize Solar

To encourage growth in the solar sector, it is important for governments to create policies that support solar suppliers, consumers, improvements to utility infrastructure and innovations in procurement financing. Bangalore’s airport is an excellent example of how this can work.

In July-August 2014, the Green Power Market Development Group (GPMDG), a WRI-led initiative, participated in the state of Karnataka’s regulatory hearings, advocating for off-site solar procurement. At the end of the process, the Karnataka Electricity Regulatory Commission (KERC) passed an order creating new financial incentives: all solar power generators in the state that are operating by March 31, 2018, and are contracted to sell power to consumers, will be exempt from certain grid usage charges for 10 years. Because the typical payback period for a utility-scale solar project is about seven years, these policy changes have provided long-term clarity for solar developers and consumers. The new policy has been critical in enabling the Bangalore airport to proceed with its solar project plans. WRI supported the leadership and technical teams for the Airport to implement their clean energy vision.

Scaling Success Worldwide

Solar power is taking off in airports both in India and around the world. For example, Kochi’s Cochin International Airport hit a major milestone this year when it stopped paying for its electricity altogether and started contributing energy back to the grid. Furthermore, India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) have agreed to install an additional 116 MW of solar PV capacity across 16 airports, with 24.1 MW operational by the end of the this year. That’s in addition to Indian airports’ existing capacity of 5.4 MW.

Beyond India, the Indianapolis International Airport hosts the largest airport-based solar farm, generating 20 MW of solar energy through panels attached to tracking systems that maximize output by moving with the direction of the sun. And Malaysia’s first airport solar power system at Kuala Lumpur International Airport combines ground-mounts, parking canopies and rooftops to achieve huge electricity savings with little space. These technologies are expected save the airport approximately 2.1 million RM (US $627,000) annually based on 2014 energy costs.

The decision to invest in energy-saving, cost-saving solutions has ranked the Bangalore Airport amongst its peers pioneering solar PV in a growing industry. Airports are politically and socially visible, hosting millions of passengers each year. If they embrace renewable energy, it has the power to create ripple effects throughout the world.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Friday Fun: Scaling Sustainable Building Solutions—Collecting Actionable Building Data without Ever Stepping Foot Inside

Sat, 2016-09-24 01:55

Thermal image of the city of Boston. Image courtesy of Essess

What do a sun-harnessing mapping tool and a nighttime-venturing, camera-rigged SUV have in common? They both may hold an answer to scalable, cost-effective solutions to make our built environment more sustainable.

As cities and citizens look to make buildings more efficient and productive, we hear over and over that it is hard to get actionable data without spending a lot of time and money. Technology may be changing that. Two technologies, Mapdwell’s Solar System and Essess’ Thermal Analysis Program, both originating from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offer innovative approaches to improve the buildings we live and work in every day—without ever stepping foot inside.

Mapping the Sun’s Potential

Mapdwell’s interactive Solar System platform informs building owners and occupants about the solar potential of their rooftops. It combines satellite imagery and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data to develop 3-D models of neighborhoods and cities. By zooming in on individual buildings and taking into consideration obstructing trees or structures, the technology determines the quantity of sunrays that can reach rooftops. Cities all over the United States, as well as two districts in Santiago, Chile, are employing Solar System technology.

Solar Potential of Rooftops in Lo Barnechea, Santiago, Chile. Image courtesy of Mapdwell

On the Solar System platform, users can simply enter their street address to obtain detailed economic, financial and environmental data about their building’s solar potential—installation cost, revenue and payback period, even the estimated offset tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and the equivalent number of planted trees. For example, the building that houses WRI’s global headquarters in Washington, DC has the potential for a 166 kilowatt solar system with a seven-year payback period, the equivalent of 176 offset tons of CO2 and 4,100 planted trees. The portal goes even further to allow users to configure their own customized solar system, based on their individual priorities, e.g., monthly savings on utility bills or portion of roof covered with solar panels.

Mapdwell Solar System interface showing New York. Image courtesy of Mapdwell

The most notable thing about this technology is its scalability. The abundance of earth satellite data enables this technology to be replicated and scaled-up across the globe, in both the developed and developing world. Chile is already using Solar System, and the company plans to expand their international reach in the near future. But while satellite data is prolific, LiDAR data is not. It can be very costly to acquire, requiring special planes to fly over swaths of land to develop a 3-D model. If LiDAR is used for multiple applications—e.g. developing digital elevation models and delineating watersheds—it can be very cost-effective, making projects more feasible in places that may be limited on funds.

