Urban green growth is about asking the right questions at the right time

4000Maha Skah, OECD Environment Directorate

Are you a city-dweller, concerned about the challenges of urbanisation, resilience and inclusiveness?

Cities and urban areas represent unrivalled concentrations of people, economic growth, commercial networks, and innovation – and have the potential to make a significant contribution to the transition towards a low-carbon world. A starting point would be to explore multi-level governance solutions that allow cities to continue developing in a sustainable manner. But to get there, we must first understand the issues at the core of decision and policy-making between national and subnational levels of government. Tackling the underlying issues is essential to make green growth a reality for all cities, big and small.

The OECD’s fifth Green Growth and Sustainable Development (GGSD) Forum will take place on 9-10 November in Paris. Over the years, it has proven to be a unique space for collaboration and discussion on interconnected policy areas that matter to people, our planet, and our economies. This year, discussions will focus on how cities and national governments can achieve urban green growth by enacting appropriate spatial planning and land-use policies.

Urban populations today are growing at an unprecedented rate with more than half of the global population currently living in towns and cities. Green growth is not just needed at the city level to reconcile sustained economic growth with the urgent imperative to fight climate change – it is also a prerequisite to get ready for the additional three billion urbanites expected by the year 2050. Discussions at the Forum will address how different countries and cities, including rapidly urbanising emerging countries, can design and adopt specific urban green growth models that work for them. The latest OECD publication Green Growth in Bandung under the project Urban Green Growth in Dynamic Asia identifies opportunities for urban green growth in areas such as land use and transport, among others.

The GGSD Forum takes place at an opportune time. Growing recognition by city mayors in recent years has prompted the creation of numerous multi-stakeholder coalitions that address sustainability in urban environments, such as the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy and C40 Cities. Recent discussions at the Habitat III Summit in Quito examined how countries can implement the New Urban Agenda, a far-reaching global agreement to achieve the urbanisation and sustainability targets of the Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by world leaders last year.

With over 90% of all urban areas located in coastal areas, cities are under escalating pressure to deal with the risks of rising sea-levels and destruction due to flooding and powerful storms that also cause financial disruptions to city budget cycles. Most recently, hurricane Matthew was a painful reminder that urban areas continue to be highly vulnerable to the distressing consequences of climate-related natural disasters. One can and should ask what we have learned about improving the resilience of urban infrastructure, and how it can contribute to green growth. In one of the Forum’s parallel sessions co-organised with the World Bank, the conversation will focus on how cities and local governments can be encouraged to invest in greener and more resilient infrastructure projects. Countries need to look towards developing resilient infrastructure to cope with the multiple challenges of climate change, increasing population density and urban sprawl.

The OECD’s GGSD Forum is also an opportunity to bring challenges to the table and tackle them head on. Speakers and panellists from leading research institutions, elected officials, and multidisciplinary experts are encouraged to identify knowledge gaps and suggest recommendations for future work. Bringing together experts from different areas can help authorities at different levels of government determine the best way to implement the green growth agenda, while simultaneously addressing the various economic, social and environmental implications of spatial planning. Cities need to adopt or strengthen a green growth model that takes into account specific local circumstances; however, there is much to be gained from the sharing of expertise among cities within a region. A synthesis report of the Urban Green Growth in Dynamic Asia project to be launched at the Forum on 10 November will examine how urban green growth can be achieved in rapidly expanding Asian economies.

Most importantly, this Forum is about exploring opportunities for local actions that can make a significant contribution to green growth. This includes designing urban green growth policies that range from land-use regulation and planning, taxation, transport, energy efficiency, waste, water management to public procurement. Similarly important is to select adequate green growth indicators and monitoring systems at the subnational levels to track progress. Many cities are aware that there is scope to reduce their energy consumption and overall share of global CO2 emissions by replicating best practices. The GGSD Forum will show that implementing these policies is not only desirable and possible, but that it needs to start now.

Useful links

The 2016 OECD Green Growth and Sustainable Development (GGSD) Forum will focus on:

  • Inclusive green growth and sustainable development in land policy use.
  • Urban sprawl.
  • Innovative approaches to green growth and inclusiveness challenges in cities.
  • Resilient infrastructure.
  • Tracking progress on urban green growth and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Inclusive cities.
  • Impact of tax policies on land use outcomes.

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