UNEP International Panel Calls for Improved Resource Efficiency for Sustainable Urbanization
UN Photo/Kibae Park
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The report finds that transitioning towards low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially just cities is critical for advancing the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda.

It calls for designing cities for people rather than cars, and enabling the poor to access the opportunities in cities.

The report recommends adopting a circular rather than linear approach in managing natural resource movement in and out of cities, and establishing innovative governance models that encourage creativity.

26 April 2018: The future of cities will depend on their resource efficiency levels and the manner in which they are planned, connected and governed, according to a report published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, or UN Environment) International Resource Panel.

The report titled, ‘The Weight of Cities: Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization,’ encourages cities to optimally use their resources to avoid risks associated with overburdening the agriculture, energy, industry and transport sectors. It calls for a new strategy to address 21st century urbanization, contends that transitioning towards low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially just cities is critical for advancing the SDGs and the New Urban Agenda (NUA), and outlines recommendations to this end. Noting that most consumption and production is already happening in cities, the report highlights its contribution to SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), among others.

Over the next 30 years, 2.4 billion people are likely to move to urban areas, and, by 2050, 66% of the global population will live in cities.

The publication notes that, over the next 30 years, 2.4 billion people are likely to move to urban areas, and, by 2050, 66% of the global population will live in cities. The report cautions that urban areas will use approximately 90 billion tonnes of natural resources annually by 2050 if cities are not built and designed differently.

Pointing to future challenges, including the expansion of existing cities and construction of new ones, the report finds that: resources should be a central policy concern; long-term historic urban sprawl threatens to increase urban land use, putting agricultural land and food supplies at risk; and increased resource efficiency in cities could significantly reduce energy use, emissions, and metals, land and water use by 36 to 54%.

The report introduces the concept of “urban metabolism” or flow of resources through a city. It suggests: adopting a circular rather than linear approach in managing natural resource movement in and out of cities; designing cities for people rather than cars; enabling the poor to access the opportunities in cities; and preventing uncontrolled urban sprawl. The report further recommends establishing innovative governance models that encourage creativity, such as “entrepreneurial urban governance,” where both the State and broader coalitions of urban stakeholders play a role, and “living labs.” Other recommendations include: planning cities to ensure compact growth, better connectivity, and livable, mixed-use and socially mixed neighborhoods; designing cities to include resource-efficient urban components, such as car sharing, electric vehicle charging point networks and cycle paths; and developing infrastructure that enables cross-sector efficiency, such as using waste heat from industry in district energy systems.

The report was released during the 9th Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation, which met from 26-28 April 2018, in Bonn, Germany. A summary for policymakers was released in February during the 9th session the World Urban Forum (WUF).

Launched by UN Environment in 2007, the International Resource Panel aims to build and share the necessary knowledge to improve resource use, and move away from overconsumption, waste and ecological harm towards a more sustainable future. [Publication: The Weight of Cities: Resource Requirements of Future Urbanization] [Summary for Policymakers] [Report Factsheet] [Publication Landing Page] [UNEP Press Release on Summary Report] [UNEP News Story] [International Resource Panel Website]


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