Mapdwell encourages individuals and communities to “work with the sun,” be informed, generate their own energy and reduce their utility bills. But what if buildings required less energy to operate in the first place? That’s where the second featured technology comes into play.

Spotting Building Leaks

While Mapdwell’s Solar System relies on the sun to collect data, EssessThermal Analysis Program requires the darkness (and coldness) of the night. Essess has developed a robust, mobile, thermal imaging vehicle system—a car equipped with a camera that takes thermal photographs of buildings while driving around a neighborhood, something akin to Google StreetView vehicles. These thermal photographs capture weak spots in the building envelope—identifying energy leaks in building walls, windows, doors and roofs that simple energy-saving solutions could seal. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the building efficiency market, reducing the time it takes to conduct an energy audit— from hours, to seconds. In its hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Essess collected data from 17,000 buildings in 16 hours—a feat that would have taken about five years (and significant financial resources) to do with traditional energy audits.

Identifying energy leaks with Essess’ thermal imaging technology. Image courtesy of Essess

The inherent scalability and cost-effectiveness of this process make it an ideal candidate to apply in cities around the world. But, due to the nature of thermal scans, this technology is only viable in regions that would allow for a 20° Fahrenheit temperature differential between the interior and exterior of the building, a condition that rules out much of the global south. Regardless, this technology has the potential to change how we conduct energy audits – equipping building owners and utility companies with the knowledge to make better-informed decisions.

Building The Future of Efficiency

These innovative technologies have the potential to revolutionize the buildings we live and work in. Scalable, cost-effective technologies like these can transform the building efficiency market – and could be even more powerful if combined, as recent research suggests.

In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Breaking Car Addictions Starts in the Workplace

Thu, 2016-09-22 21:30

CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais, started a few measures to reduce employees car dependency. Photo by Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr

The WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities’ Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative supports key leaders in China, India and Brazil in improving urban quality of life and environmental sustainability. WRI’s blog series on the Initiative will highlight some of the projects that are working to create better cities.

Without dramatic change in cities, the world will hold more than 2 billion cars by 2050, putting human health and the planet at risk. Belo Horizonte, Brazil is finding that changing the world’s car-centric culture starts in the workplace.

Local governments throughout Brazil have long-struggled with how to solve the problems caused by rising car ownership, such as air pollution, traffic congestion and auto crashes. Cities like Porto Alegre and São Paulo have experimented with Traffic Demand Management (TDM) policies like license plate restrictions, increased parking prices and more, but they’ve met with mixed results. Many Brazilian cities simply lack the necessary public transport infrastructure, economic stability and political will to make city-wide TDM policies feasible.

Changing Travel Habits in the Workplace

A project in Belo Horizonte offers a solution.

WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities partnered with the state government of Minas Gerais to encourage more sustainable transportation habits by the workers of the Cidade Administrativa de Minas Gerais (CAMG, Administrative City of Minas Gerais). The state government headquarters employs about 17,000 people, many of whom spend more than two hours per day commuting by private car or motorcycle.

WRI researchers and staff from CAMG started with a step-by-step guide on how to develop a corporate mobility plan, researching employees’ commuting habits and workplace infrastructure and transportation-related costs to develop a Corporate Mobility Diagnosis Report. From there, the two organizations identified potential opportunities for decreasing employees’ vehicle use while improving their commutes and overall quality of life.

When WRI and CAMG asked workers driving cars and motorcycles every day about what would make them change their habits, 84 percent said a high-quality public transport system. Forty-nine percent said they would use the city’s Bus Rapid Transit system, MOVE, if lines connected to stations close to CAMG.

So now CAMG is working with Belo Horizonte’s Transit Agency (BHTRANS) to replace two bus lines with faster, cheaper and more reliable MOVE lines. The new lines will also connect important bus terminals not served by previous bus routes, giving more CAMG workers access to public transit. These new services will start operating in late 2016.

CAMG is also installing bike parking and showers for employees, and a new bike lane will connect the office to the nearest public transit terminal. CAMG is also considering implementing carpool policies and parking fees to further discourage private vehicle use and incentivize more sustainable commuting options.

