Sustainable Development Goal 11- “sustainable cities and communities” By Mark Darko

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This is one of 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The official mission of SDG 11 is to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”

In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that included 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” through addressing global challenges, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. In September 2019, Heads of State and Government came together during the SDG Summit to renew their commitment to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During this event, they acknowledged that the first four years of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda included major progress, but that overall, the world is not on track to deliver the SDGs.

There is a strong link between the quality of life in cities and how cities draw on and manage the natural resources available to them. To date, the trend towards urbanization has been accompanied by increased pressure on the environment and accelerated demand for basic services, infrastructure, jobs, land, and affordable housing, particularly for the nearly 1 billion urban poor who live in informal settlements.

Due to their high concentration of people, infrastructures, housing and economic activities, cities are particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters impacts. Building urban resilience is crucial to avoid human, social and economic losses while improving the sustainability of urbanization processes is needed to protect the environment and mitigate disaster risk and climate change.

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Resource efficient cities combine greater productivity and innovation with lower costs and reduced environmental impacts, while providing increased opportunities for consumer choices and sustainable lifestyles.

SDG 11 addresses slums, human settlement management and planning, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and urban economies. Prior to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, Millennium Development Goal 7, target 4, called for efforts to achieve a “significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers” by 2020.

In 2008, for the first time in history, the global urban population outnumbered the rural population. This milestone marked the beginning of a new ‘urban millennium’ and, by 2050, two-thirds of the world population are expected to be living in urban areas. The number of urban residents increases by nearly 73 million every year, and it is estimated that urban areas account for 70 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, generating a large share of economic growth. Thus, sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces.

The unprecedented growth of cities, coupled with increasing rural to urban migration resulting from a combination of “push” and “pull” factors, has led to a boom in mega-cities, especially in the developing world. In 1990, there were ten mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more, and in 2014, there were 28 mega-cities, home to a total of 453 million people. Slums are also becoming a more significant feature of urban life. Between 2000 and 2014, the absolute number of people living in slums went from 792 million in 2000 to an estimated 880 million in 2014. Most of them are found in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia. In the next 30 years, 90% of urban growth is anticipated to happen in Asia and Africa. Rapid urbanization worldwide is exerting pressure on fresh water supplies, sewage, the living environment, and public health.

The vast majority of research that pertains to the topic of SDG 11 comes from the United States, United Kingdom and China. Environmental science and social sciences fields see the most research with regard to Sustainable Development Goal 11, followed by medicine, energy and engineering.

Data and Statistics / Facts and Figures:

The world’s cities occupy just 3 per cent of the Earth’s land, but account for 60-80 per cent of energy consumption and 75 per cent of carbon emissions.
Targets linked to the environment:

Target 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
Target 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries
Target 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations
Target 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
Target 11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities
Target 11.a: Support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, per-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning
Target 11.b: By 2020, substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change, resilience to disasters, and develop and implement, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, holistic disaster risk management at all levels

Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic

Cities in many countries have become epicentres of COVID-19. Approximately 60% of COVID-19 cases have been found in urban areas, shedding light onto the function of cities in generating and accelerating the pandemic. Population growth, combined with pull factors of cities, such as concentration of economic activities and availability of services, results in increased rates of urbanization. This urbanization is coupled with subsequent congestion and increased human mobility within cities and countries. Importantly, both congestion and increased mobility have been named as some of the major contributors to the spread of epidemics through aerosols, droplets and fomities. SDG 11 has proven to be of critical importance during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring a reduction in exposure to those living in crowded areas.

Cultural and natural heritage is an important economic driver, especially for developing countries.[41] With a 98% fall in the number of international arrivals in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry and the cultural heritage sector have endured significant losses.

COVID-19 causes more severe diseases in homeless individuals, and they are unable to obtain adequate sleep, keep social distance, or have safe water to drink, all of which contribute to their losing their employment and having no source of money, which is also the cause of their homelessness. The digital divide between urban and rural areas and the closure of places of worship exacerbate inequalities and negative impacts. The challenges posed by COVID-19 demonstrate the importance of resilient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities.

Controlling the spread of COVID-19 is more difficult under economic inequality. The safety of public transportation systems is essential for low-income communities, most of whom rely on public transportation services for their travel. Then safe, affordable, and sustainable transportation systems are especially important.

COVID-19 is more likely to spread in overcrowded urbanization, where growing populations and migration lead to rapid urban sprawl. As a result, unplanned urbanization that neglects low-income populations drives the expansion of informal settlements and accelerates the growth of the informal economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the deeply rooted inequalities in the cities, which is reflected in disproportionate pandemic-related impacts on migrants, the homeless, and the residents of urban slums and informal settlements. COVID-19 has revealed pre-existing patterns of health disparities across different groups, with Pacific Islander, Latino, Indigenous and Black Americans experiencing “a COVID-19 death rate of double or more that of White and Asian Americans”. Further, a positive association between previous prolonged exposure to air pollution and the severity of COVID-19 infection and rates of morbidity related to COVID-19 has been suggested. Therefore, the success of SDG 11 post-pandemic requires concerted action on the part of Governments at all levels, civil society and development partners.

During the crisis, cities have emerged as drivers of economic recovery, centres of innovation and catalysts for social and economic transformation. Smart city technologies and solutions have contributed to resilience in cities by facilitating gathering and exchange of information in real time, decreasing risk, and enhancing planning, absorption and adaptation abilities. Robots and drones were used to clean and disinfect spaces, measure patient’s temperature, deliver medicine and food, and to track or detect high-risk areas. Evidence from Chinese cities shows that smart city projects have helped the prevention and control of COVID-19 pandemic. Namely, for every 1 million yuan increase in smart city investment per 10,000 people, the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases per 10,000 people decreased by 0.342. Further development of smart city projects is expected to provide opportunities for increasing resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic and any similar events in the future.

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Mark G. Darko, Accra

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