A view of Copenhagen, Denmark, considered a sustainable city. Photo by: Leach84 / CC BY-NC-SA

In a new report, the United Nations Environmental Program is calling for more investments in sustainable infrastructure and resource-efficient technologies in cities. The goal: to foster economic growth and social well-being while cutting back on environmental impact.

To achieve the goal, global efforts must intensify to back “new and improved” infrastructure for water, energy, transport, waste and other sectors in growing cities, says the study, released April 17 and entitled ”City-Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions.”

UNEP argues that much of the $40 trillion cost of responding to urban infrastructure needs from 2000 to 2030 could be redirected to sustainable infrastructure that lowers carbon emissions, boosts resource productivity and curbs resource-intensive urban planning.

Fiscal stimulus packages and development plans like those of the United States, China and the African Union also provide opportunities. When sufficient investments arrive from these sources, the report says, proper city planning is called for through:

  • Government investments supporting the role of cities in national sustainable development strategies and infrastructures that stimulate low-carbon, resource-efficient and equitable urban development.

  • More investment to support the capacity of city-level governments and universities to collect and analyze data on resource use and flows in cities as a basis for efforts to enhance sustainability.

  • Cities setting specific targets to use resources more efficiently and formulating plans to achieve them.

  • For procurement activities, promoting and using criteria favoring low-carbon, resource-efficient, green technology goods and services.

  • The private sector playing a key role in investing and sharing expertise to take small-scale sustainable infrastructure projects to a city-wide scale.

“Although many cities are seizing such opportunities, a holistic vision for the urban centers of the future is still lacking,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.

The U.N. report comes on the heels of a World Bank report entitled ”Planning, Connecting, and Financing Cities – Now: Priorities for City Leaders,” published earlier this year, which hinted at a new opportunity for a “concerted, international transition to a green economy.”

While the global urban population shows no sign of slowing down — the Global Health Observatory says that over 50 percent of the global population now resides in urban areas and that will rise to 70 percent by 2050.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.