A Good Policy for Employees and for Companies

If done correctly, CAMG’s plan will save employees money and commuting time while also reducing car use.

There are benefits for CAMG and other companies that implement TDM policies, too. Policies that improve quality of life and value employees’ time have the power to attract and retain talent. According to Fortune Business Magazine, 90 of the 100 Best Places to Work in 2014 had corporate mobility plans in place.

Scaling Up Success

The Belo Horizonte project was not only an opportunity for CAMG, but for city officials to experience the process and benefits of a workplace TDM plan. Now, Belo Horizonte is planning to launch the first corporate mobility public policy in Latin America. The city-wide policy will require large companies to implement a corporate mobility plan in order to offset the impact of thousands of employees’ daily commutes. This pioneering policy will become an example for other Brazilian cities to follow, as well as cities around the world.

The Sustainable and Livable Cities Initiative was made possible through the generous support of the Caterpillar Foundation.

Improving Life for the Urban Under-Served Makes Cities Better for All – But That’s Not the Only Reason to Do It

Tue, 2016-09-20 23:40

Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN Habitat, at preparatory meeting for Habitat III in Surabaya, Indonesia. Photo by Anjali Mahendra

The New Urban Agenda – a vision of inclusive, resilient, sustainable cities where everyone has access to resources and economic opportunity – will be center stage next month at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, known as Habitat III.  Held only once every 20 years, the objective of this third global gathering on urban development in Quito, Ecuador, is for countries to adopt an agenda to guide sustainable urban development over the next two decades.  Agreed at the United Nations on September 10, the Agenda created after gathering responses from the international community on multiple earlier drafts, points to the need to tackle inequality in the world’s cities as one crucial way to achieve this.

Sustainability is understood typically as being based on three pillars – equity, environment and the economy.  A new World Resources Report, Towards a More Equal City, suggests that starting with equity can help achieve gains along the other two pillars towards a sustainable city that works for all. Economic concerns often take precedence when urban policy is made, and environmental concerns have drawn attention in recent years with the focus on climate change and the potential risks to and resilience of cities. But inequality in access to services has exacerbated and has created heavy economic and environmental costs.

At a recent panel discussion to promote the World Resources Report (WRR) in Surabaya, Indonesia, urban specialists offered perspectives on equity as an entry point in moving a city along a pathway of transformative change towards greater sustainability. David Dodman, of the International Institute for Environment and Development, cited “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better”, arguing that health and social problems are worse in more unequal societies. Joseph D’ Cruz of the United Nations Development Program, emphasized that crime and conflict are reduced when there is a shared prosperity and when cities do not grow in an ‘enclave’ sort of way.  D’Cruz noted that an urban economy benefits when all residents can afford to be consumers, strengthening the overall market ecosystem.  Ajay Suri from the Cities Alliance brought up the tangible example of Agra, India, where slum upgrading, drainage improvements and increased sanitation services improved the waste management in the city, encouraging tourism and providing sustainable income for the poor.

Leave No One Behind

But while improving life for those who lack access to services makes cities better for all, that’s not the only reason to do it. Panelists were unanimous that urban change agents need to address the needs of the under-served, independent of other benefits to the city.  D’ Cruz conveyed that there is a responsibility to help the under-served – and to leave no one behind.  George Soraya of the World Bank, emphasized that development should not be directed simply at the urban wealthy. The fundamental question is:  do mayors want the poor to be actively part of the city?

The experts pointed to a number of critical factors needed to enable transformative change that starts with urban equity:

  • Government ownership. Rubbina Karruna of the UK Department for International Development, cited the commitment of 23 mayors of towns and cities in Bangladesh to improve urban sustainability.
  • Multi-sector approach. Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini offered details on the transformation of the kampungs (urban neighborhoods) in Surabaya, where there was a concerted effort to address many sectoral issues, including wastewater management, flood control, education, health and small- and medium-sized enterprise development.
  • Land tenure for marginalized city dwellers. Rose Molokoane of Shack/Slum Dwellers International asserted that when there is threat of eviction from the lack of tenure, it is difficult improve informal settlements.
  • Community participation. Molokoane emphasized that it is essential to consider the organization of the community and to involve the community in planning, using the phrase, “Nothing for us, without us.” In Kenya, people use illegal electricity connections because they lack access to it legally.  Karruna brought up the example of a community-led infrastructure finance facility in Zimbabwe, which has brought construction jobs to the community.  Communities need to be actively involved.
  • Adequate finance.  D’ Cruz said that cities must generate and manage their own finances, instead of relying solely on national or provincial transfers.

