Sustainable Urbanization Policy Brief: Proliferation of Urban Centres, their Impact on the World’s Environment and the Potential Role of the GEF

Sustainable Urbanization Policy BriefThe trends towards urbanization, and the opportunities for introducing sustainability into the process, are complex technically, sociologically and financially. From a technical standpoint, understanding long term, multidisciplinary impacts of improper or delayed action requires uncommon knowledge and experience in all of the technical areas germane to cities. Sociologically, people do not, as a general rule, embrace complexity in today’s world, nor do they accept being forced to change. Instead, they need an agent to reduce any complexity (or perceived complexity) to simple, acceptable steps. Finally, the financial aspect to sustainable urbanization is exceedingly complicated. What financial instruments and strategies render optimal results? What sources of funding should be brought to bear? How do they vary from country to country?

Together, these three sources of complexity – the technical, sociological and financial – require a knowledgeable and well-placed agency through which to channel and organize stakeholders and resources to create sustainable cities. The GEF’s focal area objectives and its experience over the last five Replenishments offer much that can be aligned to environmental sustainability work in the urban context, without loss of dedication to the GEF’s core principles, nor its obligations to Conventions.

This STAP Policy Brief on Sustainable Urbanization: Proliferation of Urban Centres, their Impact on the World’s Environment and the Potential Role of the GEF is a cursory exploration of the state of the science associated with sustainable urban development, and the potential role of the GEF based on its strategic programme for the Sixth Replenishment of the GEF (GEF-6). Investigation will continue after this dissemination of research findings to date, with a more detailed Advisory Document being released in the course of GEF-6. The publication was prepared by STAP, and is a reflection of the Panel’s current views and positions.

In this brief, STAP offers three potential ways forward to pilot GEF work in the urban context, through the Sustainable Cities Integrated Programme under GEF-6; namely:

1) Refining the objectives, outcomes and results of the GEF-6 Sustainable Cities Integrated Programme using the latest sustainable urban development approaches.
2) Applying Sustainable Land Management Approaches to Urban Planning and Development; and
3) Seeking out Ad Hoc Opportunities for injecting sustainable principles and action into the City Life Cycle.

Attendant to this, the STAP foresees that there must be appropriate research work to accompany all lines of work, including, inter alia: proper baseline assessment; accompanying development and testing of methodologies: indicators to ensure viable GEB delivery and possibility of replication; and enhanced spatio-temporal understanding of development in general in this new area of urban sustainability work.
Authors: Ken Jennings, Christine Wellington-Moore, Hindrik Bouwman (STAP Panel Member, Chemicals), Ralph Sims (STAP Panel Member, Climate Change).