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”.
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. This also addresses issues relevant to information, communication and technology for urban planning and informal settlements.
In January 2013, a survey on challenges and priority areas of work confirmed that the highest priority of UNECE member States in this area is on realizing compact cities (i.e. increasing density and efficiency of urban areas) and low carbon and climate neutral urban development, followed by smart city initiatives.
At UNECE, promoting sustainable urban development provides a unique opportunity for inter-sectoral cooperation, tapping the potential provided by several UNECE divisions and sub-programmes, including Energy, Environment, Housing, Trade and Transport. An interdivisional working group was created in 2013 based on the priorities established by the Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development Conference. The Secretary General’s Five year action agenda and the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for all (SE4ALL) Initiative also serve as a framework for joint activities on sustainable urban development. Over the medium-term, the working group will coordinate UNECE’s contribution to Habitat III, the third UN conference on housing and sustainable urban development, to be held in 2016 and focus on its contribution to reinvigorating the “global commitment to sustainable cities”.