As the first World Resources Report papers roll out during Habitat III and beyond, let us hope that the importance of a more equal city is firmly rooted in the New Urban Agenda – for the benefit of the city and for transformative urban development, but most significantly because cities should leave no one behind.

Nossa Cidade: The Challenges of Connecting Brazil’s Metropolitan Regions

Mon, 2016-09-19 20:07

Evening commute in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

 

Nossa Cidade (“Our City”), from TheCityFix Brasil, explores critical questions for building more sustainable cities. Leaning on the expertise of specialists at WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities, the series features in depth articles on urban planning, sustainable mobility, resilience, road safety and other key themes for a healthy urban environment. Each month, a new subject explores the sustainable development of our cities from a different angle. 

One of the main reasons many Brazilians dream of owning their own car is that cars give them the ability to travel great distances quickly with autonomy and security. For years, Brazilian urban development has prioritized individual transport, heightening the desire of owning a private car and discouraging collective transit infrastructure. If increasing public transit use within a city is challenging, one can only imagine the challenge of intercity mobility, especially in larger metropolitan areas.

Despite the scarcity of public transit, the number of Brazilians commuting daily, from one city to another, is increasing. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), the number of people traveling to a different city daily for work or school rose 93.9 percent from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, 7,327,041 people commuted, and, in 2010, that number jumped to 14,357,834.

Traffic jam of individual, personal vehicles in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by EMBARQ Brasil / Flickr

According to the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA), between 2000 and 2010, the population of metropolitan areas grew above the national average for population growth. City centers, however, grew well below the average. According to IPEA, high property prices in major cities and low purchasing power for the average citizen shape this trend. Despite significant rates of urban employment, Brazilians tend to live outside of city centers, where land is cheaper. By commuting daily, Brazilians risk hours in traffic, environmental abuse and quality of life. Furthermore, when citizens drive individually and increase the number of road vehicles, these burdens exponentiate. However, despite these concerns, it is difficult to dissolve the dream of car ownership without an intercity public transportation service.

Additionally, car-centric, intercity infrastructure amplifies the financial burden of commuting. For example, inhabitants of Brazil’s urban areas dedicate about 15 percent of their annual income to their daily commutes, spending on average five times more on private transport than public. Several other issues, including access to better healthcare, education and culture, are linked to the ease of intercity travel. Without a proper mobility system, Brazilians are denied important services and are placed under socio-economic stresses.

Niterói, metropolitan region of Rio. Photo by Marinelson Almeida / Flickr

The Economy Suffers from Time Lost to Commuting

How citizens manage their time affects the economy. For example, long commutes can lead to “sacrificed production,” meaning the longer one’s commute, the less time one spends producing goods or contributing to society. According to the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (FIRJAN), annual losses in the Brazilian economy from metropolitan congestion reach 111 billion reais (US $34.8 billion), the equivalent of 4.4 percent of Brazil’s GDP. Furthermore, more than 17 million workers spend an average of 114 minutes commuting in each direction. Among Brazil’s 37 metropolitan areas, Rio de Janeiro has the longest travel time: 2.8 million workers travel an average of 141 minutes each way. As a result, the annual cost of “sacrificed production” in Rio exceeds 19 billion reais ($5.7 billion USD), equivalent to 5.9 percent of metropolitan GDP.

Upon identifying these problems within Brazil’s urban planning and transit infrastructure, in early 2015, the Brazilian government enacted the Statute of Metropolis, outlining general guidelines for planning, managing and implementing public policies in metropolitan areas. The Statute gives Brazilian cities a three-year period to deliver their Integrated Urban Development Plans (PNDI), which specify guidelines for strategic projects, actions and investments, as well as zoning guidelines. These development plans are up to the discretion of the cities but must meet the standards of the Statute. Furthermore, PNDIs are intended to spur social participation and promote transparency and dialogue between governmental officials and civil society.

