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Sustainable Urban Development

The UNECE region houses less than one fifth of the world’s population. The region, however, is characterised by high levels of urbanisation: more than 73 per cent of its population are urban residents – compared to 50 per cent on global average.

This makes cities and towns starting points for promoting sustainable human settlement development. Numerous initiatives have already been launched in urban settlements to raise public awareness of the environmental impact of individual consumption behaviour, to promote environmentally sound goods, services and sustainable use of energy, water, raw materials and land by individuals and communities. The Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development Conference outlined the importance of a “holistic approach to urban development and human settlements [and] an integrated approach to planning and building sustainable cities and urban settlements”.


(click on a topic for more details)

Territorial planning

UNECE prepares studies to promote activities relevant to spatial planning which result in compact, efficient and inclusive cities and low-carbon and disaster resilient urban development. In 2008, UNECE published “Spatial Planning - Key Instrument for Development and Effective Governance with Special Reference to Countries in Transition” to identify the particular challenges vis-à-vis spatial planning that countries in transition face, and the distribution of roles and responsibilities in the main stages in the process of developing spatial plans.  

In 2012, UNECE published “Climate Neutral Cities: How to Make Cities Less Energy and Carbon Intensive and More Resilient to Climatic Challenges”. This publication examines techniques to reduce and prevent sprawl, while preserving and expanding green and open spaces, mitigating the urban heat island effect. Through land-use planning and sprawl control the aim is reducing average travel distances and promoting cleaner and more efficient technologies in transport.

The “International Urban and Territorial Planning Guidelines” by UN-Habitat provide national governments, local authorities, civil society organizations and planning professionals with a global reference framework that promotes more compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities and territories. UNECE is working in cooperation with UN-Habitat to regionalise the global Guidelines: therefore the workshop on “Urban and Territorial Planning: Global Principles and Local Implications” was held in Minsk, Belarus in April 2016.

Informal settlements

Over the last 25 years, informal settlements have become an increasingly important and urgent matter in the region. At an international conference in 2007, it was estimated that more than 50 million people lived in informal settlements in 20 member States of the UNECE. In 2009, the Committee on Housing and Land Management published a first study on informal settlements: “Self-Made Cities: In Search of Sustainable Solutions for Informal Settlements”.

The publication “Formalizing the Informal: Challenges and Opportunities of Informal Settlements in South-East Europe” continues the discussion and examines the causes of informal housing development in five countries of South-Eastern Europe – Albania, the Republic of Cyprus, Greece, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and assesses the governments’ policies to address this challenge.

Climate Change

UNECE Committee on Housing and Land Management helps countries to address the causes of climate change from housing and cities by promoting standards for energy efficient housing and compact urban planning. UNECE standards also make cities more resilient to disasters that may arise from climate change.

The study “Climate Neutral Cities: How to Make Cities Less Energy and Carbon Intensive and More Resilient to Climatic Challenges” was published and presented for discussion at the Rio+20 Conference, in 2012. This study also served as the basis for exploring the role cities can play in sustainable development and the transition towards a green economy at many UNECE events during the year.

Smart Sustainable Cities

Cities worldwide are considered powerful engines of economic growth, fuelled by high concentrations of specialized skills and nowadays accounting for 80% of the world’s GDP. However, the advantages granted by urbanization are plagued with significant sustainability challenges as cities worldwide account for over 70% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 60-80% of global energy consumption. As it has been estimated that 66% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, sustainable urbanization has become a key policy point for administrations across the world. Urban habitats play a key role in addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century and move the 2030 Agenda arena at the local level.

United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) 

The ITU and the UNECE launched the “United for Smart Sustainable Cities” (U4SSC) in response to SDG 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” in May 2016. U4SSC is a global smart sustainable city initiative which provides an international platform for information exchange, knowledge sharing and partnership building, with the aim of formulating strategic guidance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and implement the New Urban Agenda and other international agreements. More...

United Smart Cities (USC)

The UNECE jointly with OiER launched United Smart Cities in April 2014. This multi-stakeholder project is the implementing arm of the U4SSC and aims to address the major urban issues in particular in medium-sized cities in countries with economies in transition in the UNECE region and supports the implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the local level. More...

HABITAT III Regional report for the UNECE region

The regional report will be submitted to the HABITAT III Secretariat as the official input from the UNECE region to the New Urban Agenda, which will be adopted by the HABITAT III Conference in October 2016.

More information on the Regional Report in available here.

Link to the Subregional report on the CIS countries can be found here.