Global agenda for urban development - the fate of our time

Decisive negotiations begin today on the UN's 20-year strategy for sustainable cities. Something that should be the highest priority for the new Minister for Housing, the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for International Development Cooperation. A global agenda for urban development is the fateful issue of our time, as it plays a crucial role in the implementation of both the climate agreement and Agenda 2030. But it also offers enormous opportunities for companies, local politics and citizens, writes the think tank Global Challenge.

Through Agenda 2030, UN member states have committed themselves to implementing and following up on seventeen concrete goals for sustainable development, while concluding a new global climate agreement at the COP21 climate conference with the goal of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees. Despite a historic goal of sustainable urban development (SDG 11) and that Sweden put the implementation of the agenda high on the agenda, there is no commitment to the next important UN summit, "Habitat III", the conference for housing and sustainable urban development, which takes place in Ecuador in October.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon believes that Agenda 2030 and COP21 are our last chance to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, but at the same time the historically best opportunity to eradicate poverty. Given that 70% of the world's energy use and 70% of GDP are generated in the fast - growing cities, the implementation of the agendas will stand and fall with urban development. It is thus primarily in the cities that poverty can be fought and the climate saved.

Opportunities and challenges

Habitat III will clarify how cities can concretely contribute to how the climate and development goals are put into practice. For that work to have an impact, it must not only be carried out but also financed in our cities. This applies not least in Sweden, where municipal self-government is strong and the business community plays an important role in the welfare sector.

Cities will play an increasingly crucial role as over 70% of the world's population will be urban within the next 20 years. This means that just as much city will be built in a meager generation as has been built so far in the entire history of mankind. Already today, 1/7 of the world's people live in slums and even in Europe, more and more people live in segregated areas where livelihoods, security, health and education are set aside.
The challenges for sustainable development are thus enormous - for central governments as well as for local decision-makers. It is at the same time in the cities that the opportunities exist and challenges can be tackled, through smart transport solutions and energy systems, and where jobs and community service can grow. When it comes to poverty reduction and climate work, our Nordic cities are world leaders.

Responsible ministers must act

We therefore call on the three responsible ministers to prioritize urban development for important progress both locally and globally. The Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, Isabella Lövin, should focus more of her assistance on concrete climate-smart urban development projects. Platforms are available, both in the form of SymbioCity and Mistra Urban Futures model for "co-production", of concrete action plans based on both research and practice in the city concerned.

Minister of the Environment Karolina Skog should develop the urban environment agreements and let them include more long-term innovation for urban passenger transport instead of standard solutions. The state must dare to try new technology for which no single municipality alone can take development responsibility.

The Minister for Housing, Peter Eriksson, should procure new concepts for wooden houses together with the municipalities. Small modules that can be flexibly mounted to small apartments in apartment buildings and terraced houses for different household needs. The Minister for Housing should also, together with some municipalities, form pilot projects that build cities instead of just housing.
Despite the fact that Sweden is a small country with small towns, our voice weighs heavily in these contexts. Many of our companies are world leaders in developing efficient, sustainable and smart solutions that underpin modern welfare. Swedish models for governance, community building and innovation are valuable export goods and are also widely used as examples of success in development contexts globally.

Sweden must therefore take the opportunity during the forthcoming UN summit to present Swedish views and share Swedish experiences and knowledge. Thus, Sweden can contribute to creating additional export markets for the business community at the same time as it promotes sustainable global development. About 50 organizations, companies, universities and municipalities, together with the relevant authorities, have already begun to coordinate Swedish participation in Habitat III. We hope that the Government will now actively participate and highlight the new opportunities that urbanization creates, both at home and globally.

Inga Björk Klevby, senior advisor at Global Challenge and former deputy head of UN-Habitat
Carl-Johan Engström, senior advisor at Global Challenge and professor emeritus at KTH
Johan Hassel, CEO of Global Challenge
Elin Andersdotter Fabre, project manager for sustainable cities at Global Challenge

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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