São Paulo has integrated city transport but lacks intercity connectivity. Photo by Mariana Gil, WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities / Flickr

Cities across Brazil are evaluating their current successes and developmental goals as they shape their PNDIs. For instance, São Paulo, home to 39 cities and 21 million people, has a serious lack of connectivity, meaning developing a robust PNDI is essential. For example, intercity bus lines do not link the greater metropolitan area with the capital city. Integration only occurs between the intercity bus, metro and trains from the São Paulo Metropolitan Train Company (CPTM). “It is up to us, organized society, to implement the Statute. And for that, we have to create an inter-federal governance structure. A council bringing together representatives of government, private sector and civil society to discuss the metropolitan issues, “said Luiz José Predetti, Director of the São Paulo Metropolitan Planning Company SA (Emplasa) during a WRI Brasil event in Rio de Janeiro last September.

Unlike São Paulo, Curitiba’s transport system serves as a model for metropolitan transport. The state’s capital is a pioneer for implementing bus rapid transit (BRT)—a system that prioritizes public transport over cars. Since the 1980s, Curitiba’s Integrated Transport Network (RIT) has successfully connected cities in the metropolitan area. Nevertheless, there are still ways Curitiba can improve its transport system. For example, enhancing its Green Line operation would further strengthen interconnectivity in the region.

The expansion of Curitiba’s Green Line can further improve intercity transportation in the region. Photo by mariordo59 / Flickr

Similar to Curitiba, cities in Florianópolis also serve as examples for metropolitan transit management. In April, governmental officials implemented the Urban Mobility Plan of Florianópolis (PLAMUS), an initiative to enhance public transport in the region, including bike lanes and BRT. A technical study, conducted between 2014 and 2015 with the support of WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities, preceded the Mobility Plan to diagnose problems of urban mobility in Florianópolis’s 13 cities.

Future Changes Show Promise for Integrated Transport

In order to solve mobility problems and meet the Statute of Metropolis guidelines, Rio de Janeiro is already working on its PNDI. “When we do not have a model, a design, and are just doing more of the same, we cannot guarantee a sustainable development process. In the metropolitan area of Rio de Janeiro, urban expansion is 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) per year. We make a Herculean effort to improve the existing infrastructure. Building a solid planning effort, as we are doing here, is very exciting, “said Vicente Loureiro, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Chamber, at an event held in June by the State Government in partnership with WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities.

In addition to PNDIs, the Metropolitan Chamber, with support from the World Bank, is formulating a Strategic Plan for Integrated Development of the Metropolitan Urban Region of Rio de Janeiro, or “Shaping the Metropolis.” WRI Brasil Sustainable Cities is on the plan’s Advisory Board, a body made up of civil society, the private sector and academia. This group will propose strategies and guidelines for consideration when preparing “Shaping the Metropolis.” This plan is intended to guide governmental decisions for the next 25 years. The guidelines discuss six aspects of metropolitan life: economic expansion, natural and cultural heritage, mobility, housing and social facilities, sanitation and environment and space reconfiguration. It will serve as an example of integrated management to other Brazilian metropolitan areas.

Originally published in Portuguese at TheCityFix Brasil.

History in the Making: Habitat III Negotiators Release Final Draft of the New Urban Agenda

Thu, 2016-09-15 22:31

Quito, Ecuador will host Habitat III in October. Photo by Claudio Alvarado Solari / Flickr

Last week, the final draft of the New Urban Agenda (NUA)—the document at the center of Habitat III in Quito next month—was released. After an unexpected stalemate at the Preparatory Committee in Surabaya in July, Habitat III negotiators convened this week in New York to finalize the text, which will lay the groundwork for global urban development for the next 20 years. After a marathon, 38-hour closed door session of informal negotiations, delegates were able to find common ground on many of the most challenging issues, including language around the Right to the City, the future of UN-Habitat and its role in Habitat III implementation and many more minor, but still vexing, topics.

The final draft includes references to or endorsements of many essential issues, including the role of voluntary commitments from cities and stakeholders, follow-up reporting processes and the importance of national urban policies. Despite these positive steps, the draft lacks clear linkages to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, specific reference to a platform for action and clear guidance for country and stakeholder reporting expectations. These issues will be critical as decision-makers and stakeholders prepare for Quito.

