In Quito this week, the world is meeting to discuss the future of its cities

The 'La Compania' church, in the historical centre of Quito, is illuminated during a light show held to open the UN's Habitat III Conference. Image: Getty.

As the global population grows from seven to nearly ten billion by 2050, we will need to build the equivalent of a city of 1m people every five days to house them.

The world already has ten cities with more than 20m inhabitants, including Tokyo (37m), Beijing (21m), Jakarta (30m) and New Delhi (25m). Out of the 7bn people in the world, 6.7bn live with pollution above WHO clean air standards.

And by 2050, around 12m people from 23 cities in East Asia alone will be at risk from coastal inundation. Planning for climate change will be critical to minimise risk to these areas.

These are just some of the stark facts about our global urban future.

With these issues in mind, up to 50,000 participants have gathered in Quito this week to discuss a New Urban Agenda at Habitat III – the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development.

The adoption of the agenda will set standards for sustainable development with a strong emphasis on social inclusion, cultural diversity, urban prosperity, urban governance, urban spatial development, and integrated urban planning including climate change.

From Paris to Quito

The Paris agreement on climate change will come into effect in November 2016. Cities will be at the heart of achieving its aim to limit global warming to less than 2°C. Planning for a low-carbon and resilient urban future is now our greatest global challenge. It is critical to achieving emission reduction targets and planning cities for climate change.

After all, cities produce 76 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions and account for 75 per cent of energy use worldwide.

The focus is now on implementing the Paris agreement; that is where the New Urban Agenda, proposed for agreement at UN Habitat III, comes into play. Key issues being discussed include affordable housing, urban transport, gender equity, empowerment of women and girls, poverty, and hunger in all its forms. Involving communities in the future and design of cities is essential. Better urban governance of our growing cities and urban regions is a core theme.

Observing the range of activities here at Habitat III, it is impressive to see the significant engagement of the private sector as well as governments and NGOs. This mix of partnerships is vital if we are to make positive change in the planning of our cities. Global companies are present as well as local consultancies. They can clearly see there is a market for them in more sustainable futures: that brings great hope for the future.

The scientists are less happy, and are seeking greater engagement in future discussions. The latest issue of Nature comments that “scientists must have a say in the future of cities”, and argues that they should have been more involved in the Habitat III processes. Clearly, better connecting scientists with planners with communities is important in finding sustainable solutions.

A key component in improving city planning is sharing knowledge and expertise. Cities are often connected through global urban networks such as C40, a network of megacities advocating for action on climate change, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

Another important strategy being presented is improving the sharing of knowledge and expertise between “like climate regions”. It is equally important to improve communication of the major urban challenges with wider audiences. Researchers with the United Nations University have also developed an art strategy as part of the preparatory process for Habitat III, with the intention of stimulating thought and discussion on health and well-being in cities.

The overall message from UN Habitat III is that the sustainable planning and design of our cities and human settlements is fundamental to improving the health and well being of our urban communities and acting on climate change. Through that, we tackle the stark facts of urban pollution, our response to climate change, and the future liveability of our cities.


Our moment to act

We are living in a unique time for cities, with multiple UN agendas coming together at once: the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, Sendai Framework for Risk Reduction and the Small Island Developing States Partnerships Framework.

National urban policies are seen as crucial to implementation of all these agreements. As the New Urban Agenda states:

the persistence of multiple forms of poverty, growing inequalities, and environmental degradation remain among the major obstacles to sustainable development worldwide.

Through better urban governance, we can make significant inroads to address the ongoing barriers to achieving more sustainable cities. The proposed agenda particularly highlights transportation and mobility as a priority to support action.

Habitat III offers an opportunity to raise global understanding of the enormous challenges facing cities, and a platform for nations to collaborate in developing more sustainable urban futures. This will require considerable effort from everyone.The Conversation

Barbara Norman is chair of urban and regional planning at the University of CanberraJohn Colin Reid is a visual artist, attached to Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

To make electric vehicles happen, the government must devolve energy policy to councils

The future. Image: Getty.

Last week, the Guardian revealed that at least a quarter of councils have halted the roll-out of electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure with no plans to resume its installation. This is a fully charged battery-worth of miles short of ideal, given the ambitious decarbonisation targets to which the UK is rightly working.

It’s even more startling given the current focus on inclusive growth, for the switch to EVs is an economic advancement, on an individual and societal level. Decarbonisation will free up resources and push growth, but the way in which we go about it will have impacts for generations after the task is complete.

If there is one lesson that has been not so much taught to us as screamed at us by recent history, it is that the market does not deliver inclusivity by itself. Left to its own devices, the market tends to leave people behind. And people left behind make all kinds of rational decisions, in polling stations and elsewhere that can seem wholly irrational to those charged with keeping pace – as illuminted in Jeremy Harding’s despatch from the ‘periphery’ which has incubated France’s ‘gilet jaunes’ in the London Review of Books.

But what in the name of Nikola Tesla has any of this to do with charging stations? The Localis argument is simple: local government must work strategically with energy network providers to ensure that EV charging stations are rolled out equally across areas, to ensure deprived areas do not face further disadvantage in the switch to EVs. To do so, Ofgem must first devolve certain regulations around energy supply and management to our combined authorities and city regions.


Although it might make sense now to invest in wealthier areas where EVs are already present, if there isn’t infrastructure in place ahead of demand elsewhere, then we risk a ‘tale of two cities’, where decarbonisation is two-speed and its benefits are two-tier.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Monday that urban mobility will be an issue for overarching and intelligent strategy moving forward. The issue of fairness must be central to any such strategy, lest it just become a case of more nice things in nice places and a further widening of the social gap in our cities.

This is where the local state comes in. To achieve clean transport across a city, more is needed than just the installation of charging points.  Collaboration must be coordinated between many of a place’s moving parts.

The DfT announcement makes much of open data, which is undoubtedly crucial to realising the goal of a smart city. This awareness of digital infrastructure must also be matched by upgrades to physical infrastructure, if we are going to realise the full network effects of an integrated city, and as we argue in detail in our recent report, it is here that inclusivity can be stitched firmly into the fabric.

Councils know the ins and outs of deprivation within their boundaries and are uniquely placed to bring together stakeholders from across sectors to devise and implement inclusive transport strategy. In the switch to EVs and in the wider Future of Mobility, they must stay a major player in the game.

As transport minister and biographer of Edmund Burke, Jesse Norman has been keen to stress the founding Conservative philosopher’s belief in the duty of those living in the present to respect the traditions of the past and keep this legacy alive for their own successors.

If this is to be a Burkean moment in making the leap to the transformative transport systems of the future, Mr Norman should give due attention to local government’s role as “little platoons” in this process: as committed agents of change whose civic responsibility and knowledge of place can make this mobility revolution happen.

Joe Fyans is head of research at the think tank Localis.