ECOSOC27 May 2014: UN agencies, Member States, local authority groups, civil society organizations and slum dwellers discussed ways to use urbanization as a “vehicle for sustainability,” during the UN Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) first-ever Integration Segment. The meeting took place on 27-29 May 2014, in New York, US.

Opening the Integration Segment, Vladimir Drobnjak, ECOSOC Vice President, said “the struggle for global sustainability will be won or lost in cities.” Joan Clos, UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), said cities contribute up to 70% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, amounting to “the most prominent environmental challenge of our time.” Isabelle Picco, UN General Assembly (UNGA) Vice-President, underlined that with cities accounting for at least 80% of global gross domestic product (GDP), they must function efficiently.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that cities are increasingly turning the climate change challenge into a business opportunity by exploring how to conserve and generate energy, finding ways to recycle waste and creating better living conditions. Michael Bloomberg, UN Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, added that because mayors have executive powers, they do not have to wait for Government actions, which enables cities to play a critical and innovative role in addressing these global challenges.

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, emphasized that urbanization will help reduce poverty in sustainable ways that “hand-outs” can never match: in moving from rural to urban areas, people also get exposed to new ideas, technologies, habits and skills, thereby becoming more productive. However, growth without planned urbanization is a “recipe for soaring inequality,” he said, creating an urgent need to upgrade informal settlements, provide basic infrastructure and services, protect urban wetlands and green space and enable the private sector to create jobs, especially for youth.

Carmen Griffiths, Construction Resource and Development Centre, explained that urban inequalities are especially detrimental for women, pointing out that crime in cities hits them disproportionately hard. Therefore, she stressed, efforts must be directed towards strengthening women’s organizing and leadership abilities so that they can be empowered to influence and change public policy.

Paul Carrasco, Prefect of Azuay, Ecuador, stressed the need to include citizens in the decision-making processes and to give them responsibility for designing, building and implementing local public policies on the basis of their own interests. He called for changes in the social fabric to encourage participation and for a social model for small- and medium-sized cities that includes citizens’ input.

The three-day ECOSOC Integration Segment was designed to enhance the coherence of the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, environmental and social – in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

In June, ECOSOC will hold its Youth Forum and Humanitarian Affairs Segment, and launch the first session of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development under ECOSOC auspices. [UN Press Release First Day] [UN Press Release Second Day] [UN Press Release Third Day] [UN Habitat Press Release] [Event Website] [ECOSOC Meetings Calendar] [IISD RS Sources]