The Quito Implementation Plan and Stakeholder Action

Ambitious action from non-state actors will be key to effectively implementing the New Urban Agenda and ensuring a positive legacy for Habitat III. Many stakeholders have raised questions and concerns about how non-state actors can get involved in Post-Quito implementation. Paragraphs 21 and 154 of the Agreed Draft of the NUA emphasize the importance of these activities, but there is not a specific reference to the Secretariat’s Quito Implementation Plan or any other action platform linked to the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. This raises concerns that securing buy-in and commitments from diverse stakeholders may be a challenge.

National Urban Policies That Empower Cities

Strong and inclusive national urban policies will be central to scaling action for sustainable cities at all levels of government. Paragraphs 89-91 outline the need for countries to create and implement national urban policies that decentralize decision-making power into the hands of local and sub-national decision-makers and equip them with the resources and financial mechanisms they need.

However, it’s important that these policies empower cities and sub-national regions to find their own solutions. In the forthcoming weeks, stakeholders should be on the look-out as countries gear up to announce commitments for this kind of national legislation in Quito.

Ensuring a Strong Reporting Process

Paragraphs 161 through 169 call for “voluntary, country-led, open, inclusive, multi-level, participatory, and transparent follow-up and review of the New Urban Agenda…tak[ing] into account contributions of national, sub-national, and local levels of government and…supplemented by contributions from the United Nations system, regional and sub-regional organizations, major groups and relevant stakeholders.” This reporting process, which will be led by UN-Habitat, has the potential to ensure that the New Urban Agenda is not another document lost to time, but rather a force of action, propelling stakeholders across sectors to make commitments and create change.

To ensure effectiveness, however, there needs to be clear guidance on how countries and other stakeholders will be expected to support the reporting process, especially in light of the SDG’s and Paris Agreement’s reporting requirements. These important international processes are only minimally referenced or omitted entirely in the New Urban Agenda, but they should be leveraged to benefit the NUA follow-up process. The reporting process and guidance for countries should be discussed in depth and agreed in Quito in order to make the most of the resulting energy and momentum.

Contentious Issues Remain: Future of UN-Habitat and the Right to the City

One of the more controversial issues throughout the Habitat III negotiations has been the concept of the Right to the City, which has been championed by many Latin American countries, and is seen as a mechanism to create better, more collaborative relationships between authorities and urban residents. Though the phrase remains in the text (Paragraph 11), the commitment to this concept has been watered down so as only to note that some cities refer to the “shared vision of cities for all” as the “right to the city.” While this compromise was accepted by advocates, they remain disappointed by the status of what they see as a central tenet of a progressive future for urban development.

The final hurdle for negotiators was the role of UN-Habitat, which ended in a compromise essentially passing the buck to the General Assembly to act as a non-partisan evaluator of the “effectiveness, efficiency, accountability, and oversight of UN-Habitat” (Paragraph 172). This debate, which has been a constant refrain since the beginning of the negotiations, has focused on the role of UN-Habitat as an organization, rather than how the UN System as a whole can more proactively support and manage one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century—sustainable urban growth. This compromise, thanks to the timing of the new Secretary General appointment and the long-awaited UN reform, provides an opportunity to rethink how the New Urban Agenda can be implemented and supported by the greater UN.

What to Look for in Quito

As the world gears up for Quito, countries and non-state actors alike should begin to solidify their commitments and develop ambitious action agendas, keeping in mind that cities have an essential role in achieving not only the goals of the New Urban Agenda, but also the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Interested parties should keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in more in depth discussions of reporting frameworks, ideas for future UN support of the New Urban Agenda and stronger linkages to the other global processes. Moving forward together, we can use the New Urban Agenda as a guide to share the vision of a sustainable, equitable urban future with decision-makers and ensure that our energy and resources are going towards creating cities for all.

Driverless Uber and nuTonomy: A Future to Cheer or Fear?

Wed, 2016-09-14 01:58

Uber’s Self Driving Car Undergoes Testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Foo Conner / Flickr

The future is here, or it is very close: Uber announced “driverless” car services in downtown Pittsburgh; nuTonomy, a MIT spin-off technology company, just started commercial trials of autonomous taxis in Singapore.  These developments come way before car manufacturers and technology experts have set their ambition (see table below). This seems to be very exciting news, but will the development of autonomous vehicles be similar to other advances in the car industry, like hydrogen fuel cell vehicles or electric vehicles?  These technologies are still growing but at a much slower pace than initially expected.

Driverless Car Market Predictions. Information from Driverless Car Market Watch

Uber and nuTonomy are undergoing full-scale tests, with staff on-board the vehicle: a driver with fingertips on the steering wheel and an expert taking notes and measurements on a laptop computer. For now, a driver is still needed to comply with current regulations. In Pittsburgh, these test rides will be free; you may be selected randomly as the lucky passenger. Still, testing signals a big step for automation in real world conditions that may excite many and reduce fears after Tesla’s assisted driving (autopilot) crashes in the U.S. and China.

Dream Come True or Nightmare in the Making?  

Sci-Fi movies from Dudu in 1971 to The Incredibles and I, Robot in 2004, have sparked our imagination on cars with brains, which take us effortlessly from point A to point B. It seems like a waste of time to operate individual vehicles. With autonomous cars, you can use that time for other activities, like reading, texting or searching for Pokémon without endangering others.

As ZIP Car founder Robin Chase rightly points out, all this may be a dream. Moreover, shared vehicles could save people zillions of dollars, save lives and save emissions (if vehicles are electric and powered with clean energy).  But this could go really wrong if the autonomous cars go back home, increasing traffic and vehicle miles; or keep running around the block, which Chase calls “zombie cars.”

The key, according to Chase’s analysis, is having proper regulations so this new technology is used in shared, rather than individual, vehicles: planning rules are changed so parking is no longer a must; the tax system is changed based on pay-as-you-ride and not on ownership; cars are electric and powered by clean sources; and it becomes necessary to rethink labor security and how income is taxed. She claims, and I agree, that the change is here—in Google Autonomous Vehicles in California, Tesla tests and now in Singapore and Pittsburgh, thanks to Uber and nuTonomy. It is best to recognize the high cost of doing nothing, and it is time to seize the opportunity, at least in the U.S.

It is important to get all the pieces of this puzzle right, first with adequate regulation for shared mobility, then a good set-up for electric vehicles and finally clear rules for shared vehicles.

Do Autonomous Cars Matter in Developing Countries?

Probably yes, but we need to be cautious.  Most developing countries are still far from being car-oriented. City travel is still mostly composed of walking, bicycling and public transport. This is something that needs to be preserved, rather than replaced, with shared autonomous electric vehicles. The great disruptive invention of the last century, the car, has not yet taken hold in many emerging economies. It is best if cars do not become the predominant mode of transport, as megacities in the global south are also the most congested, polluted and unsafe metropolises of the world.

According to Tom-Tom Traffic Index 2016, seven out of the top ten most congested cities are in developing countries, and two are in transition economies. The only city in a developed country is Los Angeles, coming in at number ten.  Can you imagine already-crowded Mexico City with “zombie cars” multiplying road congestion?

Rank of Congestion Level by City. Information from TomTom

Ignoring the advent of disruptive technologies, like self-driving Ubers and nuTonomys, would be a mistake.  But placing policy bets in this future may be an even bigger mistake. Why not still focus on the basics: good urban design, compact and connected with diverse uses; high-quality design for pedestrians, safe bicycle paths and high-quality public transport.  At the end of the day, public transport is shared mobility at its best, and some of it is already electric and autonomous: the driverless metro.  Autonomous public transport may be the best focus, with last mile connectivity in smaller shared vehicles, providing on-demand flexible services.

Driving Forward with Autonomous Vehicles

The vision of zero ownership is very compelling, with safe, autonomous electric cars powered by a clean grid, but it is not complete.  It needs to be coupled with an active promotion of walking, bicycling and attractive, efficient public transport.  This is not far from what Tim Papanderu, the former the Chief Innovation Officer for San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and now Google employee, promoted for his city: 50% shared autonomous electric cars and 50% walking, bicycling and public transport, which contrasts the current 64% individual, polluting and inefficient car use.

This may be the basis for a triple zero vision: zero traffic deaths, zero harmful emissions, zero ownership. Uber’s and nuTonomy’s driverless cars (and Google´s, Volkswagen’s, GM´s, Ford’s, Toyota’s, Tesla´s, BMW’s, Dalmier´s, etc.) are very welcome, as long as they are coupled with strong regulations and an adequate transition process, as Robin Chase suggested. 

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